From the days in the mid-1930s when he was a teenaged singer and saxophonist in the Houston band of Chester Boone, Cleanhead had his own way with the blues. He was good enough as a young man to tour with blues artists Big Bill Broonzy and Lil Green and then to join trumpeter Cootie Williams’s band.
In the Forties he infused his alto with bebop and led his own big band and a sextet that included John Coltrane, who was influenced by Vinson’s expansive style. His “Cherry Red” with Williams made him popular for a while, but it wasn’t until Cannonball Adderley created new exposure for Vinson in the early Sixties that he began to be noticed again by large numbers of people. Through the Seventies and Eighties he made several albums that were critical and commercial successes.