-----James Cotton was born in Tunica, Mississippi, on July 1, 1935. 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 to find Williamson, who mentored him during his early years. When Williamson left the south, he left his band in Cotton's hands.
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. He made his first recordings as a solo artist for the Sun Records label in Memphis, Tennessee in 1953. In 1954, he recorded an electric blues record "Cotton Crop Blues."
Cotton began to work with the Muddy Waters Band around 1955. He performed songs such as "Got My Mojo Working" and "She's Nineteen Years Old," although he did not appear on the original recordings.(For the record; 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, and thereafter until he left to form his own band. 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. In 1967, he formed the James Cotton Blues Band. They mainly performed their own arrangements of popular blues and R&B material from the 1950s and 1960s. Two albums were recorded live in Montreal that year.
In the 1960s, Cotton also formed a blues band in the tradition of Bobby Bland. Four tracks that featured the big band horn sound and traditional songs were captured on the album Two Sides of the Blue. 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. The James Cotton Blues Band received a Grammy nomination in 1984 for Live From Chicago: Mr. Superharp Himself!, and a second for his 1987 release, Take Me Back.
He finally was awarded his own Grammy in 1996 for Deep in the Blues for Best Traditional Blues Album.
Cotton battled throat cancer in the mid-1990s, and his last recorded vocal performance was on 2000's Fire Down Under the Hill.. He continued to tour, utilizing singers or his backing band members as vocalists.
Cotton's studio album, Giant, was released on Alligator Records in late September 2010. His latest album, also on Alligator Records, Cotton Mouth Man, was released on May 7, 2013. It includes guest appearances by Gregg Allman, Joe Bonamassa, Ruthie Foster, Delbert McClinton, Warren Haynes, Keb Mo, Chuck Leavell and Colin Linden.
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