West Side Strut
The Alligator debut from this beloved Chicago blues legend. Edgy West Side blues and fiery old school rock, with a contemporary spark provided by producer Ronnie Baker Brooks (Lonnie’s son), who also plays guitar. Lonnie Brooks, Otis Clay and Jimmy Johnson guest. “Raw chops, soulful vocals, and earthy, humorous lyrics.” –DownBeat
Eddy Clearwater: Lead guitar, lead and background vocals, acoustic guitar
Ronnie Baker Brooks: Rhythm and lead guitar (lead guitar on “Hypnotized,”
“Do Unto Others” and co-lead guitar and vocals on “Came Up The Hard Way”), acoustic guitar, percussion, bass guitar and background vocals
Daryl Coutts: Organ and piano
Carlton Armstrong: Bass guitar
Maurice “Moe” Taylor: Drums and cowbell
Dennis Taylor: Tenor and baritone saxophone
Steve Herrman: Trumpet
Earnest Williamson: Clarinet
Jean-Christopher Leroy: Percussion
Earnest Williamson, Jackie Johnson,
Marion Boyce, Stacey Hall, Valencia Robinson and Vicki Loveland: Voices on “A Time For Peace”
Horns arranged by Steve Herrman
Billy Branch: Harmonica
Lonnie Brooks: Lead guitar and co-lead vocal on “Too Old To Get Married.” Background vocal on “Do Unto Others”
Otis Clay: Co-lead vocal on “Do Unto Others”
Jimmy Johnson: Co-lead vocal on “Do Unto Others”
Produced by Ronnie Baker Brooks
Executive Producer: Eddy Clearwater
Recorded and mixed by Rick Barnes at Rax Trax, Chicago, IL
Horns recorded by Michael Holmes at Hot House Productions, Nashville, TN
Additional recording by Niko Lyras at Cotton Row Studios, Memphis, TN
“Gotta Move On,” “Do Unto Others” and “A Time For Peace” mixed by Niko Lyras at Cotton Row Studios, Memphis, TN
Mastered by Dan Stout, Bruce Iglauer and Eddy Clearwater at Colossal Mastering, Chicago, IL
Photos by Paul Natkin/Photo Reserve
Packaging design by Kevin Niemiec
Alligator logo by Michael Trossman
I want to give recognition to a fine blues man and musically impeccable producer, my nephew, Ronnie Baker Brooks, and everyone who worked on this CD, and special thanks to three of the most talented and faithful friends, in alphabetical order: Lonnie Brooks, Otis Clay and Jimmy Johnson, and to a phenomenal harpist, Billy Branch. I also want to give a round of applause to Marty Salzman, who introduced this CD to Alligator Records, and to Bruce Iglauer for acknowledging my talent and becoming part of my family just as I am a part of the Alligator family —Eddy Clearwater
Special thanks to Jellybean Johnson, Niko Lyras, Rick Barnes, Michael Holmes, Vaughn Baker, Ricco White, and my uncle, Eddy “The Chief” Clearwater —Ronnie Baker Brooks
Eddy Clearwater is booked by Piedmont Talent: email@example.com, 704-399-2210, and managed by Reneé Greenman Entertainment Management Inc.: firstname.lastname@example.org, 847-679-6311.
When Eddy “The Chief” Clearwater went to the well for inspiration on his new album, he drew from the musical proving ground of his youth: Chicago’s hardscrabble West Side. Clearwater was a 15-year-old southpaw guitarist named Eddie Harrington in 1950 when he arrived in the Windy City by bus from Birmingham, Alabama. Settling on the West Side, he was surrounded by, and soon sharing bandstands with, musicians who would become legendary in the blues world: Freddie King, Otis Rush, Luther Allison and perhaps his favorite, Magic Sam. Now, Clearwater pays tribute to his old neighborhood with “West Side Strut.”
“The title refers to a mood, a groove, a movement onstage; you’re kind of strutting along with that energy,” he explains. “If you worked on the West Side, you had to have a lot of energy; otherwise you wouldn’t be too well accepted. The people were expecting a lot. That’s why I was drawn to outgoing, out-front guys like Magic Sam and Luther Allison — guys who were very strong and powerful. You had to really demand respect. You had to have that certain power about you. You had to come on strong or you wouldn’t be up there. This is how I wanted to present myself.”
