James Cotton

Last updated
James Cotton
James Cotton Monterey 1981.jpg
Cotton in 1981
Background information
Birth name James Henry Cotton
Born(1935-07-01)July 1, 1935
Tunica, Mississippi, U.S.
Died March 16, 2017(2017-03-16) (aged 81)
Austin, Texas, U.S.
Genres Blues, Chicago blues, Delta blues, electric blues, [1] jazz, Memphis blues, rock [2]
Occupation(s) Musician
Instruments Vocals, harmonica, drums
Years active 19532017
Labels Buddah Records
Alligator Records
Telarc International
Associated acts Muddy Waters
Howlin' Wolf
Matt Murphy
Pat Hare
Website Jamescottonsuperharp.com
Cotton in Delray Beach, Florida James Cotton One.jpg
Cotton in Delray Beach, Florida

James Henry Cotton (July 1, 1935 March 16, 2017) [1] was an American blues harmonica player, singer and songwriter, who performed and recorded with many of the great blues artists of his time and with his own band. He played drums early in his career but is famous for his harmonica playing.

Blues is a music genre and musical form which was originated in the Deep South of the United States around the 1870s by African Americans from roots in African musical traditions, African-American work songs, spirituals, and the folk music of white Americans of European heritage. Blues incorporated spirituals, work songs, field hollers, shouts, chants, and rhymed simple narrative ballads. The blues form, ubiquitous in jazz, rhythm and blues and rock and roll, is characterized by the call-and-response pattern, the blues scale and specific chord progressions, of which the twelve-bar blues is the most common. Blue notes, usually thirds or fifths flattened in pitch, are also an essential part of the sound. Blues shuffles or walking bass reinforce the trance-like rhythm and form a repetitive effect known as the groove.

Harmonica free reed wind instrument

The harmonica, also known as a French harp or mouth organ, is a free reed wind instrument used worldwide in many musical genres, notably in blues, American folk music, classical music, jazz, country, rock. There are many types of harmonica, including diatonic, chromatic, tremolo, octave, orchestral, and bass versions. A harmonica is played by using the mouth to direct air into or out of one or more holes along a mouthpiece. Behind each hole is a chamber containing at least one reed. A harmonica reed is a flat elongated spring typically made of brass, stainless steel, or bronze, which is secured at one end over a slot that serves as an airway. When the free end is made to vibrate by the player's air, it alternately blocks and unblocks the airway to produce sound.

Contents

Cotton began his professional career playing the blues harp in Howlin' Wolf's band in the early 1950s. [3] He made his first recordings in Memphis for Sun Records, under the direction of Sam Phillips. In 1955, he was recruited by Muddy Waters to come to Chicago and join his band. Cotton became Waters's bandleader and stayed with the group until 1965. [4] In 1965 he formed the Jimmy Cotton Blues Quartet, with Otis Spann on piano, to record between gigs with the Muddy Waters band. He eventually left to form his own full-time touring group. His first full album, on Verve Records, was produced by the guitarist Mike Bloomfield and the singer and songwriter Nick Gravenites, who later were members of the band Electric Flag. [5]

Howlin Wolf American blues singer, guitarist and harmonica player

Chester Arthur Burnett, known as Howlin' Wolf, was a Chicago blues singer, guitarist, and harmonica player, originally from Mississippi. With a booming voice and imposing physical presence, he is one of the best-known Chicago blues artists. The musician and critic Cub Koda noted, "no one could match Howlin' Wolf for the singular ability to rock the house down to the foundation while simultaneously scaring its patrons out of its wits." Producer Sam Phillips recalled, "When I heard Howlin' Wolf, I said, 'This is for me. This is where the soul of man never dies.'" Several of his songs, including "Smokestack Lightnin'", "Killing Floor" and "Spoonful", have become blues and blues rock standards. In 2011, Rolling Stone magazine ranked him number 54 on its list of the "100 Greatest Artists of All Time".

