Blues Hall of Fame Member
By: Joseph Suto
Eddy Clearwater has been in the music business for over 60 years. He is one of the last of his breed of a traditional bluesman. He was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2016 which was long overdue. He was born in Macon, Mississippi and moved to Chicago in 1950 and has been there ever since. “The Chief” is still going strong touring across the globe and releasing new music. Not bad for a guy who is 83 years of age. We recently had the opportunity to talk to the legend himself and he gave us the scoop on what has been a gratifying career.
RSC: Hello Eddy! What have you been currently up to?
Eddy Clearwater: I’m working on a new album of all new material. So that’s what I’ve been putting most of my concentration on. I’ll hopefully have it out by the end of the year.
RSC: Let’s dig deep into the Chicago blues scene. How did you get started and how did you break into the scene?
EC: First of all, I came to Chicago at the age of 15. I got to go meet the good people like Muddy Waters Jimmy Reed, they were all in Chicago at the time. That was one of the main reasons why I wanted to come to Chicago to be in a blues environment. My uncle invited me to come and see what is going on because he knew I wanted to play blues as a full-time career. In September 1950 I came to Chicago and I’ve been here ever since.
RSC: How has the Chicago Blues scene changed over the years? What is the biggest change that stands out?
EC: It’s changed quite a bit. A lot of the new blues players are still playing traditional blues but then they are kind of changing the patterns and making more modern blues. The foundation is still there and its highly recognizable. It’s progressed. There are younger blues fans coming out which is a very good thing. That is going to be the future of the blues, the younger people. Blues societies are doing a lot to help the outcome of the blues. They are really doing a good job of it. They are also doing a lot of festivals so in that sense it’s a new awakening of the blues.
RSC: What are some of the prominent venues for those not too familiar with Chicago?
EC: We got Legends (Buddy Guy’s Legends) which is the number one place. I play there quite a bit. Then there’s a club called S.P.A.C.E. in a suburb of Chicago in Evanston. It’s a very big club. A few others like the Kingston Mines and FitzGeralds on the outskirts of Chicago, they cater to quite a bit of blues and is highly recommended.
RSC: What is the best advice you ever received from another Blues musician?
EC: The best advice came from Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon. I sat down with Muddy and told him I was going to Europe for my first time back in 1976, can you give me some advice. He said when you go there and get on stage, play the way you play, be who you are and play the way you play. Don’t try and be fancy. I did it the way he told me to and I’ve been going back ever since.
Willie Dixon told me to treat it as a business and do the right things for instance like starting my own publishing company for my music. He said if you want to be in the business go about it in a business way. Write your own songs because you won’t get any credit for playing someone else’s songs, they will get the royalties from it. That made sense to me.
RSC: What advice would you try and give someone trying to get into the blues today, having been there and probably seen it all?
EC: I would say to a younger musician is be as punctual as you can. When a promoter books you they expect you be there on time and ready to perform. I experienced some musicians being late and that puts everyone in a bind. You have to be there set-up and ready to perform when they want you on stage and be as punctual as possible. Also to practice as much as you can because the more you practice the better you become. As the old saying goes “practice makes perfect”.
RSC: After all these years in the business who were some of your favorites you were able to play with?
EC: I got a chance a while back to play with Chuck Berry. It was tremendous, we had a great time together. I also got to play with Bo Diddley, a lot with Muddy Waters, Albert King and also B.B. King at the House of Blues. I never got to play with Jimi Hendrix and that is one thing I regret. I always loved his music but I never got to perform with him.