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Saturday, 11 September 2010

Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson - Mr Cleanhead Steps Out

Side A
1. Mr Cleanhead Steps Out
2. When My Baby Left Me (Cootie Williams)
3. Juice Head Baby (Cootie Williams)
4. Kidney Stew Blues
5. I've Been So Good
6. It's A Groovy Affair
7. Old Maid Boogie
8. Shavetail

Side B
1. Gonna Send You Back Where I Got You From
2. Luxury Tax Blues
3. Wrong Girl Blues
4. Friday Fish Fry
5. I Took The Front Door In
6. Home Boy
7. Eddie's Bounce
8. Time After Time

Let’s get the nickname out of the way first. Eddie Vinson earned the soubriquet of “Cleanhead” after an overenthusiastic application of lye-based hair straightener burned his scalp and left him with a head as smooth as a baby’s bottom. By the time his hair started to grow back, Eddie had become so enamoured of his new look that he kept his head shaved for ever after.

He was born in Houston, Texas, in December 1917. Music ran in the family, both parents being pianists and a grandfather being a violinist. At around the age of 17 Eddie took up the alto saxophone and was soon so proficient that he was attracting the attention of local bands. However, it was with the territory band of Chester Boone that Eddie commenced his musical career. A former member of the Boone band was trumpeter and fellow native of Houston, Milt Larkin, who formed his own band in 1936, taking tenor sax man Arnett Cobb from the Boone outfit. Cobb recommended Vinson to Larkin and by 1937 Eddie was a member of what soon became the hottest territory band in Texas.

Sadly, the Larkin outfit remained unrecorded but it soon acquired a formidable reputation in battles against not only fellow territory bands, but also against national “name” bands. In the late 1930s and early 1940s the Milt Larkin band included musicians like Arnett Cobb, Illinois Jacquet, Tom Archia, Russell Jacquet and even T-Bone Walker for a short spell. At this time Eddie’s vocal efforts were limited to ballad singing, but while singing the blues in an impromptu backstage session in late 1941 he was overheard by former Duke Ellington trumpet player Cootie Williams.

Williams had come south to Houston with the intention of signing Arnett Cobb to the new band he was forming back up in New York. Cobb refused to budge, but after three attempts at persuasion Eddie Vinson made the long rail journey to New York City to become the star of The Cootie Williams Orchestra. In 1944 the band recorded several sessions for Hit / Majestic and it was the numbers which featured the distinctive voice of Vinson which became hits. “Cherry Red Blues” made it to number two on the Harlem Hit Parade and “Somebody’s Got To Go” reached number one.

In mid-1945 the Cootie Williams band signed with Capitol Records. In the first half of the year Eddie had been drafted and his alto sax chair was temporarily filled by Charlie Parker. Eddie’s asthmatic condition (which accounted for the peculiar wheeze and catch in his singing voice) plus the collapse of the Third Reich meant that his absence was a short one. He was back with the band for the July recording sessions at which he sang “When My Baby Left Me” and “Juice Head Baby.”

These were his last recordings for the Cootie Williams band. Having established himself as a major star (top R&B band vocalist in 1944), Eddie felt it was time to strike out on his own and before the year was out he was fronting his own big band on Mercury Records. There were fifteen men swingin’ on the fine instrumental “Mr Cleanhead Steps Out” which was backed with a remake of “Juice Head Baby.” The first single issued from the session had some superb blues hollerin’ – “I’ve Been So Good,” backed with a catchy swing instrumental “It’s A Groovy Affair.” The next session produced two further remakes of numbers Eddie originally recorded with Cootie Williams – “Cherry Red Blues” and “Somebody’s Got To Go.”

Original 78rpm disc scans courtesy El Enmascadero Del Platter

Before the end of 1945 there was a third recording session for the big band, but there was a gap of ten months before the band hit the studio again in October 1946, recording a lone single, “Cleanhead Blues” / “When A Woman Loves Her Juice.”

1947 is often cited as the year the big bands really hit trouble. At the beginning of the year many of the best known groups broke up. Benny Carter, Les Brown, Benny Goodman, Woody Herman, Jack Teagarden, Tommy Dorsey and Harry James all disbanded their aggregations, although some were to subsequently reform. In January of 1947 Eddie Vinson was back in the recording studio, but this time with a reduced seven piece line-up. The session produced his biggest hit under his own name – “Kidney Stew” / “Old Maid Boogie,” the eighth top selling R&B single of 1947.