Memphis, Tennessee City in Tennessee, United States

Memphis is a city located along the Mississippi River in southwestern Shelby County, Tennessee, United States. The 2017 city population was 652,236, making Memphis the largest city on the Mississippi River, second-largest city in Tennessee, as well as the 25th largest city in the United States. Greater Memphis is the 42nd largest metropolitan area in the United States, with a population of 1,348,260 in 2017. The city is the anchor of West Tennessee and the greater Mid-South region, which includes portions of neighboring Arkansas and Mississippi. Memphis is the seat of Shelby County, the most populous county in Tennessee. As one of the most historic and cultural cities of the southern United States, the city features a wide variety of landscapes and distinct neighborhoods.

Sun Records American independent record label founded by Sam Phillips in Memphis, Tennessee in 1950

Sun Records is an American independent record label founded by Sam Phillips in Memphis, Tennessee in 1950. Sun was the first company to record Elvis Presley, Charlie Rich, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Johnny Cash.

In the 1970s, Cotton played harmonica on Muddy Waters' Grammy Award–winning 1977 album Hard Again , produced by Johnny Winter.

Grammy Award accolade by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences of the United States

A Grammy Award, or Grammy, is an award presented by The Recording Academy to recognize achievements in the music industry. The annual presentation ceremony features performances by prominent artists, and the presentation of those awards that have a more popular interest. The Grammys are the second of the Big Three major music awards held annually.

<i>Hard Again</i> 1977 studio album by Muddy Waters

Hard Again is the twelfth studio album by American blues singer Muddy Waters. It was recorded by produced by Johnny Winter.

Johnny Winter American blues guitarist, singer, and record producer

John Dawson Winter III, known as Johnny Winter, was an American musician, singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer. Best known for his high-energy blues-rock albums and live performances in the late 1960s and 1970s, Winter also produced three Grammy Award-winning albums for blues singer and guitarist Muddy Waters. After his time with Waters, Winter recorded several Grammy-nominated blues albums. In 1988, he was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame and in 2003, he was ranked 63rd in Rolling Stone magazine's list of the "100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time".

Career

Cotton was born in Tunica, Mississippi. He became interested in music when he first heard Sonny Boy Williamson II on the radio. He left home with his uncle and moved to West Helena, Arkansas, finding Williamson there. For many years Cotton claimed that he told Williamson that he was an orphan and that Williamson took him in and raised him, a story he admitted in recent years is not true. However, Williamson did mentor Cotton during his early years. [3] Williamson left the South to live with his estranged wife in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, leaving his band in Cotton's hands. Cotton was quoted as saying, "He just gave it to me. But I couldn't hold it together 'cause I was too young and crazy in those days an' everybody in the band was grown men, so much older than me."[ citation needed ]

Tunica, Mississippi Town in Mississippi, United States

Tunica is a town in and the county seat of Tunica County, Mississippi, United States, near the Mississippi River. Until the early 1990s when casino gambling was introduced in the area, Tunica had been one of the most impoverished places in the United States. Despite this economic improvement, Tunica's population continues to decline from its peak in 1970.

Sonny Boy Williamson II American blues harmonica player, singer and songwriter

Alex or Aleck Miller, known later in his career as Sonny Boy Williamson, was an American blues harmonica player, singer and songwriter. He was an early and influential blues harp stylist who recorded successfully in the 1950s and 1960s. Miller used various names, including Rice Miller and Little Boy Blue, before calling himself Sonny Boy Williamson, which was also the name of a popular Chicago blues singer and harmonica player. To distinguish the two, Miller has been referred to as Sonny Boy Williamson II.

West Helena, Arkansas City in Arkansas, United States

West Helena is the western portion of Helena-West Helena, Arkansas, a city in Phillips County, Arkansas, United States. As of the 2000 census, this portion of the city population was 8,689.

