21 December 2016 - JAMES COTTON - BLUES MASTER


G'day folks,

Welcome to the life of a blues master. James Henry Cotton is an American blues harmonica player, singer and songwriter, who has performed and recorded with many of the great blues artists of his time and with his own band.

 James Cotton is one of the very last of a dying breed—the Delta Bluesman. Of the genres represented on this list, perhaps none is so ravaged by time. We have precious few living links to the world they inhabited. That James Cotton is still alive is a fact to be cherished. Born in Tunica, Mississippi, Cotton’s first exposure to music was through his mother Hattie’s harmonica playing. Though she was not particularly adept at the instrument, her playing fascinated James. He received his first harp for Christmas one year and quickly surpassed his first mentor.

Like many of the black families living in the segregated Delta, Cotton’s family worked as sharecroppers. Because he was too young to cut cotton, he sat in the shade and played music for his parents and siblings as they worked the fields. He took his first great leap as a musician when he first heard Sonny Boy Williamson on the radio. The legendary Williamson had gained widespread fame through his King Biscuit Time broadcasts and Cotton became one of his most avid admirers.

At the age of nine, Cotton suddenly lost both of his parents. His uncle, showing a remarkable prescience, took the boy to nearby Helena, Arkansas, to meet his idol. Williamson informally adopted the recently orphaned Cotton and made him his opening act. Cotton was far too young to enter the juke joints they played, but earned his tips by blowing harmonica on the front stoops.

When Williamson’s band unraveled, Cotton journeyed to Memphis and earned his way through his teenage years as a street performer and shoeshiner. One night, Cotton caught wind of a Howlin’ Wolf performance in town. He rushed over with his harp, introduced himself, and before the age of 15, found himself on tour with another blues legend.

In 1954, when Cotton joined yet a third blues legend—Muddy Waters—he began an association that would last more than a decade, during which he would help cut some of Waters’s most iconic recordings. In the ‘60s, Cotton struck out on his own with the James Cotton Band, exploring similar psychedelic blues terrain as artists like Jimi Hendrix and Canned Heat. He doubled down on this transition by opening for Janis Joplin in 1967.

Over the course of the next several decades, James Cotton accompanied a mighty list of musicians, live and in studio, including Santana, B.B. King, the Grateful Dead, and Taj Mahal. Cotton was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2006 and remains a flesh-and-blood connection to the ghosts of blues lore. James Cotton is the greatest living blues harpist, a title he defends by performing live even to this day.

Clancy's comment: Another very talented man, and still performing. Man, you have to love that sort of passion.

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