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James Cotton

At his high-energy, 1970s peak as a bandleader, James Cotton was a bouncing, sweaty, whirling dervish of a bluesman, roaring his vocals and all but sucking the reeds right out of his defenseless little harmonicas with his prodigious lung power. Due to throat problems, Cotton's vocals are no longer what they used to be, but he remains a masterful instrumentalist. Cotton had some gargantuan shoes to fill when he stepped into Little Walter's slot as Muddy Waters' harp ace in 1954, but for the next dozen years, the young Mississippian filled the integral role beside Chicago's blues king with power and precision. Of course, Cotton had been preparing for such a career move for a long time, having learned how to wail on harp from none other than Sonny Boy Williamson himself.

Cotton was only a child when he first heard Williamson's fabled radio broadcasts for King Biscuit Time over KFFA out of Helena, Arkansas. So sure was Cotton of his future that he ended up moving into Williamson's home at age nine, soaking up the intricacies of blues harpdom from one of its reigning masters. Six years later, Cotton was ready to unleash a sound of his own.

Gigging with area notables Joe Willie Wilkins and Willie Nix, Cotton built a sterling reputation around West Memphis, following in his mentor's footsteps by landing his own radio show in 1952 over KWEM. Sam Phillips, whose Sun label was still a fledgling operation, invited Cotton to record for him, and two singles commenced: "Straighten Up Baby" in 1953 and "Cotton Crop Blues" the next year. Legend has it Cotton played drums instead of harp on the first platter.

When Waters rolled through Memphis minus his latest harpist (Junior Wells), Cotton hired on with the legend and went to Chicago. Unfortunately for the youngster, Chess Records insisted on using Little Walter on the great majority of Waters' waxings until 1958, when Cotton blew behind Waters on "She's Nineteen Years Old" and "Close to You." At Cotton's suggestion, Waters had added an Ann Cole tune called "Got My Mojo Working" to his repertoire. Walter played on Muddy Waters' first studio crack at it, but that's Cotton wailing on the definitive 1960 reading (cut live at the Newport Jazz Festival).

By 1966, Cotton was primed to make it on his own. Waxings for Vanguard, Prestige, and Loma preceded his official full-length album debut for Verve Records in 1967. His own unit then included fleet-fingered guitarist Luther Tucker and hard-hitting drummer Sam Lay. Throwing a touch of soul into his eponymous debut set, Cotton ventured into the burgeoning blues-rock field as he remained with Verve through the end of the decade.

In 1974, Cotton signed with Buddah and released 100% Cotton, one of his most relentless LPs, with Matt "Guitar" Murphy sizzling on backup. A decade later, Alligator issued another stand-out Cotton LP, High Compression, which was split evenly between traditional-style Chicago blues and funkier, horn-driven material. Harp Attack!, a 1990 summit meeting on Alligator, paired Cotton with three exalted peers: Wells, Carey Bell, and comparative newcomer Billy Branch. Antone's Records was responsible for a pair of gems: a live 1988 set reuniting the harpist with Murphy and Tucker, and a stellar 1991 studio project, Mighty Long Time. Cotton moved into the 21st century as one of the last surviving originators of the Chicago blues sound, and never slowed his pace a bit, releasing a series of fine albums, including Fire Down Under the Hill (2000) and Baby, Don't You Tear My Clothes (2004), both for Telarc Records, and Giant (2010) and Cotton Mouth Man (2013), both on Alligator Records. ~ Bill Dahl, Rovi
full bio

Selected Discography

Comments

James Cotton sound little like Albert-King Blues&motown Man Laddie West Coast Swing dancer. Olympia WA Ball Room Dancer ▶ :) :) ◀ ★★★★
bluezman47 i'm hip
Lov dis s**t. He is da shot we need
My wife and I attended a one day Blues Festival in San Diego nearly three years ago, we found out we each enjoyed the Blues. James Cotton was closing. the evening was coming to a quick sunset, with a small group of true Blues fans, they knew what was in store, ones JC came on stage he got the small island jumping. It was such a small group around the Harp Legend, that it felt like sitting on your grandpa's knee as he tells you a story, on his Harp.

