"The Chief" Clearwater
West Side Strut
“The Chief” Clearwater’s Alligator debut was one
of the most anticipated blues CDs of 2008. Known
around the globe as a consummate showman, Clearwater
– a long-time giant of the West Side Chicago blues
sound – is ecstatic about the record deal.
“Recording for Alligator is a dream I’ve had for
many years,” says The Chief. Clearwater becomes the
first Chicago-based artist to release a recording on
Alligator since the early to mid ’90s.
Baker Brooks was hand-picked by Clearwater to
produce West Side Strut. This has resulted in
different, newer, and younger ideas being added to
Clearwater’s established sound. Baker Brooks also
contributes guitar, percussion, bass, background
vocals, two original songs as well as three
co-written songs. Best of all the differing styles
(traditional versus contemporary) of these bluesmen
complement each other instead of colliding with each
contains blues, soul, and gospel. The sonic
innovation of Billy Branch’s harp, in the opening
number, "A Good Leavin’ Alone," makes it known that
this is a loud, proud, and bold Chicago blues
record. Here, while blazing a trail on his fret
board, Clearwater growls the lyrics out like a bear.
Throughout the duration of the disc, his vocals are
far more tame and weary. "Gotta Move On" is a
soulful ballad that is emotional and sensitive,
whereas "Too Old To Get Marrie" is the exact
opposite. The latter is a fun rock and blues boogie
that features Lonnie Brooks on guitar and vocals.
Clearwater’s Indian heritage is heard in the heavy
beat of the ultra contemporary "They Call Me The
Chief." Eddy, who has been in Chicago since 1950,
doesn’t need to lean on the strength of cover songs
because his own songs are strong enough. Yet,
Clearwater and Branch have a blast – literally –
trading solos on Muddy Waters’ "Walking Through The
Park" which is made to sound very contemporary.
"Rock-A-Blues Baby" was almost left off the album.
It combines pop and hip-hop beats with heavy metal
power chording and sounds unlike anything else on
songs were written by all the contributing
songwriters. Ronnie’s hot rockin’ guitar rips on the
captivating "Hypnotized." The gospel sounding "Do
Unto Others" – about treating others with respect –
was written by Clearwater’s publicist Karen
Leipziger. Guest vocalists Jimmy Johnson and Otis
Clay make the track superb, while Baker Brooks’
remarkable guitar work brings forth the emotions of
the stirring lyrics.
Clearwater’s best guitar performance surfaces on a
brilliant cover of Lowell Fulson’s "Trouble
Trouble." With a rich and deep message for hate and
war to cease, the gospel-like "A Time For Peace" is
enriching due to the backing vocals of six
accompanists. Here and throughout, the organ and
piano of Darryl Coutts is dazzling.
be a challenge to re-create these songs live as they
were not recorded with Clearwater’s band – they were
recorded with Baker Brooks’ band. Yet, this is an
exceptional album. West Side Strut is the
perfect mix of young and old, traditional and
contemporary, today and tomorrow. It is a strong
contender for blues record of the year.