Cotton performing in 2008 James Cotton - Hondarribia 2008-07-19.jpg
Cotton performing in 2008

Cotton played drums early in his career but is famous for his harmonica playing. He began his professional career playing the blues harp in Howlin' Wolf's band in the early 1950s. [3] He made his first recordings as a solo artist for Sun Records in Memphis in 1953. [3] In 1954, he recorded an electric blues single "Cotton Crop Blues", which featured a heavily distorted power chord–driven electric guitar solo by Pat Hare. [6] Cotton began working with the Muddy Waters Band around 1955. [3] He performed songs such as "Got My Mojo Working" and "She's Nineteen Years Old", although he did not play on the original recordings; Little Walter, Waters's long-time harmonica player, played for most of Waters's recording sessions in the 1950s. Cotton's first recording session with Waters took place in June 1957, and he alternated with Little Walter on Waters's recording sessions until the end of the decade.

Electric blues refers to any type of blues music distinguished by the use of electric amplification for musical instruments. The guitar was the first instrument to be popularly amplified and used by early pioneers T-Bone Walker in the late 1930s and John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters in the 1940s. Their styles developed into West Coast blues, Detroit blues, and post-World War II Chicago blues, which differed from earlier, predominantly acoustic-style blues. By the early 1950s, Little Walter was a featured soloist on blues harmonica or blues harp using a small hand-held microphone fed into a guitar amplifier. Although it took a little longer, the electric bass guitar gradually replaced the stand-up bass by the early 1960s. Electric organs and especially keyboards later became widely used in electric blues.

Distortion is the alteration of the original shape of something. In communications and electronics it means the alteration of the waveform of an information-bearing signal, such as an audio signal representing sound or a video signal representing images, in an electronic device or communication channel.

In guitar music, especially electric guitar, a power chordPlay  is a colloquial name for a chord that consists of the root note and the fifth. Power chords are commonly played on amplified guitars, especially on electric guitar with distortion. Power chords are a key element of many styles of rock and especially in heavy metal, and punk rock.

In 1965 he formed the Jimmy Cotton Blues Quartet, with Otis Spann on piano, to record between gigs with Waters's band. Their performances were captured by producer Samuel Charters on volume two of the Vanguard recording Chicago/The Blues/Today! After leaving Waters's band in 1966, Cotton toured with Janis Joplin while pursuing a solo career. [3] He formed the James Cotton Blues Band in 1967. The band mainly performed its own arrangements of popular blues and R&B from the 1950s and 1960s. Cotton's band included a horn section, like that of Bobby Bland's. After Bland's death, his son told news media that Bland had recently discovered that Cotton was his half-brother. [7]

Otis Spann American Chicago blues pianist

Otis Spann was an American blues musician, whom many consider to be the leading postwar Chicago blues pianist.

Record producer individual who oversees and manages the recording of an artists music

A record producer or music producer oversees and manages the sound recording and production of a band or performer's music, which may range from recording one song to recording a lengthy concept album. A producer has many, varying roles during the recording process. They may gather musical ideas for the project, collaborate with the artists to select cover tunes or original songs by the artist/group, work with artists and help them to improve their songs, lyrics or arrangements.

Samuel Barclay Charters IV was an American music historian, writer, record producer, musician, and poet. He was a widely published author on the subjects of blues and jazz. He also wrote fiction.

Cotton at Jeff Healey's blues nightclub in Toronto James Cotton.jpg
Cotton at Jeff Healey's blues nightclub in Toronto

In the 1970s, Cotton recorded several albums for Buddah Records. He played harmonica on Waters's Grammy Award–winning 1977 album Hard Again , produced by Johnny Winter. In the 1980s he recorded for Alligator Records in Chicago; he rejoined the Alligator roster in 2010. [8] The James Cotton Blues Band received a Grammy nomination in 1984 for Live from Chicago: Mr. Superharp Himself!, on Alligator, and a second for his 1987 album Take Me Back, on Blind Pig Records. He was awarded a Grammy for Best Traditional Blues Album for Deep in the Blues in 1996. Cotton appeared on the cover of the July–August 1987 issue of Living Blues magazine (number 76). [9] He was featured in the same publication's 40th anniversary issue of August–September 2010.

