Cleanhead & Cannonball

  • 2002
  • Cleanhead & Cannonball
  • Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson
  • Milestone Records


Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson was a great friend of the Santa Barbara Blues Society in the 1980s. He used to drive up from L.A. with his wife to pitch in at “Save the Blues Society” benefits (before we had beer and wine sales, we were pretty consistently “baroque”), often with electric guitar pioneer Pee Wee Crayton, and to sample some of Liz Catalan’s down-home greens and “greasy” chicken. I remember him as a friendly and mellow older dude who could blow a mean sax and always performed his signature dunes “Kidney Stew” and “They Call Me Mister Cleanhead.” The latter drolly extolled the sexual superiority and “chick-magnet” qualities of a male (him!) with a smooth, air-conditioned cranium.

The CD “CLEANHEAD & CANNONBALL,” billed as “rare 1960s ‘lost recordings,” presents a much younger, dynamic Cleanhead, although with the same basic sound. “Kidney Stew” is on it, as is a cut that was considered scandalously ribald at the time, “Back Door Blues” – with lyrics including “I took the front door in, and I almost lost my life, I thought she was mine, but she was someone else’s wife.” This holds up as a fine blues number, but nowadays the shock value would scarcely elicit a yawn – I guess “that was then, this is now.” The other cuts swing, also, many with humorously tongue-in-cheek lyrics. To this reviewer’s ears, there was one dud, a ballad called “Audrey” – sounds like Cleanhead had been listening to too much Sinatra – oh, well.

If there were any doubt that the line between “blues” and “jazz” is fuzzy at best, the lineup of musicians on this disc should lay it to rest. This is the 1960’s Cannonball Adderly Quintet, a staple of modern jazz of the era, with Cannonball on alto sax (Cleanhead on some cuts), his brother Nat on cornet, Sam Jones on bass, Louis Hayes on drums, and last, but not least, Joe Zawinul on piano. Malibu resident Zawinul is an Austrian immigrant (Ahnold is not the only one!), one of whose first steady gigs was backing Dinah Washington. Years later he was the keyboard player with fusion group Weather Report (he told me he remembers gigs at the Arlington Theater in Santa Barbara), and recently has been playing what might be called “rhythmic post-jazz” music with the Zawinul Experience. On this disk, Joe was playing tasty blues piano, showing that he is a very versatile musician. Anyway, for a long-time Cleanhead fan (I also once caught him at the Hollywood Palladium with the Johnny Otis Show, with Shuggie on guitar!), “CLEANHEAD & CANNONBAL” is a true gem.