Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson
Kidney Stew Is Fine
Jump blues may be the most seamless amalgam of blues and jazz ever conceived, and no jump-bluesman was jazzier than Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson. Recorded in France in 1969, this reissue of a classic album captures the late singer and alto-saxophonist at the peak of his powers, backed by a swinging quintet that included guitarist T-Bone Walker, pianist Jay McShann, and tenor saxophonist Hal Singer.
Vinson lost his hair as a young man when he tried to straighten it using a caustic compound, hence the “Cleanhead” moniker. The dapper Vinson shouted the blues with moxie and peppered his tunes with bawdy lyrics and bursts of bebop. He learned how to sing the blues while backing Big Bill Broonzy and refined his sax skills by taking informal lessons from Charlie Parker. Legend has it that when Bird visited his Houston home in 1941, Vinson wouldn’t let Parker eat any of his mother’s delectable fried chicken until he divulged some sax secrets.
The 10 tunes on Kidney Stew Is Fine were part of Vinson’s standard repertoire. By performing these songs every night for decades, Vinson heightened their visceral impact by adding vocal nuances. His singing here is magnificent. Factor in the brilliant supporting cast and this is one of the Texan’s loosest recordings. The album is all too brief at 38 minutes, but it demonstrates Vinson’s hallmark: danceable blues with dollops of bop.
Bests cuts include the title track (a remake of Vinson’s 1947 hit “Kidney Stew Blues”), the irresistible but politically incorrect “Old Maid Boogie,” and “Things Ain’t What They Used to Be,” a fine showcase for Vinson’s soulful sax and McShann’s Kansas City piano.
- Ed Kopp