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a short Biography of


In 1952, at the age of 17, blues harpist James Cotton caught the attention of Sam Phillips, founder of Sun Records, and soon began recording with the legendary Howlin' Wolf. Through his subsequent work with Muddy Waters, and his own bands, James has remained one of the brightest stars in the blues firmament ever since.

JAMES COTTON - Harmonica

James CottonJames Cotton (born: July 1, 1935, Tunica, MS; died: March 16, 2017, St. David's Medical Center; buried: Texas State Cemetery, Austin, TX), is an American blues harmonica player, singer, and songwriter who is the bandleader for the James Cotton Blues Band. He also writes songs alone, and his solo career continues to this day. His work includes the following genres: blues, delta blues, harmonica blues, and electric harmonica blues.

Cotton became interested in music when he first heard Sonny Boy Williamson II on the radio. He left home to find Williamson in West Helena, Arkansas. Williamson mentored Cotton during his early years. 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."

Whilst he played a few instruments, Cotton is famous for his work on the harmonica.

Cotton began his professional career playing the blues harp in Howling 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. 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; 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 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. 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. Two albums were recorded live in Montreal that year.

In the 1960s, Cotton formed a blues band in the tradition of Bobby "Blue" 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 Water's 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 a Grammy for Deep in the Blues in 1996 for Best Traditional Blues Album.

A throat problem left Cotton unable to sing from the mid 1990s onwards, but he continued to tour, utilizing singers or his backing band members as vocalists. Cotton's latest album, Baby Don't You Tear My Clothes, was released in 2004.

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.

In 2006, Cotton was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame..

A resident of Austin, Texas since 2001, James Cotton passed away on March 16, 2017 at St. David's Medical Center. He was interred at the prestigious Texas State Cemetery in Austin. He is survived by his wife, Jacklyn, two daughters and a son.



Grammy Award, 1996 - "Deep in the Blues" - Traditional Blues Album
Inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame, Memphis, TN, 2006
Inducted into Smithsonian Institution, 1991
Handy Award, 2003 - "35th Anniversary Jam" - Traditional Blues Album
Handy Award, 2001, 1997 - Traditional Male Artist of the Year
Handy Award, 1997 - Acoustic Album of the Year - "Deep In The Blues"
Handy Award, 1991, 1987 - Instrumentalist of the Year - Harmonica
Handy Award, 1991 - Contemporary Album of the Year - "Harp Attack"
Premier Harmonica Player Award, 2000, 1999 - Memphis Chapter of National Academy of Record Arts and Sciences
Down Beat 45th Annual Critics Poll, 1997 - "Deep in the Blues" - Blues Album of the Year
Down Beat 62nd Annual Readers Poll, 1997 - "Deep in the Blues" - Blues Album of the Year
Lifetime Achivement Award, 2000 - presented by The Pocono Blues Festival
Blues Legend Award, 2002 - presented by The New England Blues Society
Howlin' Wolf Award, 2002 - presented by The Blues Foundation
Theresa Needham Blues Award, 1994 - for oustanding service to the Blues community
Honorary and Lifetime Member, 1993 - of the Sonny Boy Blues Society

Check out James Cotton's own site for more information and show dates, etc.


James Cotton

James Cotton’s booming vocals and world-class harmonica skills, coupled with his larger-than-life persona, have led to a six-decade-long career in the blues. Born in Tunica, Miss., in 1935, the last of nine children in a sharecropping family, Cotton was taught the harmonica by his Uncle Wiley, who took the nicknamed "Superharp" to meet Sonny Boy Williamson, then-host of old blues radio program King Biscuit Time, when he only 9 years old. Touring with Williamson led to work on the Chitlin’ Circuit with Howlin’ Wolf, sessions for Sun Records, and his own radio program on KWEM in West Memphis, Ark. After replacing Little Walter, Cotton spent 12 years touring with Muddy Waters, highlighted by one of the most scorching solos ever caught on tape during “I’ve Got My Mojo Workin” at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1960. The late 1960s and 1970s were marked by a series of impressive solo albums on Vanguard and Verve, resulting in another decade of solid touring, captured brilliantly on 1988’s Live from Antone’s. Mainstream success finally caught up with Cotton in the 1990s, which found him inducted into Chicago’s Blues Hall of Fame and earning a Grammy for 1996’s Deep in the Blues. Superharp relocated to Austin in 2001, and while throat problems have all but forced him to stop singing, Cotton can still blow down the house any given night at Antone’s. – Austin Powell

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