CHICAGO, IL (CelebrityAccess) — Grammy-nominated Chicago blues legend Eddy “The Chief” Clearwater died of heart failure on Friday, June 1, in his hometown of Skokie, Illinois. He was 83.
Born Edward Harrington on January 10, 1935, in Macon, Mississippi, Harrington moved to moved to Birmingham, AL with his family at the age of 13. In Alabama, he taught himself to play guitar and began performing with various gospel groups, including Five Blind Boys of Alabama.
Two years later, he moved to Chicago, where he stayed with an uncle and took a job as a dishwasher, and began to perform with gospel groups, playing primarily in local churches. However, through his uncle’s connections, he became acquainted with members of the city’s burgeoning blues community, including Magic Sam, who became a friend and a teacher.
By 1953, he was making a name for himself as “Guitar Eddy” with regular performances in South and West Side Bars. After hearing Chuck Berry in 1957, he started to incorporate elements of rock and rockabilly into his performances, creating the “rock-a-blues” style that became his hallmark.
He recorded his first single, Hill Billy Blues, for his uncle’s Atomic H label in 1958 under the name Clear Waters (his manager at the time, drummer Jump Jackson, came up with the name as a play on Muddy Waters) and the name stuck, becoming conflated with his Guitar Eddy moniker until he was known professionally as Eddy Clearwater.
He worked the Chicago club circuit steadily throughout the 1950s, 1960s and into the 1970s with Chicago’s college crowd, who responded to his individual brand of blues-rock.
Clearwater’s first full-length LP, 1980’s The Chief, was the initial release on Chicago’s Rooster Blues label, launching him onto the national and international blues scene. Over the decades he recorded over 15 solo albums and never stopped touring, creating fans from Chicago to Japan to Poland.
His 2003 album on Bullseye Blues, Rock ‘N’ Roll City, was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Traditional Blues Album. He released West Side Strut on Alligator in 2008 to both international popular and critical acclaim. His most recent CD was the self-released Soul Funky in 2014.
Clearwater is survived by his wife, Renee Greenman Harrington Clearwater, children Heather Greenman, Alyssa Jacquelyn, David Knopf, Randy Greenman, Jason Harrington and Edgar Harrington and grandchildren Gabriella Knopf and Graham Knopf.
Services will be held on Tuesday, June 5 at 11:00am at Chicago Jewish Funerals, 8851 Skokie Boulevard, Skokie, IL 60077.