In 2006, Cotton was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame at a ceremony conducted by the Blues Foundation in Memphis. He has won or shared ten Blues Music Awards. [10]

Cotton battled throat cancer in the mid-1990s, but he continued to tour, using singers or members of his backing band as vocalists. On March 10, 2008, he and Ben Harper performed at the induction of Little Walter into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, playing "Juke" and "My Babe" together; the induction ceremony was broadcast nationwide on VH1 Classic. On August 30, 2010, Cotton was the special guest on Larry Monroe's farewell broadcast of Blue Monday, which he hosted on radio station KUT in Austin, Texas, for nearly 30 years. [11]

Cotton's studio album Giant, released by Alligator Records in late September 2010, was nominated for a Grammy Award. His album Cotton Mouth Man, released by Alligator on May 7, 2013, was also a Grammy nominee. It includes guest appearances by Gregg Allman, Joe Bonamassa, Ruthie Foster, Delbert McClinton, Warren Haynes, Keb Mo, Chuck Leavell and Colin Linden. [12] Cotton played harmonica on "Matches Don't Burn Memories" on the debut album by the Dr. Izzy Band, Blind & Blues Bound, released in June 2013. [13] In 2014, Cotton won a Blues Music Award for Traditional Male Blues Artist and was also nominated in the category Best Instrumentalist – Harmonica. [14]

Cotton's touring band includes the guitarist and vocalist Tom Holland, the vocalist Darrell Nulisch, the bassist Noel Neal (brother of the blues guitarist and harmonica player Kenny Neal) and the drummer Jerry Porter.

Death

Cotton died of pneumonia on March 16, 2017, at the age of 81, at a medical center in Austin, Texas [15] and was buried on July 11, 2017 in Texas State Cemetery in Austin. [16]

Musical company

Cotton had worked with many prominent artists, including:

Selected discography

See also

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References

  1. 1 2 Dahl, Bill. "James Cotton: Biography". AllMusic.com. Retrieved 2014-05-16.
  2. Herzhaft, Gérard (1997). Encyclopedia of the Blues (2 ed.). Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press. p. 45. ISBN   1557284520.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Russell, Tony (1997). The Blues: From Robert Johnson to Robert Cray. Dubai: Carlton Books. p. 103. ISBN   1-85868-255-X.
  4. "James Cotton Biography". Jamescottonsuperharp.com. Retrieved 2014-11-05.
  5. "James Cotton Blues Band: Credits". AllMusic.com. Retrieved 2014-11-05.
  6. Palmer, Robert (1992). "Church of the Sonic Guitar", pp. 13–38 in Anthony DeCurtis, Present Tense. Duke University Press. pp. 24–27. ISBN   0-8223-1265-4.
  7. Friskics-Warren, Bill (June 24, 2013). "Bobby (Blue) Bland, Soul and Blues Balladeer, Dies at 83". New York Times.
  8. "James Cotton Returns to Alligator Records". Alligator.com. Retrieved 2014-11-05.
  9. "James Cotton Interview". Livingblues.com. Retrieved 2014-05-16.
  10. "James Cotton Awards". Jamescottonsuperharp.com., Retrieved 2014-11-05
  11. "James Cotton on Final Broadcast of Larry Monroe's Blue Monday". Avebonar.com. Retrieved 2014-11-05
  12. "Guests on James Cotton's Cotton Mouth Man". Alligator Records. Retrieved 2014-11-05.
  13. "9/23/13 Dr Izzy & Robert Morrison Sat on the Couch". Musiconthecouch.com. 2013-09-23. Retrieved 2014-05-16.
  14. "2014 Blues Music Awards Nominees and Winners". Blues.about.com. Retrieved 2014-05-16.
  15. Flanagan, Andrew (March 16, 2017). "James Cotton, Giant of the Blues Harmonica, Dies at 81". NPR . Retrieved March 16, 2017.
  16. "James Henry Cotton". Texas State Cemetery . Retrieved 2017-09-05.