Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Album Review: Eddy “The Chief” Clearwater – Soul Funky Live


Lynn Orman Weiss slid me a copy of this at the Blues Blast awards show last month – what a neat CD!

Eddy “The Chief” Clearwater – Soul Funky Live

Self Release through Cleartone Records

12 tracks / 75:44

Eddy “The Chief” Clearwater is a certified Chicago hero, and is certainly one of the legendary blues guitarists/singers of the last half of the 20th century. Born as Edward Harrington in pre-WWII Mississippi, he moved with his family to Alabama where he taught himself to play the guitar (as a southpaw), and he took up with a few gospel groups. But the big city lights have their allure, and he finally had to take off for the Windy City in 1950 to live with his uncle.

He started his career in Illinois washing dishes, but he worked his way into some gospel gigs and eventually fell under the mentorship of Magic Sam. By 1953 he was performing as Guitar Eddy Clearwater, and he has not let up since -- that long of a professional music career makes for true guitar hero stuff!

Well past the normal retirement age Eddy is still out gigging and recording while most folks of his era are sitting at home and trying to figure out what to do with themselves. He has figured out what he wants to do, and that is playing the blues! His latest release, Soul Funky, is a wonderful glimpse into the world of his live show, as recorded at SPACE in Evanston, Illinois on January 10, 2014.

A killer crew joined Eddy that evening, and they brought some serious muscle to what must have been a crowded stage. This included Ronnie Baker Brooks on vocals and guitar, Johnny Iguana (the Claudettes!) on the keys, Shoji Naito on guitar and blues harp, Stephen Bass behind the drum kit, David Knopf on bass, and Thomas Crivellone on guitar. Eddy, Shoji and Rick Barnes produced this 12 song disc that plays out like a regular hour-plus club set, and they made sure that it would be a neat piece of work in all respects.

The show kicks off with “They Call Me the Chief,” a catchy intro that was written by Brooks, and it is the first chance on the CD to hear The Chief’s still-incredible guitar prowess. Eddy and Ronnie are proficient songwriters, which is fortunate as these gentlemen penned 10 out of the 12 songs on this album. From there they coasted into “Hypnotized,” an original funky blues tune with burning guitars from Brooks and Clearwater and sweet Hammond work from Iguana.

“Too Old To Get Married,” was written by Brooks and is catchy enough that hearing it once is enough to get it stuck in your head for the rest of the day. It has that Check Berry sound, this time with Naito on guitar and a little Jerry Lee Lewis piano thrown in for good measure. It is all good stuff, but the highlight of this album is a hybrid presentation of “Came Up the Hard Way” and “Root to the Fruit,” which is thirteen minutes of slow-grinding blues and feel-good stomp, both with some nice harmonica parts from Shoji. It looks kind of weird on paper but works out just fine on the stage.

A couple of sweet covers can be found in this set, too. “Please Accept my Love” does not stray far from the B.B. King original, and this slow blues ballad provides a breather in what is an otherwise rocking blues set. And “Lonesome Town” is a spooky grind with reverb galore, co-written by Los Straightjacket’s Eddie Angel. There will certainly be no mistaking this for the Ricky Nelson song of the same name.

As the album draws to a close, the “Ending Midnight Groove” gives Eddy the chance to graciously thank his fellow musicians, as well as the fans in the crowd that keep him in the spotlight year after year. His love for what he does and for the folks that come out to see him play is obvious; he is a bridge to an era of the blues that should be appreciated and never forgotten.

Soul Funky is the next best thing to seeing Eddy Clearwater and his band playing out, and if you are a fan of Chicago blues you owe it to yourself to pick up a copy of this CD because you will be able to hear for yourself that after more than 60 years he is still at the top of his game. Unfortunately, his upcoming tour schedule is mostly in Europe, but if you play your cards right you will make sure you are in Evanston on January 9, as he has another gig scheduled at SPACE. Check him out for yourself!


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