Grover Washington, Jr. – The Millennium Collection
11 Apr 2000 | Soul Jazz

Dearly Departed

Blues harmonica star James Cotton dead at 81

Blues harmonica star James Cotton dead at 81

via:Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette       James Cotton, a renowned blues harmonica player who honed his craft under Sonny Boy Williamson II in Helena, died Thursday at a Texas hospital of pneumonia, his record label confirmed. He was 81. Born on a cotton plantation in Tunica, Miss., Cotton moved with his uncle at an early age to the Arkansas Delta, where he grew up under Williamson, who was broadcasting the blues on King Biscuit Time on Helena station KFFA-AM, 1360. By age 20, Muddy Waters had recruited Cotton to play the harmonica in his band. Cotton, who has been described as the greatest blues harmonica player ever, spent 12 years alongside the Chicago blues star. “Anytime Muddy Waters picks you out for harmonica, you gotta be pretty damn good,” Bubba Sullivan, a longtime friend, said. Sullivan runs Bubba’s Blues Corner in Helena-West Helena, and he helped organize the first King Biscuit Blues Festival in 1986. Cotton, known as “Mr. Superharp,” became somewhat of a regular at the King Biscuit festival, performing as recently as 2013, Sullivan said. Cotton also sang until throat surgery forced him to scale back in the 1990s, but he never lost his flair on the harmonica. “He had that feel on the harp you just don’t hear anymore,” Sullivan said. Munnie Jordan, King Biscuit Blues Festival executive director, recalled listening to Cotton play a benefit show on the Memphis Queen when the festival was raising money for a permanent stage. “He was the authentic blues,” she said. “Nowadays, all the authentic ones that chopped cotton and worked in the fields are passing away.” During his career, Cotton shared stages with Led Zeppelin, B.B. King, Santana, Janis Joplin and Steve Miller. He recorded 30 solo albums, including his 1953 sessions with Sam Phillips at the studio now known as Sun Studio in Memphis. In 2006, he was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame. Sullivan said Cotton was as generous as he was talented. “We lost a good one,” Sullivan said. “Those kinda guys are hard to replace.”

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Bilal Ali

March 17th, 2017

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