I Remember - Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson

I performed a couple of times with Eddie Cleanhead Vinson when he came through Montreal. I remember him as a warm and untroubled person, happy to get up on stage and play his horn and sing his songs. We performed at The Rising Sun, a jazz club in Montreal.

At first, I actually had trouble understanding Eddie when he spoke. His accent was that thick. And, he tended to mumble. So at first, all I heard was some gravelly mumbling, with each sentence punctuated at the end by “…sheee-it.” It took a while, but my hearing soon became initated to his twang, and it sounded normal.

After the gig, we’d go out to eat. Clubs in Montreal closed at 3AM so we’d get to the restaurant by around 3:30 or 4AM. I remember one particular night being at The Main delicatessen. The place was packed, notwithstanding the hour, with entertainers, musicians, partiers, etc. A French-Canadian waitress leaned over our big circular table where the band sat with friends, and she asked us what we wanted to order. When it was Eddie's turn, he of course ordered in his unintelligible dialect. The waitress, who barely understood English to begin with, stared at him. No one stirred, and then Eddie spewed out forth a few quiet expletives which were equally unintelligible, ending the diatribe with the old and by now familiar “…sheee-it.” signature. The waitress turned to me and shrugged. I translated into "English". She dutifully wrote down the order. Eddie smiled.

On the bandstand, Eddie lost the fish-out-of-water thing. He was at home. We would open the set with “Tune Up”, which he claimed he wrote and Mile Davis stole. Eddie’s alto sound had a telltale inexplicable authenticity – it was bebop.

Eddie was a blues singer and a bebop alto sax player, but he was also a golfer according to his conversations. He professed to be a scratch golfer, and I believed him, as he was not a fellow who tended to embellishment. Based in California, he told me stories of how in his day a black man was unable to play golf at any club, anywhere. “All you could do was caddy,” he said.


  1. Hey, nice piece. Thanks. Great to hear some anecdotes about this guy. I love Cleanhead - first heard him as a kid, on the radio somewhere, recently rediscovered him when I picked up a box of 4 discs of him and Jim Wynn. Great sound, great player. You are so right about him having all that bop in his alto sound. That's where Bird was coming from, I guess.

  2. Big fan of the Edie Cleanhead, He made a album with Cannonball and I am still searching for it its available?

    They that Kidney Stew was his song but love
    Past Sixty and He Was a Friend of MIne both recorded with Roomful of Blue!


  3. I caught Eddie about 1980 at Joe Segal's Jazz Showcase in Chicago. He had it all: superb vocalist, player, and the sets felt seamless. Can't say I remember him talking, just playing. I went back about 6 mos. later to hear him, but Eric Schneider (a good local sax player) filled in because Eddie was ill. So glad he felt good, clearly, the night I heard him.

  4. I met him playing a rock n roll dance club in Omaha Nebraska 1963

  5. Eddie was great. The real deal.


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