Clarence Clearwater
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Clarence Clearwater

Williams, Arizona, United States

Williams, Arizona, United States
Band Folk Acoustic


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Clarence Clearwater rested in his Williams home Monday, waiting to hear if he would be called to duty Tuesday as a performer on the Grand Canyon Railway that runs between Williams and the Grand Canyon every day, except Christmas and Christmas Eve.
"I'm on standby all the time," said Clearwater, 56, a Navajo who has been playing on the trains for almost three years. "I don't know if I'm working one day to the next. I've been called within an hour."
In the folk category, he received a nomination for his 2005 CD, "... but I've got a job," a version of the show Clearwater performs on the railway. In the traditional vocal category, he was nominated for his 2005 CD, "One Love," which includes love songs in seven languages.
He'll find out if he wins Sept. 9 at the 20-year-old Indian Summer Festival on the lakefront in Milwaukee, Wis.
"It doesn't matter to me if I win or not," he said. "I'm the only person who got nominated for two recordings. That gives me a great deal of pleasure. It makes me feel I've already won."
Clearwater will perform at the festival the afternoon before the awards. The festival draws about 80,000 people annually, so he is expecting a large audience.
Typically, he often plays for smaller groups of listeners in concerts in Flagstaff, on the Navajo Reservation and in Phoenix at the Heard Museum.
"I play to tens of thousands of people every year, a handful at a time," he said.
Armed with his trusty Martin guitar, Clearwater plays on one or the other of two railway trains an average of three times a week.
He is one of about 20 entertainers who regularly play for the railway and the only Native. Many of the musicians on the train are cowboys or they're dressed in period costumes as cowboys or gamblers.
"I'm the only entertainer on the Grand Canyon Railway that presents all original music," Clearwater said. "We come from all parts of the state -- Tucson, Yuma, Kingman and the eastern side of the state. The railway is the only business in northern Arizona that hires musicians full-time. That's absolutely amazing for a musician."
He thought playing music on the trains would be easy.
"It turned out to not be so kicked-back," he said. "It's tough on your body, standing for two hours, maintaining balance and keeping the music flowing. When I come back here, I'll be really tired."
Clearwater was born outside Rehoboth, N.M., near Gallup.
"I've been into music ever since I realized I was able to sing," he remembered. "By the time I was in the fifth and sixth grades, I started playing wind instruments. I was a trumpet player and was quite accomplished. I stayed with the baritone horn as my formal instrument."
He has been playing music for money most of his life.
"My focus was on trying to become a musician, a person who would make his living off playing an instrument. It was a wonderful idea, but in reality, I was really bucking against the current."
There were many twists and turns in his career path, including playing guitar with Ruby and the Dykes, a rock 'n' roll band in New Jersey and joining Angelique and the Third World, a rhythm-and-blues band in Manhattan.
Eventually, Clearwater came to specialize in his own genre: Traditional Navajo songs, within a contemporary format.
"Influences on my music come from all angles, so my structure is not a conventional three- or four-chord construction of music," he said. "I take the traditional song and do not alter it, but build Western music around it. A lot of other Native musicians will take Western music and insert Native chants. I work it the other way around."
Partially because of the money earned from his railway gig, Clearwater has been able to buy a home in Williams with Kathleen "Kat" Seekatz, 53, a public relations specialist who has lived with Clearwater for four years.
In addition to being his marketing manager, Seekatz is also his biggest fan.
"I think his music is wholly unique," she said. "I've never heard anything like it, and most other people haven't either. It's cross-generational and cross-cultural."
Seekatz said the many letters they receive are an indication that Clearwater's brand of music brings a lot of pleasure.
"We get letter from China, New Zealand, France and all over the United States, as well, about how much it enriched their experience having a Native person" she said. "So, they can get a little extra cultural kicker there. There's this Navajo guy singing a Navajo song, and suddenly they're tapping their feet and their kids are dancing."
Making a cross-cultural jump has not been easy for Clearwater. After returning to the reservation area in 1979, he worked to discover his Navajo roots. Navajo had not been spoken in his childhood home, and he didn't know the Navajo language.
Clearwater, who has four children of his own, tries to be a positive influence to Navajo youth who are interested in music.
"I meet so many talented Native kids," he said. "They can sing and play instruments, but they all emulate someone else. They don't go back to their roots. I say, 'Kids, we have a beautiful background we can work on and develop, which would be very viable in this world as a means to making a living.'"
Reporter Betsey Bruner can be reached at or 928-556-2255.
- Betsey Bruner, Arts, Culture & Community Editor, Arizona Daily Sun

Climb aboard the world of Clarence Clearwater. His music will transport you deep into Din, the world of the Navajo. Hell even help you on the train. Clearwater is the only Indian among the Wild West entertainers who sing and play guitar for tourists traveling the Grand Canyon Railway to the south rim of the Grand Canyon.

