Muse MR 5116 – Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson, “The Clean Machine” 
Eddie Vinson… Mr. Cleanhead… a name that conjures up the image of a bald-headed blues singer popular during the fifties. It’s a truthful image, but an incomplete one, for that is but one facet of the man’s talent – a second voice, if you will. The alto saxophone is his primary voice, and his playing reflects the sax tradition of his home state, Texas. A long line of important horns has come from there, including Herschel Evans, Budd Johnson, Illinois Jacquet, Arnett Cobb, King Curtis, and Ornette Coleman. For some reason, possibly the strong blues traditions of the state coupled with good musical schooling, Texas and the Southwest has produced many more strongly individualistic sax players than the other three-quarters of the country! It was from this mileau that Vinson’s talent arose.
Eddie was born in one of the musical hubs of the state – Houston – in 1917, the 18th of December. With piano-playing parents, and a fiddling grandfather, music was an easily accessible part of the home life. It was his father who purchased the first sax for him, as well as lessons with one James Lett to go with it. Later influences on his playing were Johnny Hodges, Benny Carter, and Willie Smith, as well as whatever was heard in Houston.With a background in church singing, his reading ability was good and progress on the horn was swift – he took local pick-up jobs until his first “regular” job with the band of one Chester Boone in the early thirties. By 1936 he was a member of the legendary big band led by trumpeter Milt Larkins: this territory outfit made no recordings, but was a most highly regarded unit with a light swinging style analogous to Jimmy Lunceford. The band had strong solo voices with Vinson, Arnett Cobb, and Illinois Jacquet on sax, and wild Bill Davis on guitar or piano – Davis and Cedric Heywood contributed many of the arrangements. Eddie left the Larkins band in 1940 to join Floyd Ray, but it wasn’t until 1942 that he came to wider notice.
In that year he became a part of the new band formed by Cootie Williams, one that included young musicians like Kenny Kersey, Joe Guy, and Bud Powell along with veterans Charlie Holmes, “Money” Johnson, and Sandy Williams (an air-check after Vinson left the band lists Charlie Parker in his alto chair!). It was Eddie’s vocal hits with Cootie – “Cherry Red Blues” “Somebody’s Got to Go” – in 1944 that led him to form his own big band later that following year.
It was an advantageous beginning, for he was one of the first important signings to the then-new Mercury Records, and he had more sellers for them – “Juice Head Baby”, “Old Maid Boogie”, “Kidney Stew”. It was a hot band that included Gus Johnson and Clark Terry, but the band business was in decline and he pared down to seven pieces after 1947. This combo included at one time a young John Coltrane (along with Johnny Coles and Red Garland), but never recorded.
After the [second] AFM strike against recording in 1948, Vinson worked as a single, recording for King Records – his best-known side for them was “Person to Person” – with the likes of “Lockjaw” Davis, Wynton Kelly, “Slide” Hampton, and Milt Buckner. A four-month reunion with Cootie came in ’54, as did a single session for Mercury (which included Arnett Cobb), but no hits resulted from this activity. By 1960 he’d done pick-up gigs and had short stints with the Basie band – he used some of its members on his first LP session (for Bethlehem) in 1957. Cannonball Adderley got him back to the studio for a date for Riverside in 1961 fronting the Adderley quintet, but work tailed off so much afterwards, that Eddie quit playing for nearly six years. The fickle music world strikes again!
Things got better in the late sixties as European tours and new LP sessions came along (a “re-discovery”). Eddie generally worked as a single on the road, or co-led a group in Houston with long-time cohort Arnett Cobb. In addition, Vinson had been one of the permanent floating members of the Johnny Otis Show. These days, Eddie works as much as he likes, often overseas, and lives in Los Angeles, where this session took place.
This is the favorite kind of album for many people though little done these days… enough horns for effective riffing, and lots of varied soloists. The tunes are a mixture of old and new, with three vocals, but it is the horn blowing tunes that are stand-outs to me. They, along with a gorgeous reading of “Tenderly”, will be the real ear-openers for the listener accustomed to other things from Vinson.
The band is a similar mix of old and new, starting with Lloyd Glenn. He began professionally in 1928, working with “T” Holder’s Clouds of Joy, Boots and his Buddies, Nat Towles, and Don Albert – all major southwestern bands. With the onset of the war, he settled in L.A., later getting involved as session-man/arranger/A&R man with Lowell Fulson, T-Bone Walker, and B.B. King, coupled with some four years with Kid Ory! Bruno Carr [dms] is a transplanted New Yorker best known for his work with Ray Charles, but he’s played with a musical spectrum ranging from Herbie Mann to John Coltrane. Larry Gales [bs] was with “Lockjaw” Davis/Johnny Griffin as well as Monk in NYC – since coming to the Coast, he’s been with Harold land and Blue Mitchell, as well as doing film and TV work. Rashid Ali [ts] comes from Philadelphia and a family band. Rashid worked with Cleanhead after Philadelphia, then with Jimmy Heath and Bill Doggett: coming to L.A. via Canada, he has gigged with Bill Berry, Bobby Bryant, and Dolo Coker. Texan Gary Bell [gtr] left the sax to take up the guitar, and has been with the likes of Fats Domino and Gloria Lynne. Minnesotan Jerry Rusch [tpt] has put in time with Gerald Wilson, Willie Bobo, and Charles Kynard, in addition to much pop/r’n’b session work.
What you have in your hands now is an album that places Eddie Vinson in his favorite location… with good musicians blowing some good tunes. Communication and good taste still live!
Pete Lowry [Peter B. Lowry] contributor – CADENCE
“The Clean Machine” “Taxi Driver Blues” “Corn Fed”
“When My Baby Left Me” “Old Maid Boogie” “Tenderly” “Non-Alcoholic”
Recorded: Wally Heider Studio (L.A.) February 22, 1978 Produced by: Bob Porter