Archive for January, 2019

Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson’s “Kidney Stew Blues”

Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson

Edward Vinson Jr (1917-1988) was a blues, jazz, bebop and R&B saxophonist and singer from Houston, Texas. He was nicknamed “Cleanhead” after an incident where his hair was accidently destroyed by a lye-based hair straightening product. Hair straightening continues to be very popular among black people of both sexes.

Taking up the alto saxophone as a child, his proficiency at the instrument attracted local Houston bandleaders even while he was still at school, and he began touring with Chester Boone’s band during school holidays. Upon his graduation in 1935, Vinson joined the band full-time, remaining when the outfit was taken over by Milton Larkins the following year. During his five-year tenure with Larkins’ band, he met the very influential guitarist T-Bone Walker, as well as sax greats Arnett Cobb, and Illinois Jacquet, who all played with Larkins in the late 30s.

Even as a teenaged singer and saxophonist, Cleanhead had his own way with the blues. He was good enough to tour with artists like Big Bill Broonzy, who taught him how to shout the blues. He later played with trumpeter Cootie Williams’s band and Jay McShann’s Orchestra, whose innovative young alto player, Charlie Parker, taught Vinsom his pioneering sax technique.

In the 1940’s he infused his alto with bebop and led his own big band. At one time, his sextet included John Coltrane, a giant of the saxophone. His recording of “Cherry Red” in 1944 with Cootie Williams made him popular, but his first recording under his own name was “Kidney Stew Blues” in 1947, which was a huge hit and remained his signature song for his whole career. Reflecting the casual misogyny of the times, most of Vinson’s no-holds-barred songs of this period were simply too raunchy for radio airplay.

Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson enjoyed a very long and successful career, playing with some of the best musicians on the planet. He was able to capitalize on the blues revival of the 60s, gaining a new and younger audience at home and overseas. Towards the end of his career, he performed in revue style tours with the likes of Count Basie, Johnny Otis and Jay McShann. He died in 1988 at the age of 70, from a heart attack while undergoing chemotherapy.

Thanks to my brother Gabriel, I was lucky to know the first wave of Rock ‘n Roll in the 50s. I was a teenager when the Beatles initiated the second wave in the 60s. Later on, I wanted to know everything about the music that preceded that of my early years. I discovered the music of the post-war decade, the period from 1945 to 1954 where, in my opinion, the best music of the 20th century was created. This was an exuberant and joyful music (the war was over), a dance music livened by musical arrangements written by the best musicians in the world, a music driven by ferocious vocalists shouting very salty lyrics and musicians who were equally comfortable with jazz, bebop and the extravagant arrangements of the “Big Band Era.” People started calling this new music “Jump Blues” but it soon fell under the newly-named umbrella of “Rhythm & Blues.” Completely addicted by this irresistible music, I drove my car to Ottawa (the internet didn’t exist) and bought every R&B CD I could find. Not satisfied, I drove to Montréal and Toronto, amassing an impressive and costly R&B collection! Around 1954, with the arrival of Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry and Little Richard, they had to give their music a different name.

 

Richard Séguin – voice, electric guitars, MIDI guitar (piano)
Alrick Huebener – upright bass
Roch Tassé – drums

 

Kidney Stew Blues

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Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice (It’s Alright)”

Bob Dylan in the early 60s

There are landmark achievements in anyone’s life that define his or her self-worth. I had two – taking that first ride on my bike without anyone’s help and learning how to fingerpick a guitar. That last one was really hard because I didn’t have a guitar and I couldn’t afford lessons. I taught myself how to play on borrowed guitars and in the late 60s, I saw Mississippi John Hurt on TV, the camera blissfully zooming in on his fingers so I could see what he was doing. I bought Mississippi John’s records and kept trying and trying to play like him, just like I did with my bike. Finally, I could do it on my own.

In the 60’s, every folk artist, almost without exception, had to fingerpick. The popular TV shows about the folk revival featured several fine fingerpickers like Dave Van Ronk, Doc Watson, Pete Seeger and, of course, Bob Dylan.
Much more than the music, the 60s were about the lyrics – for the first time in pop music history, songs were meaningful and addressed serious issues. I vividly remember Pete Seeger’s “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” (war), “If I Had a Hammer” (civil rights), “Turn! Turn! Turn!” (world peace) and “Little Boxes” (conformity). When Dylan left Minnesota and reached New York City, it didn’t take him long to dominate the coffee house/college music scene and when he wrote “Blowin’ In The Wind” in 1962, an anthem for the civil rights movement, he became larger than life. There followed several compositions termed “protest songs” where the ills of the day were laid bare, such as “The Times They Are A-Changin’”, “Masters of War” and “Oxford Town”, which we recorded in September of 2015 (see Archives).

I couldn’t help but notice at the time that there was another element insinuating itself into the fabric of contemporary music – a loveless, cold and nomadic value system that was completely against everything I believed in. Certainly, “Don’t Think Twice (It’s Alright)” was at the forefront of this disturbing social shift, as was almost everything written and recorded by the Rolling Stones, but this kind of social angst went much further back and also had a Canadian connection. Nova-Scotian Hank Snow had a huge hit in 1950 with “I’m Movin” On.” and B.C. native Ian Tyson’s “Four Strong Winds”, which he wrote in the early 60s, is certainly one of the most iconic Canadian songs ever written. It was recorded by everyone from Neil Young to Johnny Cash and was a huge success in Scandinavia. In Sweden, the song was a hit for 60s pop band Hep Stars, whose keyboard player, Benny Andersson, went on to world fame as a member of ABBA. In Norway, the song was recorded by The Vanguards, another 60s pop band which featured guitarist Terje Rypdal, who became one of most influential artists in the Scandinavian Jazz field.

Anyone interested in the nomadic, restless 60s should see “Inside Llewyn Davis”, the masterful 2013 film by the Coen brothers. The film follows one turbulent week in the life of a struggling folk singer in 1961. It was nominated for 90 awards world-wide and won 27.

Here is my fingerpicking version of Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice (It’s Alright).”

 

Richard Séguin – voice and guitar

 

Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright

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