James Cotton

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For other people named James Cotton, see James Cotton (disambiguation).
James Cotton
James Cotton 2007.jpg
James Cotton 2007
Background information
Born (1935-07-01) July 1, 1935 (age 80)
Tunica, Mississippi, United States
Genres Blues, Chicago blues, Delta blues, Electric blues,[1] Jazz, Memphis blues, Rock[2]
Occupation(s) Musician
Instruments Vocals, harmonica, drums
Years active 1953–present
Labels Buddah Records
Alligator Records
Telarc International
Associated acts Muddy Waters
Howlin' Wolf
Matt Murphy
Pat Hare
Website Jamescottonsuperharp.com
Notable instruments
Seydel Silver
In Delray Beach, Florida

James Cotton (born July 1, 1935)[1] is an American blues harmonica player, singer and songwriter, who has performed and recorded with many of the great blues artists of his time as well as with his own band. Although he played drums early in his career, Cotton is famous for his work on the harmonica. 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 Waters' band. Cotton became Muddy's band leader and stayed with Waters' group until 1965.[4] In 1965 he formed the Jimmy Cotton Blues Quartet, with Otis Spann on piano to record between gigs with Muddy Waters' band and eventually left Waters to form his own full-time touring group. His first full album, on the Verve label, was produced by guitarist Mike Bloomfield and vocalist/songwriter Nick Gravenites, both of whom were later members of the band Electric Flag.[5] In the 1970s, Cotton played harmonica on Muddy Waters' Grammy Award winning 1977 album Hard Again, produced by Johnny Winter.


Born in Tunica, Mississippi, United States, Cotton 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. Williamson did however mentor Cotton during his early years.[3] When Williamson left the south to live with his estranged wife in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, he left 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."

Cotton performing in 2008

Although he played drums early in his career, Cotton is famous for his work on the harmonica. Cotton 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 the Sun Records label in Memphis, Tennessee 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 to work 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 appear on the original recordings; long-time Muddy Waters harmonica player Little Walter was utilized on most of Muddy's recording sessions in the 1950s. Cotton's first recording session with Waters took place in June 1957, and he would alternate with Little Walter on Muddy's recording sessions until the end of the decade.

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

James Cotton at Jeff Healey's blues nightclub in Toronto

In the 1970s, Cotton recorded several albums with Buddah Records. Cotton played harmonica on Muddy Waters' Grammy Award winning 1977 album Hard Again, produced by Johnny Winter. In the 1980s he recorded for Chicago's Alligator Records, and 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 release, Take Me Back on the Blind Pig label. He finally was awarded a Grammy for Deep in the Blues in 1996 for Best Traditional Blues Album.[9] Cotton appeared on the cover of Living Blues magazine in 1987 in the July/August issue (#76).[10] He was featured in the same publication's 40th anniversary issue, released in 2010 in August/September.

In 2006, Cotton was inducted into the Blues Hall Of Fame at a ceremony conducted by the Blues Foundation in Memphis. In addition, he has won or shared ten Blues Music Awards.[11]

Cotton battled throat cancer in the mid-1990s, but he continued to tour, utilizing singers or his backing band members as vocalists. On March 10, 2008, Cotton and Ben Harper inducted Little Walter into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They performed "Juke" and "My Babe" together at the induction ceremony which 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 KUT in Austin, Texas for nearly 30 years.[12]

Cotton's studio album, Giant, was released on Alligator Records in late September 2010 and nominated for a Grammy Award.[13] His latest album, also on Alligator Records, Cotton Mouth Man was released on May 7, 2013. It was also a Grammy nominee.[14] It includes guest appearances by Gregg Allman, Joe Bonamassa, Ruthie Foster, Delbert McClinton, Warren Haynes, Keb Mo, Chuck Leavell and Colin Linden.[15] Cotton appeared on the debut album by The Dr. Izzy Band, Blind & Blues Bound. Released in June, 2013, he played harp on the opening song "Matches Don't Burn Memories".[16] In 2014, Cotton won a Blues Music Award as Traditional Male Blues Artist and was also nominated in the 'Best Instrumentalist – Harmonica' category.[17]

