Eddy “The Chief” Clearwater
Blind Willie’s, Atlanta, GA • January 7, 2001
Roi J. Tamkin
Thank goodness there is no mandatory retirement age for blues singers. At 65 years young, Chicago bluesman Eddy Clearwater blew into town, fired up a set of hot music, then sailed on out of town. His blues is influenced by Chuck Berry, and “The Chief” plays with the same energy as the inventor of rock did in the ’50s. With a new CD produced by Roomful of Blues’ Duke Robillard, “The Chief” had new songs to add to his list of classics already in his repertoire.
The Chief’s backup band kicked off the set with a jumping little Elmore James number. The band is comprised of Chicago native Tom Holland playing a left-handed Les Paul, Mr. M. Perkins keeping time on the drums, and Felix the Cat anchoring the band on bass. Tom sang a few more songs before introducing Eddy to the stage. Eddy’s big frame commanded Blind Willie’s tiny stage as he picked up his Gibson and began playing left-handed and upside down. His first songs had a slow pace to them, but then he broke into a faster tempo with “Tore Up,” a song about drinking too much.
And tear it up he did. Not only did he have couples spinning on the dance floor, but (and I promise this is no lie) I saw people outside Blind Willie’s bopping along on the sidewalk. He sashayed into “Easy is My Style,” from his new CD, Reservation Blues. By this time, people at the bar were pointing and gawking out the windows at the people dancing in the street. “Winds of Change” and “Reservation Blues” kept the joint inside (and outside) moving. He wrapped up his first set with a soulful rendition of Otis Rush’s “All Your Love.”
The second set had a little more rock injected into the blues. Here, the Chuck Berry guitar influence was more prevalent. The stage was way too small for any duck walking, but “The Chief” certainly was jumping and kicking, just itching to do some Chuck Berry moves. He did manage to play the guitar behind his head, and walked offstage into the crowd for one song. Once in the crowd, he handed off his guitar to a local guitar man, Christopher Robin, who played as deftly as “The Chief” did. “The Chief” then took back his guitar and closed the show with some fancy fingerwork on the fretting that probably put a few blisters on his fingers.
The Chief’s new CD and his energetic playing style will surely win him new fans as he tours the country. For some good, rocking blues, “The Chief” is the man to catch before he gallops out of your town. ◼