Eddy 'The Chief' Clearwater: West Side Strut

Thomas Hauner

“The Chief” and fellow Chicago blues legend Ronnie Baker Brooks have teamed up to produce a vivid album that celebrates and extends Clearwater’s living legacy.

Eddy “The Chief” Clearwater

West Side Strut

Label: Alligator
US Release Date: 2008-03-04
UK Release Date: 2008-03-17

Young lefthander Eddy Harrington arrived in the midst of the Chicago blues scene as a wide-eyed kid and soon developed into a fierce playing guitarist with emotive vocals to match. Under the influence of inexperienced emulation and adoration, Eddy changed his nickname from Guitar Eddy to Clear Waters in 1958, but later merged the moniker and applied it as a surname. Now, “The Chief” -- the enduring sobriquet a reference to the headdress he frequently flaunts during his riveting live shows -- and producer, fellow Chicago blues legend Ronnie Baker Brooks, have teamed up to produce West Side Strut, a vivid and dynamic album that celebrates and extends Clearwater’s living legacy.

Deciding to abandon the echo of Muddy Waters in name, Clearwater instead channels the late legend’s harmonica-laced blues on the album’s opening track, “A Good Leavin’ Alone”. Unlike Muddy, his sound is rounder and less industrial, but the disgruntled moans definitely elicit Waters. Overall the track is a straightforward shuffle that makes for an energized opener.

Clearwater shows off his dexterity and continues borrowing styles throughout the album. Conjuring up B.B. King on “Trouble, Trouble”, he use his guitar primarily as ornamentation around vocals and to embellish the song’s phrasing. There are also the scorching single-note solos whose harmonies bend, suspending themselves in Clearwater’s blue tableau until one’s pulse returns. The album’s title suggests otherwise, but the record’s tempo is a stroll, not a strut (also kind of B.B.-like). And again like King, the blithe beat is enhanced with a balanced horn section that neither dominates nor fades into indolent unison.

Johnny B. Goode’s seminal rock n’ roll sound -- twangy Western guitars let loose over charging Southern blues riffs -- are summoned on “Too Old to Get Married”, a lively tune about staying youthful and feeling good. Horns, arranged by Steve Herrman, also add an extra bit of flare to the juvenile romp.

Clearwater and Brooks sound more like Delta bluesmen at one point. The rustic sounds they create on “Came Up the Hard Way” turn bright after a bout of “gut-bucket” blues. Though the vibe is casual throughout, their acoustic guitars have a bright clear sound that come through as professionally as B.B.’s tux. Also playing as if shredding their finest Guitar Hero axes, their solos are unrestrained and dramatic, injecting life into an otherwise laid back low-key jam.

I am obliged to comment on Clearwater’s vocals too. First off, they’re velvety. Clearwater delivers them with an intonational assurance and rusty nonchalance that laces each track with an affable and clear sound. Second, they’re dynamic. Clearwater’s voice oozes with heartache and lust, emoting the hardships of life and love (“Gotta Move On”), seethes with resentment (“A Good Leavin’ Alone”), or preaches with inspiration (“A Time for Peace”). It may not be the attraction, but its contribution cannot go unrecognized.

“They Call Me the Chief” would have to be considered Clearwater’s theme song. After a half-decade, it’s more surprising that he doesn’t have one yet. The Native American drum and percussion are unmistakable, and make for a very interesting and textured background, but as a whole this electric pow-wow manages to rock pretty well. If one listens closely, the textured sleigh bells and tambourine show up, unannounced, on a number of other tracks as well.

The visual panache of Eddy “The Chief” Clearwater’s headdress is matched only by the ferocity of his guitar, his energy, and depth. West Side Strut, which might be his strongest and most complete record yet, is a blues album that surprises the listener with both its sentimentality and range. However predictable Clearwater’s retro sound, it’s so because it is a timeless one that spans genres and decades, and the Chief’s continuing contributions to the blues are a testament to that legacy.


In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.