The train leaves the Williams depot at 10 a.m. Arrive about 9 a.m., get your tickets, grab a Starbucks coffee at the concession stand, watch a shoot-em-up stage show, then travel to a wonder of the world.

On the trip, you might spot a deer, dust devil or train robber on horseback. Youll definitely catch one of the strolling cowboy singers on the train. Their tales of sweet seoritas will get your feet tapping and your hands giving tips. But catch Clearwaters act, and youll get a different take on the trip youre taking.

High desert winds blow in open windows, gently lifting his long raven hair. Red ribbons stream from his shirt. An eagle feather bound in turquoise beads sways from the tip of his Martin guitar.

Youre going to a spiritual place, he explains. You are going to see Mother Earth as very few people see her. Youll see the millennia of time in one big eyeful. Its a very powerful experience.

He speaks gently.

We are all one with the earth, but we dont act like it. The canyon helps you realize how little you are next to nature. If we are to live in harmony, we need to regain harmony with the earth. While youre at the Canyon, touch the ground and re-establish harmony, Clearwater says.

If they werent listening before, Clearwaters strong singing voice gets peoples attention. He melds contemporary guitar instrumentations with traditional Navajo songs. Lyrics about respecting earth and humanity sometimes lapse into Spanish, French, German or one of the many indigenous languages Clearwater can sing. Even the most jaded traveler turns to watch this moccasin-wearing troubadour.

Ive had a lot of people come back and thank me for giving them an enlightened perspective on their journey, Clearwater says.

A Navajo Bob Dylan

Since he only gets snippets of time to perform on the train, Clearwater focuses on the spiritual journey to the Canyon. Off the train, his music goes down another track.

Hes a Navajo Bob Dylan, crooning tales of injustice. Clearwaters lyrics lash out at American society for its way of life at the expense of everyone else.

He sings, This is my land. You took my land. This is my land. You made it your country. What else do you want from me?

One ballad, I Saw Kit Carson Still Alive, is a collaboration with poet John Brandy. Clearwater orchestrated music for the poem that says frontiersman Kit Carson, who fought in the Civil War in campaigns against the Navajo, is still winning because there are still many prejudices in society against Native people.

Summing up how Clearwater became a man of music is like trying to convey Monument Valley in a snapshot.

He was six years old when missionaries convinced his parents it would be best if he were assimilated into American culture. He was put in a mission school that prohibited Navajo culture. At 16, he got kicked out and started attending Gallup High School. He became a member of the choir and won a scholarship to Coe College in Iowa, all the time studying music. He played brass instruments, then guitar.

Anxious to see the world, he left college in 1968 and headed to Europe, but during a stop in New York City, he was robbed and stranded.

I lived under the subways and worked odd jobs like shoveling snow at Madison Square Garden, says Clearwater, who soon was arrested for vagrancy. Instead of jail, a compassionate cop took responsibility for him, finding him a place to live and a job at a boutique. While waiting for work one day, Clearwater was playing his guitar and a woman happened to hear him. She left, but returned with an invitation for him to audition for Angelique and the Third World, a 12-member band. Clearwater became the bands bass player. They toured around Boston and New York City, opening for bands such as Kool and the Gang, Tito Puente, Al Green and Aretha Franklin. The unionized group was choreographed.

We dressed in jump suits and platform shoes, Clearwater recalls.

The band paid for Clearwater to further his talent by taking voice and music lessons from a tenor in the New York Metropolitan Opera.

He played with Angelique and the Third World for four years. Then the drug scene became too wild for Clearwater, who moved to a smaller band with a guitar, bass, mandolin and washboard, eventually called Ruby and the Dykes. But as the band was gaining momentum, so was the Vietnam War.

Clearwater was the second Native American to refuse induction to the military. At first, he was arrested, but lawyers from Rutgers University in New Jersey came to his defense. In 1973, he was officially acquitted.

Around this time, I began wanting to know more about Native culture. I went to South Dakota and lived with the Lakota Indians on the Rosebud reservation. I met an old man, Henry Crow Dog, who sang traditional prayer songs every morning in a grove of oak trees. One morning, when I was expecting him to sing, he began strumming an old guitar like a drum. Thats when I realized how I want to present my music, he explains. For me, the big formulation in developing Native music was to begin using the guitar as a percussive instrument more than a structured chordal instrument.

