Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson Biography

18 December 1917, Houston, Texas, USA, d. 2 July 1988, Los Angeles, California, USA. Taking up the alto saxophone as a child, his proficiency at the instrument attracted local band leaders even while young Vinson was still at school, and he began touring with Chester Boone’s territory band during school holidays. Upon his graduation in 1935, Vinson joined the band full-time, remaining when the outfit was taken over by Milton Larkins the following year. During his five-year tenure with the legendary Larkins band he met T-Bone Walker, Arnett Cobb, and Illinois Jacquet, who all played with Larkins in the late 30s. More importantly the band’s touring schedule brought Vinson into contact with ‘Big’ Bill Broonzy, who taught him how to shout the blues, and Jay ‘Hootie’ McShann’s Orchestra whose innovative young alto player, Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker, was ‘kidnapped’ by Vinson for several days in 1941 in order to study his technique.

After being discovered by Cootie Williams in late 1941, Vinson joined the Duke Ellington trumpeter’s new orchestra in New York City and made his recording debut for OKeh Records in April 1942, singing a solid blues vocal on ‘When My Baby Left Me’. With Williams’ orchestra, Vinson also recorded for Hit Records (1944), Capitol Records (1945) and appeared in a short film, Film-vodvil no 2 (1943), before leaving to form his own big band in late 1945 and recording for Mercury Records. At Mercury he recorded small-group bop and blasting band instrumentals, but his main output was the fine body of suggestive jump-blues sung in his unique wheezy Texas style. Hits such as ‘Juice Head Baby’, ‘Kidney Stew Blues’ and ‘Old Maid Boogie’ were the exceptions, however, as most of Vinson’s no-holds-barred songs, including ‘Some Women Do’, ‘Oil Man Blues’ and ‘Ever-Ready Blues’, were simply too raunchy for airplay.

After the 1948 union ban, Vinson began recording for King Records in a largely unchanged style (‘I’m Gonna Wind Your Clock’, ‘I’m Weak But Willing’, ‘Somebody Done Stole My Cherry Red’), often with all-star jazz units. However, his records were not promoted as well as King’s biggest R&B stars, such as Wynonie Harris and Roy Brown, and he left to return to Mercury in the early 50s, rejoining Cootie Williams’ small band briefly in the mid-50s. In 1957 he toured with Count Basie’s Orchestra and made some recordings with a small Basie unit for King’s jazz subsidiary, Bethlehem Records, after which he retired to Houston. In 1961 he was rediscovered by fellow-alto saxophonist Cannonball Adderley, and a fine album resulted on Riverside Records with the Adderley brothers’ small band. From then until his death in 1988 (of a heart attack), Vinson found full-time employment at worldwide jazz and blues festivals, a steady international touring schedule and dozens of credible albums on jazz and blues labels such as Black & Blue, Bluesway, Pablo, Muse and JSP.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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