EDDIE ‘Cleanhead’ VINSON

Eddie VinsonEddie ‘Cleanhead’ Vinson’s alto sax graced many great jazz, jump-Blues and R&B records, and his distinctive, playful singing voice got him some hit records as a front man in his own band. Equally at home taking solos in The Count Basie Orchestra or rocking the room with The Johnny Otis Revue, Cleanhead’s shining dome reflected the spotlights on stages all over the world.

Born in Houston Texas in 1917, Eddie took up saxophone while he was still at school. He joined Chester Boone’s band, where he played with the young T-Bone Walker, before switching to Milt Larkin’s Orchestra alongside Arnett Cobb and Illinois Jaquet, in what was one of the leading touring bands of the 30s.

After touring in the backing groups of Big Bill Broonzy and Lil Green, Eddie had a brief spell in Jay McShann’s band alongside another talented kid who also blew alto sax, called Charlie Parker. Eddie moved to New York in 1941 to join Cootie Williams’ Orchestra and contributed sax solos and frenetic vocals to the band’s hits ‘Cherry Red’ and ‘Somebody’s Got to Go’. By this time Eddie had suffered an accident with a lye-based hair straightening product which left him totally bald several decades before skull-shaving became fashionable among young men, and got him the performing name of ‘Cleanhead’.

Eddie takes a vocal lead, then backs up the Lindy Hoppers in this great 1943 film;

Eddie formed his own band in 1945 and recorded some romping jump-blues, including a double-sided smash hit, ‘Old Maid Boogie’ and ‘Kidney Stew Blues’, which became Cleanhead’s signature tune. He might have had more hits but material like ‘Some Women Do’ and ‘Ever Ready Blues’ were too raunchy to get radio airplay. By the early 50s, Cleanhead was playing more jazz, alongside the young John Coltrane on baritone sax, and he wrote two songs for Miles Davis, ‘Tune Up’ and ‘Four’. He kept a foot in both camps by recording R&B for Mercury while cutting jazz for the Riverside label, and his album with Cannonball Adderley in 1961 is superb. Cleanhead toured with The Count Basie Orchestra from the mid 50s until the 70s, and his Blues-drenched sax solos fitted brilliantly into The Johnny Otis Revue too. He toured Europe several times with The Count and Johnny, and re-united with Jay McShann on piano, he cut the ‘Wee Baby Blues’ album in Paris, where he re-visited his work as a Blues Shouter.

Eddie shows great style in ‘Alimony Blues’;

Eddie 'Cleanhead' Vinson Discography
This excellent 1969 offering has Eddie playing and singing with T-Bone Walker and Jay McShann on the album that marked his comeback. What a great voice!


Cleanhead was a big favourite in Europe and he played the Montreux Festival several times. A series of live albums at Sandy’s Club in Beverly MA, a superb Blues album, ‘I Want a Little Girl’ with Art Hillery and Cal Green, and a storming set with The Roomful of Blues (including Ronnie Earl) showed that Cleanhead had lost none of his exuberance in his later years. He was undergoing chemotherapy treatment in 1988 when he died from a heart attack in LA.