When did you start to wear the Indian headdress onstage?

I think it was 1973. A lady gave it to me. I was dying to buy it, but she said she couldn't sell her late husband's headdress. Instead, she promised to give it to me if I, in turn, promised to take good care of it. So we shook hands -- she said it's yours now, congratulations!

Bo Dollis & The Wild Magnolias... maybe you'll do an album with the New Orleans Indian tribes some day?

That's not a bad idea, either. As a matter of fact, I've done some festival gigs with them in New Orleans and Kansas City. It has been fun every time.

Could you tell about your guitar playing and your idols?

My playing style has been shaped by riffs and things I've heard through the years. Way back when I learned a lot from Otis Rush and Magic Sam. John Lee Hooker and Lightning Hopkins have been important. B.B. King, too. All things come from somewhere. You hear a riff or a solo, and later you realize you could use it in your own thing, in a completely different environment.

When you combine influences from here and there, you can create an interesting mix of your own. Just like Ray Charles: he tried to sing like both Nat King Cole and Charles Brown. In the end he sounded like neither, but he sounded just like Ray Charles. Then he added some gospel ingredients. Everything I've ever liked can be heard in my music. Mixing of different elements is very refreshing.

What kind of music do you listen to right now?

I listen to everything, I'm really open-minded. If I think something is good, I don't care what they call it. They say you can learn a lot from a child, if you concentrate on listening. I think it applies to music really well.

How do you pick cover songs? For example "Walkin' Through the Park" is on your latest album.

It is one of my old Muddy Waters favorites and I wanted to record it.

What was Muddy's reaction like, when he heard about a bluesman called Clear Waters?

Believe it or not: he took it well. First he was surprised of course. He was curious and wanted to see what I was all about. First time I introduced myself to him, he put up with it very well. He even said I could be his son. We became very close.

And Clearwater sounds like an Indian chief's name, doesn't it?

That's true. So it's really fitting.

How are the blues doing in Chicago these days?

Blues are doing great in Chicago. Buddy Guy's Legends is doing well -- I'll be playing there again next month. On the north side of town there's a club called Bill's Blues. I play there once a month if I'm not on tour. We also had a blues club of our own, Reservation Blues, but I haven't been involved in years. There's a new owner, and he has changed the name of the place, too.

How much time do you spend on the road?

Quite a lot. About 60 - 70 per cent of the time. I didn't tour that much last year, but this year seems to be busier again.

Are you planning to stay in Europe for long?

I arrived to play this one gig. Next month I'll be playing in the Netherlands for a couple of weeks. A few weeks ago I flew to Switzerland for one gig with Billy Branch. It was then that I, by chance, ran into Duke Robillard at the airport. It would be nice to tour around here more often, but it takes a lot of work to make things happen.

Funny thing, our editor-in-chief Pasi Tuominen moved to the USA some time ago, and one of his priorities was to see Eddy Clearwater live. And now you're playing Finland... are you going to play somewhere in the DC area anytime soon, so that also our editor would be able to see you?

In the DC area, I usually play the State Theatre in Falls Church, Virginia. Last time I played with The Nighthawks. I think I'm going to be playing around there in September or October. It suits me well when on the way to New York and the eastern parts of Canada.

It seems - at least from a Finnish viewpoint - that the blues is quite popular these days. Can you tell why that is?

I really don't know, but it's a good thing. I hope things remain that way.


Photo gallery by Marko Aho
Photo gallery by Jarmo Montonen

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Chicago Blues Are Doing Great

10 April 2009   
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Eddy "The Chief" Clearwater headlined the Grand Blues Festival in Lahti, Finland on 4 April. He talked about his influences and his music, adding a sneak-peek into the near future as well.

Chicago Blues great
Eddy "The Chief" Clearwater paid a visit to Lahti, Finland in early April to headline the annual Grand Blues Festival. As usual, the arrangers - the Lahti Blues Mafia association - arranged a press conference in order to provide an opportunity to have a chat with The Chief. Marko Aho has the story.

MA: Good to have you here again. It's been some time.

EC: Thank you. Glad to be here. I have good memories from the tour of 1991 -- we did it together with Carey and Lurrie Bell. It's a dream come true, as I have been looking forward to returning to Finland for so long.

You've been playing the blues for more than 50 years - quite an accomplishment.

Yeah, I started already in the fifties, so it's been a long road... knock on wood! My first single was "Hillbilly Blues", from 1958.

It hasn't been all blues, but there have been some country ingredients as well. I don't think that is very common among Chicago bluesmen?

I don't let things like that worry me while I'm writing songs. In "Hillbilly Blues", I tried to capture the relaxed southern attitude that is so characteristic to the Mississippi hill country. I have done a lot of things, plenty of rock 'n roll for example. Anyway, my music is all about me and it comes straight from the heart -- "Rock And Roll Is A Part Of My Soul", as one of my songs says.

Why did it take so long to finish your first album?

I just couldn't find the right people to do the job. I cut a bunch of 45's through the years, but my first album "The Chief" came out no earlier than in 1980. Things are good now with Alligator Records. I have my own label Cleartone, too.

Your Alligator debut "West Side Strut" was a success and was received very well by the audience.

Thank you. It indeed was well received. Recently, to my amazement, I noticed it had hit number one on the Living Blues chart. Ronnie Baker Brooks produced the album and did a good job. First he thought I was joking when I asked him to be the producer. After all, he came over the next day, set up a Pro Tools system in my basement and we started working. I am already planning on cutting a new album. It should be out next year.

Is Ronnie going to produce again?

Probably he will be featured on some songs. It would also be great to have Duke Robillard aboard. But maybe I shouldn't talk about the future too much.

Robillard produced some of your earlier albums, right?

Yes. I did "Reservation Blues" and "Cool Blues Walk" with him.

What about the style of your next album: blues or something else?

Right now I'm only getting some ideas together. Let's see where they will lead me. There will be blues, I guess. I prefer to leave some room for surprises. Sometimes I am surprised by the final results myself!

So you have gone to the studio without knowing what to record?

Sometimes new ideas come at the eleventh hour. "Blues for a Living", for instance, was written on the way to the studio. "Cool Blues Walk", too. It just came to me out of nowhere. I wrote "Reservation Blues" aboard a plane, heading for the Rhode Island studios.

The album "Rock and Roll City" with Los Straitjackets was a pleasant surprise. Can you tell me more about the project?

I was preparing to cut an album for Rounder. I told them I wanted to do something different this time. I suggested a rockabilly album. So they contacted Eddie Angel of Los Straitjackets. Eddie said they would be delighted to join me. I flew to Nashville and we rehearsed for a few days. I took another trip later on, and that was when we actually recorded the songs.

We did some gigs, too. They were really fun. Maybe we looked kind of weird: one was wearing a big Indian headdress, others were wearing Mexican wrestling masks. We were even nominated for a Grammy in the traditional blues category, although we were far from being traditional.
Eddy Clearwater with Marko Aho of Blues-Finland.com / BluesWebzine.com. No prizes for guessing which is which.
Clearwater in Lahti, Finland, April 2009 Jarmo Montonen