The Chief presents himself proudly on “West Side Strut,” his first album for Chicago’s Alligator Records after previous efforts for Rooster Blues, Rounder and Bullseye, among others. “It’s a dream come true. Recording for Alligator is a dream I’ve had for many years, and it’s worked out ten times better than I expected.” It’s only natural that the affiliation with his hometown label would be accompanied by a return to deep West Side blues. “I feel rooted and grounded in that,” Clearwater says. His stylistic influences, though, range far afield from the guitar-driven blues sound of his youth. With many of the tracks on “West Side Strut,” Clearwater proves equally adept at playing rockabilly, rock ‘n’ roll, country, soul and gospel.
Helping push his sound in a more hard-rocking direction is producer Ronnie Baker Brooks, who also backs Clearwater on guitar. Brooks’ young band is along on almost every tune, and guest Billy Branch is in top form on harmonica. With Brooks’ creative input, “West Side Strut” might be seen as a torch passing for the 73-year-old Clearwater, a sign that the singer-guitarist is ready to pass down his brand of rev-it-up-and-go blues to a new generation of Chicago players. But not so fast. “I have a few more licks I want to put across before I give it up,” Clearwater laughs. The Clearwater-Brooks collaboration makes perfect sense, especially considering the praise that The Chief has heaped upon the young firebrand guitarist and son of Alligator mainstay Lonnie Brooks.
And Eddy put his money where his mouth was, booking Ronnie frequently at Reservation Blues, his nightclub in the Wicker Park neighborhood on Chicago’s Near Northwest Side. The club is no more, but the younger Brooks built his reputation with his gigs and particularly his jam sessions at the club. Now he’s known as the guitarist Chicago musicians want to jam with, in addition to releasing several fine albums of his own. Working with longtime Prince associate Jellybean Johnson, Brooks has picked up valuable knowledge about record making that he put to good use on “West Side Strut.” “We had a great time,” Eddy says of making “West Side Strut” with Ronnie as producer. “I would show him ideas for songs, and he would say, ‘Now show me that chord again.’ As far as all the Chicago musicians go, he’s super-talented, at the top of the list. He will go far in the business if he keeps the same attitude that he has now.”
The pair retrace their blues background on “Came Up The Hard Way,” with southern-born Eddy testifying about the hardships of picking cotton as a youth in Macon, Mississippi, and Ronnie looking back on his ghetto upbringing in Chicago. Driving home the success of their collaboration is the division of labor on the “West Side Strut” compositions: Clearwater wrote four songs himself, Brooks two, and they shared credit on three others. Several of the songs capture the pure fun of a performance by The Chief, who often takes the stage in trademark Indian headdress, a gift from a fan and an ode to his grandmother’s Cherokee ancestry. The novelty number “Too Old to Get Married,” with Lonnie Brooks sharing lead guitar and vocals with his old friend, encapsulates Clearwater’s rollicking persona.
And yet there’s another, more serious side to The Chief, a yearning for peace and love for all mankind. He expresses those wishes through the Clearwater-Brooks number “A Time for Peace,” as well as “Do Unto Others.” The latter song was co-written by Eddy’s friend and publicist, Karen Leipziger, a frequent contributor to Clearwater’s more recent albums, and features two more venerable Chicago-honed talents, Otis Clay and Jimmy Johnson, on shared vocals. Clearwater’s fun-loving side has always coexisted with his spiritual side. Like so many blues artists, he received early training in the music of the church, which enabled him to step in as a guitarist with the gospel group the Five Blind Boys of Alabama when his family moved to Alabama when he was 13. As a writer, Clearwater can still ‘take ‘em to church’ as easily as he works a hard-partying crowd at a nightclub.
The songwriting is strong enough on “West Side Strut” that Clearwater has little need for cover material, although he does dig deep for a pair of gems: Lowell Fulson’s “Trouble, Trouble” and Muddy Waters’ “Walking Through The Park.” It’s particularly appropriate that Clearwater include a song from Muddy, the King Bee of Chicago blues, given that his stage name is a takeoff on “Muddy Waters.” It was suggested to Eddy by Jump Jackson, a long-ago drummer who agreed to manage him only if he’d accept the moniker.
Today, Eddy appears to be primed for a Clearwater revival. “I intend to put much more into it this coming year and tour heavily,” he says. “My wife and I already have his-and-hers Jaguars. Now I’m gonna buy a new tour bus.”
Jeff Johnson, winner of the 2004 Keeping The Blues Alive Award in Journalism, presented by The Blues Foundation, covers blues music for The Chicago Sun-Times.