Eddie ‘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.
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.