By the mid-60s Eddie Vinson was fondly remembered and semi-retired. He had blazed a trail through the early days of post-War black music as one of the pioneers who pushed the last days of swing into the first days of rhythm and blues. In an exhilarating period in the mid to late 40s he went from being the featured vocalist in the Cootie Williams Big Band to fronting his own group. If you listen to his recordings from that time, you can hear the music developing in front of your ears. ‘Red Blues’, his first hit, sounds very much like a swing record. ‘Somebody’s Got To Go’, his final chart-topper with Williams from two years later, is a blues. Jump forward a couple of years, to his records with smaller groups for Mercury and King, the music has become rhythm and blues.
In the 50s, as the hits dropped off, Vinson made a dignified retreat to his hometown ofHouston,Texas, emerging only occasionally to make a new record or perform a short tour. He became more revered in doing so. His time with Williams, and the calibre of the sidemen in his own band, meant he was remembered not just for his blues voice, but also his bop-influenced alto saxophone playing. He was properly placed in people’s minds as a retired star, rather than a has-been.
Bob Thiele had made a record with Vinson in 1967 for ABC’s Bluesway label. When Thiele launched his BluesTime imprint a couple of years later, he tempted Vinson out toLos Angelesto record again. Unlike other albums for BluesTime, there was no attempt to modernise his music. “The Original Cleanhead” was unadulterated swinging R&B, the missing link between Louis Jordan and rock’n’roll, featuring versions of several of his old classics, a new tune and some instrumentals to show off the players’ chops. Along with his performance at the 1971 Montreux Festival, the album reintroduced Vinson to the touring circuit, which he continued to play until his death in 1988.
By Dean Rudland