Clearwater hooked up with the Native American Theatre Co. back in New Jersey and was part of 49, a Native American music play written in 1975 by Hanay Geigomah. Performers included Native music pioneers Jim Pepper and Jesse Ed Davis. The play toured through the New York metropolitan area and in Oklahoma.

But the more Clearwater was around Native music, the more he yearned to get to know his own Native roots.

Back to basics

Clearwater returned to Gallup in 1979 to immerse himself in his own culture, learning the Navajo language that was denied him as a kid. He began to orchestrate different instruments to old Navajo songs and bring them up to date, while retaining the original rhythms and emotions.

My uncle Charlie Toledo taught me many of the Navajo songs, says Clearwater, who finally felt at home. Clearwater is from the Nakai Din Clan on his mothers side and the Red House Clan on his fathers side.

I will never stop learning, writing songs or hitchhiking, he claims. If I dont hitchhike, I feel I will destroy the buoyancy in my singing. Society is too fearful.

In 2002, he worked with Northern Arizona University to study the music of the Seri indigenous tribe living on the coast of the Sea of Cortez in Mexico.

Clearwater performs throughout Arizona, New Mexico, Oregon and New York. He still hitchhikes back and forth to New Mexico to see some of his four children and six grandchildren.

He says the Canyon feels like home to him.

Hanging out at the Canyon has brought me closer to my family. I can feel my ancestors here, he says. My lifestyle is not conventional like my ancestors, or like modern society. I live somewhere in between. - Diane Rechel / Flagstaff LIVE! / Arizona Daily Sun


Grey Boy Has Come, LP
Leaving at High Noon, LP
Bobcat's Foot is Hurting, LP
...but I've got a job. LP
One Love, LP
Songs of the Season, LP
All CDs have samples of all songs on the website.



My music is a development of traditional themes within a contemporary format. I do not write songs. They are given to me as a gift from the Great Spirit, a Higher Power, The Universe. Music is a means for me to convey ideas of my spirituality, which has its basis in both traditional and Christian ideologies.

My songs have been created in so many different ways. At times it just takes a moment. At other times it has taken years to develop a theme. My songs are usually written around certain aspects of Navajo spirituality such as the Four Sacred Mountains, The Wind Spirit and the elements that create our environment. Some of my songs also address the repression and oppression of Native Peoples.

Music started for me very early in life. The technical aspects of the music came through learning at school. I played the trumpet at the age of eight and then progressed to other wind instruments and percussive instruments. By the time I had completed my secondary education I was fairly well versed in reading, writing and transposing music as well.

There are healing aspects in my music. The universe, as I understand it, is balanced and this balance strives to exist in each one of us. Often times the upsetting of this balance creates conflict internally and is reflected externally through our actions. It is my hope that my music will soothe the confused soul and create new enlightenment for those who seek it.

Clarence Toledo, Jr. (DBA Clarence Clearwater)

Born on August 15, 1949 in Rehoboth, New Mexico, the middle of three children born to Nina Pinto Toledo and Clarence Toledo, Sr. Clarence enjoyed a happy, family oriented childhood. His eldest sister, Kathryn Manuelito, resides in Tempe, Arizona. His younger sister, Eulynda Toledo-Benallie, lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Both sisters have doctorate degrees in education.

At the age of six, Clarence was enrolled in a Christian Reformed Protestant Mission School in Rehoboth where he spent eleven years. He graduated from Gallup High School in Gallup, New Mexico. While there he had the distinctions of being the Boys State Representative and Rockefeller Foundation Scholar. He was active in chorus and band activities including All State Band and Chorus throughout his high school years.

Toledo attended Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, University of New Mexico at Albuquerque and the University of Oklahoma at Norman. After visiting New York City Clarence relocated there and joined a funk band called Angelique and the Third World. He then moved on to New Jersey and played bass guitar with a rock and roll band called Ruby and the Dykes. He then became acquainted with the "Native American Theater Ensemble" in New York City and filled the roles of singer/songwriter and musician.

Eventually all of this led Toledo back to his origins. In 1981 he moved back to the Navajo Land in order to gain a better understanding of his people and their traditions. It was only then that he learned to speak his native tongue and to truly understand certain elements of his heritage.

Clarence Toledo is the father of four children. His eldest son is Adakai, his daughters are Summer and Fashawna, and his youngest son is Dylan. He also has eight grandchildren. He resides with his partner, Kat in Williams, Arizona.