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Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson biography

Born: December 18, 1917, Houston, Texas

Died: July 2, 1988, Los Angeles, California

Eddie Vinson was an R&B saxophone player, bandleader, songwriter, and vocalist with a signature voice whose long and prolific career also encompassed jazz and blues. Vinson got his nickname, “Cleanhead,” after an episode with a lye-based hair straightener left him bald. He was raised in a musical family and played saxophone in high school. Vinson’s career from the mid-thirties through the mid-forties included stints in legendary bands, including Chester Boone’s band in Houston, which at the time included genius blues guitarist T-Bone Walker; Milt Larkin’s band, which boasted a superb saxophone section; and, after Vinson relocated to New York in 1941, the Cootie Williams Orchestra. Williams’s recordings of “Somebody’s Got to Go,” and “Cherry Red”, on which Vinson also appeared as a vocalist, were huge hits. In 1945 Vinson formed his own band, which reportedly for a time included John Coltrane. Vinson played at the Monterey Jazz Festival in 1970. For the next two decades he toured and recorded in the U.S. and Europe, where he was particularly popular.

Essential listening: “Kidney Stew,” “Cherry Red,” “Somebody’s Got to Go,” “Cleanhead Blues,” “Old Maid Boogie”