Eddy Clearwater took Magic lessons on Chicago’s West Side

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ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, JUNE 24, 1999

Eddy “The Chief” Clearwater chose a good guy to hang with when he moved to Chicago’s West Side in 1950. As a budding, 15-year-old bluesman, Clearwater became close friends with Magic Sam, the legendary West Side guitarist who died of a heart attack at the age of 32.

“I watched him every chance I got,” says Clearwater, on the line from the Windy City. “I listened to him on record and everything else, and he was quite a personality, too. He had a very distinct, very unique sound. It was quite amazing.”

Clearwater continues to enjoy the company of fine pickers, as his latest CD, Cool Blues Walk, was produced by Duke Robillard and features the Rhode Island guitar ace on every track. “A lotta guys can play blues and they can just do wonders with it,” notes Clearwater, “but when you go to a rockabilly-type tune, or a swing tune, they don’t have a concept of it. And Duke has an all-around concept of what the ingredients of a tune should be, which is great.”

Cool Blues Walk includes some blues standards by the likes of Freddie King (“Sen-Say-Shun”) and Willie Dixon (“I Just Want to Make Love to You”), but most of the tracks are Clearwater-penned, showcasing the guitarist’s fierce, Magic Sam–inspired solos and rollicking, Chuck Berry–style rhythms. One particularly boisterous song is “Very Good Condition”, which should make an appearance when the 63-year-old rocker plays the Yale on Wednesday (June 30).

“I wrote it after my heart surgery,” says Clearwater. “I came home and wrote the tune ’cause one of the doctors made a statement. He checked me out and said, ‘You’re in very good condition, considering the shape you’re in.’ I said, ‘Hey, that’s a good idea for a song!’ ”

The title track of Cool Blues Walk was nominated for the blues song of the year prize at the 1999 W.C. Handy Awards—the Academy Awards of the blues—but lost to a Keb’ Mo’ tune. Clearwater was also nominated for blues artist most deserving of wider recognition, but he didn’t claim that prize either—not that he cared. The Chief—so named because he likes to wear a full Indian headdress on-stage—may not be as popular as the King, but he’s content with how his 50-year musical career has panned out.

“I’m not starvin’,” he points out with a laugh. “I’m drivin’ a brand-new Jaguar, I opened my own blues club, and I’ve got all the jewellery I want—not that jewellery counts a lot. I live in a pretty decent house, so I’m not suffering.”

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