Eddie ‘Cleanhead’ Vinson: The Original Cleanhead

11th April 2016

Title: The Original Cleanhead

Label: Ace

Lye is a hair straightener. Well, a ‘relaxer’, consisting of sodium hydroxide. The idea is that this stuff penetrates the hair’s protein structure and breaks down the hair bond. It’s strong, so a typical treatment lasts longer than competing products. That’s why Eddie ‘Cleanhead’ Vinson decided to use it on his hair. Trouble is, it’s so strong that it’s also the active ingredient in drain cleaners and is now banned in many countries as a hair product, as Vinson found out to his peril.

Although he could no longer style his hair, he was an advanced stylist on the sax, taking jump blues and jazz and adding a distinctive vocal delivery (possibly learnt from his friend, Big Bill Broonzy).

His jazz connections are impeccable. His own band included John Coltrane, he penned two jazz classics (Tune Up and Four) for Miles Davis and produced excellent blues for both Bethlehem and Mercury during the 60s.

Originally issued on Flying Dutchman, this album mixes swing, bebop and R&B and stars the guitar of the great Joe Pass.

The album is infused with humour, “If it wasn’t for you women,” he shouts in a strong blues delivery of the first track, Cleanhead Blues, “I’d still have my curly locks today”. This is a laugh out loud song. He continues, “But I’ve been hugged, kissed and petted till all my hair was rubbed away.” No-one knows the perils of a bald head in winter like Vinson.

Don’t mistake this LP for a comedy album, we’re not talking The Two Ronnies here. Vinson combines beautifully with Joe Pass on his instrumental Pass Out, a languorous, easy, late night saunter through some chords.

Then there is social injustice. Well, from Vinson’s point of view, during Alimony Blues as he complains of his woman, ex-woman, who has cleaned him out and continues to bleed him dry. Vinson tries to minimise the previous attempted murder. Hey ho. Vinson’s sax is almost cocky, on this track, in its swagger as if he refuses to let life get him down.

And so it continues. You’ll have a whale of time in the company of Cleanhead. Follicles? Huh, who needs ‘em when you’ve got these chops?