Sometimes you just want to put on a disc of music that’s a whole lot of fun, good music that makes you want to move and will put a smile on your face. The challenge is to find music played by musicians on instruments instead of pre-programmed electronics behind some teenybopper with a Minnie Mouse voice.
A drum machine and a teenaged girl who sucks helium before singing just isn’t my idea of music or something with which I can have a good time. Then again, I can’t see the point in music that only serves one purpose. If I’m not going to want to listen to it for entertainment, then I’m not going to want to dance to it.
I don’t have the ability to compartmentalize my musical tastes this way: this is for eating to, this is for writing to, this is for dancing to, and so on. I might say I’m in the mood for something up-tempo or slow at this moment or time, but that’s different because it’s choosing music based on how I feel at the moment and doesn’t start imposing artificial restrictions on my enjoyment.
For me the best “fun” music has always been Blues music with some jive and jump to it. There’s probably some name for it but I’ve never heard it. The best I can do is tell you about a disc that Delmark Records has just re-issued of Jazz/Blues great Eddie Cleanhead Vinson, Kidney Stew Is Fine.
Eddie Cleanhead Vinson was born in 1918, timing it just about right to come of age when Jazz was becoming popular with a wider audience. The Big Band era of the late thirties and forties provided lots of work for musicians of all colours because of the need for players to not just fill the ranks of the formidably sized groups, but be skilled enough to play the music to the standards of taskmasters like Benny Goodman, Count Basie, Lionel Hampton, and Tommy Dorsey.
Vinson started out playing tenor saxophone in bands, but also took occasional vocal duties. It wasn’t until he did some touring with Big Bill Broonzy that he began to feel comfortable in the role of band singer as well as horn player. It was Broonzy that taught him the skills to take him from a sax player who could sing to being a singer and a saxophone player.
He seems to have done the usual tour of duty that those folk who don’t fit into any of the nice round pegs end up doing. He would put together bands (and told that his playing was too modern and his singing style too old fashioned) and be stuck without record deals. One such band featured a young John Coltrane who was just starting out on alto sax, and the two would have fun playing each other’s instruments.
By the 1950s it looked like his career was going nowhere. Who knows what would have happened if not for Cannonball Adderly being a big fan of his work. Adderly got him into the studio to do a jazz album, getting him back on the scene again. Two albums later he was recording Kidney Stew Is Fine in France.
Aside from this being a damn fine collection of up-tempo Jazz/Blues songs that could get the dead dancing, this disc is also great because T-Bone Walker and his guitar joined Eddie for the one and only time in their careers. Rounding out the band was Jay McShann on piano (who just recently passed in 2006), Hal Singer tenor sax, Roland Lobligeois bass, and Paul Gunther on drums.
This was Eddie’s gig all the way, from the opening track through to the close of the album. The way he sings the blues, especially the lively ones, there’s almost a teasing note in his voice, like he’s daring you not to have fun. The music jumps and Eddie jives. If you don’t move, you’re not alive.
That’s what this type of music can do to you. I’m trying to think of something you might be able to use as a point of comparison and all I can come up with is to ask if you can remember the Blues Brothers band (John Belushi and Dan Akroyd). They are a pale, very pale, imitation of what Eddie Vinson and his band do on Kidney Stew Is Fine.
They may be playing the same type of music as Eddie recorded in 1969 in France, but they aren’t performing it the same. Sure it’s the same notes and all, but they might as well be from different worlds. Eddie’s voice speaks from a place in his heart that can only be found from years of playing the music and believing in it.
The Blues Brothers were an act that hired really good players to back them up, but Eddie was a singer and a musician who played with a band, wrote some of the songs they performed, and probably arranged all of them. By the time he recorded this album he’d been playing Jazz and Blues for over thirty years with some of the most amazing musicians in the world and it shows.
So many modern singers almost have to scream to convey emotion, or they make it seem like it’s such an effort to get a line out, they’re contorting it. Eddie just opens his mouth and the music comes out real and raw. You know there is no artifice in that voice or that man and you are listening to the genuine article if there ever was one.
The really good thing about this disc is the liner notes. They give you all sorts of information about Eddie’s history and the background of the music. Unfortunately they do miss out on telling you who is playing what. I got that information from a press kit. The other important piece of information that’s left out of the liner notes, but comes with the press stuff, is how Eddie Cleanhead Vinson’s head became Clean. It seems it involved an accident with some lye-based hair straightener.
All you really need to know about Eddie Cleanhead Vinson is contained on the ten tracks of this disc. I don’t know how his Kidney Stew tastes, but I do know Kidney Stew Is Fine is probably one of the best collections of good time Blues music I’ve ever heard.