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LIVE REVIEW: Eddy Clearwater's 81st Birthday Bash
GLT blues radio


81st Birthday Bash

January 10, 2016

SPACE, Evanston, IL


By James Porter

Eddy Clearwater 81st Orman
photo: Lynn Orman

Singer/guitarist Eddy Clearwater's show at SPACE on January 10 was clearly one of celebration. It was his 81st birthday, and judging from the full audience, his career is going as strong as ever. Unfortunately, Otis Clay, a southern-soul institution who resided in Chicago, died on the 8th. Before the show started, Otis' music was being played over the PA, and several overheard conversations concerned themselves with the last time they saw Otis live, including his many appearances at SPACE. Despite this immense loss, Eddy's 81st birthday party came on strong from the start with hardly any let-up.

Eddy Clearwater, Specter, Crivellone
L to R: Tom Crivellone, Dave Specter, Eddy Clearwater
photo: Lynn Orman

Eddy has been a mainstay of Chicago since he first arrived here from the South in 1950. Early on, he developed a distinct sound that fused West Side R&B with Chuck Berry-ish rockabilly. While he blitzed the scene with gigs on Chicago's South and West Sides (and the Illinois suburbs) and several 45s, his profile was heightened in 1980 with the release of his debut album, The Chief. Several albums and decades later, he still continues to smoke through one amazing live show after another.  

Eddy Clearwater w/ Mud Morganfield by Roman
L to R: Steve Bass (drums), Eddy Clearwater, Mud Morganfield, Dave Katzman, Dave Knoff, Shoji Naito
photo: Roman Sobus

Backed by a band that included Dave Knoff (bass), Shoji Naito (harmonica/occasional guitar), Steve Bass (drums) and Tom Crivellone (guitar), Mr. Clearwater entered the stage through the audience, wearing a white suit and the massive Indian headdress that has been his trademark for ages.

Eddy Clearwater headdress by Roman
photo: Roman Sobus

 Although fellow bluesman Ronnie Baker Brooks played guitar during the first song without fanfare, Eddy didn't pick up his axe until the second number, "Find You A Job." Although Eddy has amassed a lengthy catalog of original tunes, the show was peppered by standards like "My Babe," "That's All Right," and "You Don't Have To Go." Ronnie Baker Brooks, who has been producing him lately for the Alligator label, darted in and out of the show at different times, even performing a short segment at the beginning of the second set, dedicating his song "Stuck On Stupid" to the recently-departed Otis Clay.

Mud Morganfield by Roman
Mud Morganfield
photo: Roman Sobus

Another Clay dedication happened when blues vocalist Mud Morganfield showed up to sing his own tune, "Health" ("fortune and fame don't mean a thing without your health"). Other second-set superstars sitting in included guitarist Dave Katzman, drummer Jerry Porter, guitarist Dave Specter and harmonicist Billy Branch.

Eddy Clearwater 81 birthday cake
photo: Lynn Orman

        As it was his birthday, the audience was generously treated to slices of a sumptuous birthday cake. The occasion was certainly joyous, although one of the musical highlights wasn't even onstage. Backstage, between sets, Brooks lovingly serenaded Clearwater with an acoustic guitar, singing a song that paid sincere tribute to one of his mentors. Eddy Clearwater has managed to stay inventive within the blues idiom, and he's not afraid to insert his own stylistic quirks. Any artist who can hold on to their individualism that long clearly deserves any honors that come their way.

Eddy Clearwater, Ronnie, Billy
L to R: Ronnie Baker Brooks, Eddy Clearwater, Billy Branch, Jerry Porter
photo: Lynn Orman



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