Popa Chubby

R.I.P., James Cotton

James Henry Cotton: 1 July 1935 – 16 March 2017

Every Sunday, I listen to B. B. King’s Bluesville on Sirius XM Satellite Radio. This is how I heard that yet another blues legend has passed on: James Cotton, a.k.a “Mr. Superharp,” the best-known virtuoso of the mouth-harp, died on 16 March at the age of 81.

The “mouth-harp,” better known to the average layperson as a harmonica, is an instrument that is familiar to anyone who listens to and loves the blues, and James was the master! He played with B. B. King, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Santana, the Grateful Dead, Gregg Allmann, and many others. From Rolling Stone:

Blues harmonica virtuoso and onetime Muddy Waters sideman James Cotton died on Thursday at a medical center in Austin of pneumonia. He was 81. A rep for the musician confirmed his death.

Cotton, who was born on a cotton farm in Tunica, Mississippi on July 1st, 1935, came to prominence in the Fifties when he cut two singles for the fledging label Sun Records and performed gigs with Waters. As a child, he’d become obsessed with harmonica player Sonny Boy Williamson II’s King Biscuit Time broadcasts and, at age nine, moved in with the elder harpist to learn the instrument…Cotton, dubbed “Mr. Superharp,” formed the James Cotton Band in 1966, with the group issuing a self-titled debut the next year. His fellow musicians at the time were guitarist Luther Tucker and drummer Sam Lay. Cotton would later find himself playing with Matt “Guitar” Murphy and Hubert Sumlin, and would go on to explore blues-rock with performances with Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead, Led Zeppelin, B.B. King, Santana, Steve Miller and Freddie King, among others.

In the Seventies, he recorded for Buddha and Capitol, reuniting with Waters for LPs produced by guitarist Johnny Winter. The first, Hard Again, came out in 1977 and won a Grammy. He also made appearances on albums by Sumlin, Memphis Slim, Steve Miller and others, and welcomed Miller, Winter, Dr. John, Todd Rundgren, David Sanborn and others onto his own recordings.

Cotton continued to record throughout the Eighties, including a run on Alligator Records, and won the Best Traditional Blues Album Grammy for his Deep in the Blues LP in 1997. His most recent album was Cotton Mouth Man, which came out in 2013 and was nominated for a Grammy.”

I don’t think that I can say anything about this man that would do him the justice that his talent and sheer genius deserves, so I’ll let his music speak for him. Rest easy, James…you shall be missed.

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