There was one last big band session in mid-1947 (“Gonna Send You Back Where I Got You From”) but all subsequent recordings were with small jump band line-ups. Eddie’s stay with the Mercury label lasted until December 1947 with the last sides being made on the 28th as the second AFM strike loomed. “I Took The Front Door In” was a standard blues shout from Eddie, but “Shavetail” and “Friday Fish Fry” are interesting bop influenced instrumentals. Although it was his blues singing which provided Eddie with his biggest hits, it was his fine jazzy alto sax playing which would help prolong his career once the jumpin’ and shoutin’ style of rhythm and blues had gone out of fashion.

Eddie’s recording career didn’t resume until August 1949 when he signed with King Records with whom he stayed until July 1952. The King sides were the first Eddie Vinson records I ever heard (on a Gusto 2LP set) and mighty impressive they were too. But despite the outstanding musicianship on display (“Lockjaw” Davis and Buddy Tate were in the backing bands), none of the sides were hits. This was probably due not only to King honcho Syd Nathan concentrating on his two biggest R&B stars of the time, Roy Brown and Wynonie Harris, but also to the fact that by the early fifties Eddie’s jazzy jump blues was going out of style.

Of the three King sides on this LP, “Home Boy” is a loping blues shuffle with a great tenor sax break by Lee Pope who had been with Eddie since the days of the Cootie Williams band. “Eddie’s Bounce” is another boppish instrumental and most unusually, “Time After Time” is a ballad sung by Eddie, which takes us all the way back to his days as a featured ballad singer in the Milt Larkin band.

Some of Eddie’s King sides will feature in an upcoming post, but you can find a selection of them on the blog in Volume 3 and Volume 4 of the “Battle of the Blues” albums.

Ripped from vinyl at 320 kbps. Password = greaseyspoon

Download from here:

1. Mr Cleanhead Steps Out (Mercury 2031, December (?) 1945)
2. When My Baby Left Me (Capitol 266, July 1945)*
3. Juice Head Baby (Capitol 237, May or July 1945)*
4. Kidney Stew Blues (Mercury 8028, January 1947)
5. I've Been So Good (Mercury 2030, December 1945)
6. It's A Groovy Affair (Mercury 2030, December 1945)
7. Old Maid Boogie (Mercury 8028, January 1947)
8. Shavetail (Mercury 8244, December 1947)
9. Gonna Send You Back Where I Got You From (Mercury 8051, April 1947)
10. Luxury Tax Blues (Mercury 8051, April 1947)
11. Wrong Girl Blues (Mercury 8244, June 1947)
12. Friday Fish Fry (Mercury 8110, December 1947)
13. I Took The Front Door In (Mercury 8138, December 1947)
14. Home Boy (King 4456, March 1951)
15. Eddie's Bounce (King 4381, August 1949)
16. Time After Time (King 4456, March 1951)

* = Cootie Williams & His Orchestra

Recommended listening – The JSP 4 CD set “Honk for Texas” as already recommended on the Big Jim Wynn post. Over 2 CDs of Eddie, from Cootie to King. Plus about one and a half CDs of Jim Wynn. Get it!


rickybanana said...

Great, great, many Thanks my Friend.

Jonathan F. King said...

Ah, this is marvelous! I've had trouble finding much Cleanhead, in stores or online. Much appreciated...

Anonymous said...

Just reading this post and realizing how much work went into the fine writing and research is enough to tire me out. I demand that you share your secrets, Boogiewoody! Seriously though, thanks very much for this. Marie

Anonymous said...

I love Cleanhead! Prefer the later blues-y stuff to the earlier bop. Not sure if I have this already, his music is scattered across many discs and usually poorly annotated.

I wasn't aware of the 'Honk For Texas' Collection, I'll have to seek that out. Thanks for mentioning it, terrific blog!

Bombshelter Slim said...

This is a great record! Now, if only I could find the album "Cherry Red" (not like there are a dozen or so with that title) that features Mike Bloomfield... anyone?

boogiewoody said...

I don't have that one Bombshelter. There will be a different Cherry Red along in the immediate future, however ...

aroonie said...

Wonderful! Many thanks.

Yes they call me mister Cleanhead 'cause I've been bald a long long time
But I don't need to worry
You'll get yours and brother I know I'll get mine

Now you heard my story
And I hope you'll understand
Why you hear all the women holler
Where can I find that Cleanhead man?

Baron said...

Thank you BW ... Baron

Roel Abels said...

Thank you for this information about Cleanhead. You`re the only one on the net, who has given us really extented info about Eddie Vinson.

Greetings from Holland,

Roel Abels