After working in the Milton Larkins and Cootie Williams orchestras, he established his own big band in 1945. In 1947 he had a major rhythm and blues hit with "Old Maid Boogie/Kidney Stew Blues".
Vinson recorded both jazz and rhythm and blues. He wrote "Tune Up" and "Four" for Miles Davis, as well as the classic blues numbers "Somebody Done Stole My Cherry Red," "Person to Person," and "They Call Me Mr. Cleanhead." In live performance he would alternate blues numbers with jazz numbers like Thelonious Monk's "Straight No Chaser."
He acquired his nickname after a hair-straightening mishap left him bald.