Heard him this AM at DBF.
Saw James in San Diego, at Blind Melons Awesome show.
milosdad
I love James Cotton. I saw him open for Johnny Winter and Peter Frampton (tour he recorded his live record). Great performer and one of the key players for Muddy.
I love his Blues In My Sleep from his Feelin' Good album.
I saw James Cotton back in 77 Augusta,Me and he was back up for J.Giles. You can only guess what kind of a party that was.He really tore it up.Worth the price of admission by far....Magic Dick was too. ROCK ON
One of the reasons I love Pandora is that it introduces me to new music. This is probably the best example, I love this guy.
leandrropena
Play that harp James
preston.reut h e r
Im from New Orleans and I listen and feel like home!
shirk
Cotton used to appear in Detroit (at the Chessmate) with his first band, and I've loved him ever since. Much of his early Verve material is available on CD. His voice is gone now, but boy, he can sill wail on the harp.
He sounds a lot like Bobby Bland
That harmonica is incredibly amazing!
I love Mr. Cotton's music!!!
Amen to loewnstein.s i m o n
true that
the only original harpist left...god bless!
One of the greatest harp players of all time. Great tone & a great voice to boot.
I always love this song when I was a small girl ,still love it now I am grown
Wow!
this is Dr John
is that James Cotton in the background?
He is the real deal :-)
spicy sushi, Johnny Walker Black, and the blues!!!!
I saw James in Toronto Ca, Thenada and at Blind Melon in san DiegoOld school Blues old school times. Genuine!
masoncaseymu s i c
Number 1 influence
i'm all in
i remember in the mid 70s james cotton had a record called 100 percent cotton i just cant find it but i do have a copy of it. anyone rember
playin harps almost 30 yrs now an my hero will always be mr. cotton.he is why i picked up a harp!!!!!
matt7allen
Don't see, "Taking care of business" in discography. . (Produced by Todd Rundgren with some assorted "guests"..). . --Love the "blues-rock" venue.. I think it started when I heard that album..
People will be cruising in there flying cars a 100 years from now listening to this,this music will never die because its the real deal.
I have seen James SOOO many times and he puts on one hell of a show, no matter how many people are in attendence. He is my very FAVORITE!!!
daveshelburn e
i use to watch cotten in players tavern in westport ct w/matt murphy use to open w/pink panther till cotten hit the stage this guy is the real deal a true blues man basicly cotten entireband went to bluesbrother s , b u t at one short time the were all w /cotten opened my eyes to real blues
Saw Michael Coleman @ Buddy Guy's in Chicago last April. Michael replaced Matt "Guitar" Murphy as James Cotton's guitar player in the mid seventies. Anyway, Michael was very good with his own unique style, melding blues, funk and jazz. Go see him if you can!
This style of blues is much needed these days.
Not my favorite arrangement of "Knock on Wood" but I sure like and appreciate him as an artist in general.
outstanding. ! ! ! !
boogieblue9
in 1977 thi in n out inn nashvill tnn. talked with and shared
story with james.also bought him a frew beers.
dems da blues
geraldine.a. m a r q u a r d t
I sat with James at one of his shows in a Ballard Washington night club. The guy is pure talent and 100% gentleman!!
...makes me proud to be from that area, W. Memphis, Marion, Marked Tree Arkansas
spoman20004
excellent! I agree w/ migfund22
This man is simply magnificent. His music sexually arouses me.
timberlake0
Dave Berry said that classical music could never be as exciting as rock and roll because it could never get as high as James Cotton diving off the top of a stage into the audience below, the harp stuck in his mouth, playing as he went down.
I saw Mr. Cotton at a show in Dallas in '93, before his throat operation. He came to our table and signed a CD, and spoke with my girlfriend and me. All I can say is; They don't make them like that anymore. From the moment they started playing I knew it was "real" blues. I get cold chills thinking about it after all these years.
varaha Escondido 9/7/08
He is just great at what he does.
Tom.
fojimama2
I cannot get James Cotton as a station.
funny name
no efenc
bye bye

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