Vinson, Eddie [Cleanhead] (1917–1988)

By: James Head

Type: Biography

Published: December 7, 2006

Updated: July 21, 2017

Eddie Vinson, blues saxophonist and vocalist, also known as "Cleanhead," was born in Houston on December 18, 1917. Vinson was nicknamed "Cleanhead" after he destroyed his hair while trying to straighten it with lye. His grandfather was a violinist; his father, "Piano" Sam Vinson, and mother, Arnella Session, were both pianists.

As a child, Eddie sang in church choirs. While still attending Jack Yates High School in Houston, he developed his saxophone talents so impressively that he was asked to tour with Chester Boone's Territory Band in the summers. After graduating from high school in 1935, he became a full-time member of Boone's band. Milton Larkin assumed control of the band in 1936, and Vinson spent the next four years touring the South and Midwest with the group. He was strongly influenced by two other noted members of the band, guitarist T-Bone Walker and Arnett Cobb. While touring with Larkin, Vinson was also introduced to Big Bill Broonzy, who taught him how to "shout the blues."

Vinson moved to New York in 1941 and joined Cootie Williams's orchestra for a short time. In 1942 he made his first recording, the blues tune "When My Baby Left Me," on the OKeh label. He achieved notoriety while singing the blues on several of Williams's hit recordings, including "Cherry Red," "Is You Is," "Things Ain't What They Used To Be," and "Somebody's Got To Go." In addition to recording, Vinson also toured with Williams's band for the next three years. He formed his own big band in 1945 and, over the next several years, recorded extensively for different labels, including Capitol, Mercury, King, and others. Some of his best-known cuts were recorded with his own sixteen-piece band. He had some success with "Kidney Stew Blues," "Cleanhead Blues," "Old Maid Boogie," and "Tune Up."

By the late 1940s, however, his popularity had waned, and he moved back to Houston in 1954. He toured and briefly recorded with Count Basie's band in 1957. By that time, according to jazz historians, Vinson had lost much of his "falsetto voice," his recordings tended to be "grainy," and he sounded "hoarse." In the early 1960s he moved to Los Angeles, where he worked with the Johnny Otis revue. In addition, he recorded with Cannonball Adderly's band on the Riverside Records label. For the next two decades, Vinson continued to record. He cut several hybrid jazz and blues albums, including Eddie Vinson and a Roomful of Blues on the Muse label, and Live at Sandy's. On many of his recordings he sang with a "jump-blues" Texas style. Many of his sexually explicit songs, including "Oilman Blues," "Some Women Do," and "Ever-Ready Blues," were deemed too raunchy to be played on the radio.

Although many of Vinson's songs did not get air time, he remained popular on the international music-festival circuit throughout the 1970s and 1980s. He toured Europe and performed at various jazz and blues festivals in the United States until shortly before his death in Los Angeles on July 2, 1988. Vinson was married to Bernice Spradley and had three children. He is considered a "mainstream" bluesman who never compromised his style.

Leonard Feather and Ira Gitler, eds., The Encyclopedia of Jazz in the Seventies (New York: Horizon Press, 1976). Sheldon Harris, Blues Who's Who: A Biographical Dictionary of Blues Singers (New Rochelle, New York: Arlington House, 1979). Colin Larkin, ed., Encyclopedia of Popular Music, 3d ed. (New York: Muze, 1998). Dave Oliphant, Texan Jazz (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1996). Robert Santelli, Big Book of the Blues (New York: Penguin Books, 1993).

  • Music
  • Genres (Blues)
  • Peoples
  • African Americans
Time Periods:
  • Great Depression
  • World War II
  • Texas Post World War II
  • Houston
  • Upper Gulf Coast
  • East Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

James Head, “Vinson, Eddie [Cleanhead],” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 15, 2022,

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December 7, 2006
July 21, 2017

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