CHICAGO (CBS) — The Chicago blues legend and self-taught guitarist who wowed crowds with a style he called “rock-a-blues” has passed away.
Eddy “The Chief” Clearwater died of heart failure in Skokie on Friday. He was 83.
He was lauded for his guitar playing and flamboyant showmanship, as well as playing while wearing a large, colorful Native American headdress.
Known as “The Chief,” Clearwater was born Edward Harrington in Macon, Mississippi. He began his career in Birmingham, performing with gospel music groups, including the Five Blind Boys of Alabama.
After moving to Chicago in 1950, Clearwater drifted into the blues, making a name for himself as Guitar Eddy.
By 1953, he performed in clubs on the city’s South and West Side. He played with notable stars including Magic Sam, Otis Rush and Freddie King.
According to Alligator Records, after Clearwater added a rock and roll element to his guitar playing, his then manager came up with the name Clear Waters as a play on blues legend Muddy Waters.
The name eventually evolved into Eddy Clearwater.
His music was described a bridge between blues and rock-n-roll.
“Eddy had a rock and roll heart but he came of age musically among the second generation of Chicago blues players who were identified with the ‘West Side Sound,’ especially Magic Sam and Otis Rush. His sound could veer from Muddy Waters to Chuck Berry,” said Tom Marker, blues disc-jockey at WXRT 93.1 FM and WDCB 90.9 FM.
What made him special to watch?
“Eddy would hit the stage with that big smile of his and win over the crowd right from the start. He was long and tall, and could strut the stage with a swagger or a Chuck Berry style duck walk,” said Marker. “He was loved by all.”
His 2003 album, “Rock ‘N’ Roll City,” was nominated for a Grammy Award as best traditional blues album.
Clearwater is survived by his wife, Renee, and six children.
Condolences poured in from the blues community and elected officials.
“Chicago lost one of our legendary blues musicians, innovators and ambassadors to the world,” said Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel in a statement.
“Clearwater leaves behind a legacy that includes 17 albums, countless shows and a lifetime of songs that gave a voice to the soul of the city he loved. Our thoughts are with Eddy’s family and friends during this difficult time.”
“I am so saddened by the loss of Eddy Clearwater. He was like an uncle to me,” said Chicago guitarist Ronnie Baker Brooks, son of the late guitarist Lonnie Brooks. “We had been working on his next CD. For Eddy to have so much trust in me was priceless,” he said.
“Eddy Clearwater’s 2016 induction into the Blues Hall of Fame will always remain a highlight for me,” said Barbara Newman, President and CEO of the Blues Foundation. “He will truly be missed by all who knew him and all who ever saw him perform or heard one of his recordings.”
Clearwater was scheduled to play at Buddy Guy’s Legends next week in time for the upcoming Chicago Blues Festival.
His funeral is set for Tuesday at 11:00 a.m. in Skokie at Chicago Jewish Funerals at 8851 Skokie Boulevard.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.