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

Musical company[edit]

Cotton has worked with many prominent artists including:

Selected discography[edit]

  • Chicago/The Blues/Today! vol. 2
  • 1965: Chris Barber presents Jimmy Cotton Vols 1&2 45rpm eps with British Band
  • 1967: The James Cotton Blues Band (Verve)
  • 1968: Cut You Loose! (Vanguard)
  • 1968: Cotton in Your Ears (Verve)
  • 1970: Taking Care of Business (Capitol)
  • 1974: 100% Cotton (Buddah; w/ Matt "Guitar" Murphy)
  • 1976: Live & On the Move (Buddah)
  • 1978: High Energy (Buddah)
  • 1984: High Compression (Alligator Records)
  • 1986: Live from Chicago Mr. Superharp Himself (Alligator Records)
  • 1987: Take Me Back (Blind Pig; reissued on vinyl 2009)
  • 1988: Live at Antone's (Antone's)
  • 1990: Harp Attack! ((Alligator Records); w/ Carey Bell, Junior Wells, and Billy Branch)
  • 1991: Mighty Long Time (Antone's)
  • 1994: 3 Harp Boogie (Tomato)
  • 1994: Living the Blues (Verve)
  • 1995: Two Sides of the Blues
  • 1996: Deep in the Blues (Verve)
  • 1998: Seems Like Yesterday (Justin Time)
  • 1998: Late Night Blues: Live at the Penelope Café 1967 (Justin Time)
  • 1999: Best of the Vanguard Years (Vanguard)
  • 1999: Superharps (Telarc; w/ Charlie Musselwhite, Sugar Ray Norcia, and Billy Branch)
  • 2000: Fire Down Under the Hill (Telarc)
  • 2002: 35th Anniversary Jam (Telarc)
  • 2004: Baby, Don't You Tear My Clothes (Telarc)
  • 2007: Breakin' it Up, Breakin' it Down (Legacy; with Muddy Waters and Johnny Winter)
  • 2010: Giant (Alligator Records)
  • 2013: Cotton Mouth Man (Alligator Records)
  • 2013: Blind and Blues Bound (Black Chow Records) The Dr. Izzy Band, song "Matches Don't Burn Memories"

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Bill Dahl (1935-07-01). "James Cotton | Biography". AllMusic. Retrieved 2014-05-16. 
  2. ^ Herzhaft, Gérard (1997). Encyclopedia of the Blues (2 ed.). Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press. p. 45. ISBN 1557284520. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f Russell, Tony (1997). The Blues – From Robert Johnson to Robert Cray. Dubai: Carlton Books Limited. p. 103. ISBN 1-85868-255-X. 
  4. ^ "James Cotton Biography". Jamescottonsuperharp.com. Retrieved 2014-11-05. 
  5. ^ "James Cotton Blues Band credits at AllMusic". AllMusic.com. Retrieved 2014-11-05. 
  6. ^ Robert Palmer, "Church of the Sonic Guitar", pp. 13-38 in Anthony DeCurtis, Present Tense, Duke University Press, 1992, 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. ^ 39th Annual Grammy Awards
  10. ^ "James Cotton Interview". Livingblues.com. Retrieved 2014-05-16. 
  11. ^ "James Cotton Awards". Jamescottonsuperharp.com. ,Retrieved 2014-11-05
  12. ^ "James Cotton on final broadcast of Larry Monroe's Blue Monday".  Avebonar.com, Retrieved 2014-11-05
  13. ^ 53rd Annual Grammy Awards
  14. ^ 56th Annual Grammy Awards
  15. ^ "Guests on James Cotton's Cotton Mouth Man". Alligator Records. Retrieved 2014-11-05. 
  16. ^ "9/23/13 Dr Izzy & Robert Morrison Sat On The Couch". Music On The Couch. 2013-09-23. Retrieved 2014-05-16. 
  17. ^ "2014 Blues Music Awards Nominees and Winners". Blues.about.com. Retrieved 2014-05-16. 

External links[edit]