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"We're talking about the blues, loud and fast and getting down dirty, we're talking about James Cotton, a singer, stomper, and harp-player extraordinaire." - New York Daily News

James Cotton was born on July 1, 1935, in Tunica, Mississippi. The youngest of eight brothers and sisters who grew up in the cotton fields working beside their mother, Hattie, and their father, Mose. On Sundays Mose was the preacher in the area's Baptist church.

Listening to King Biscuit Time, a 15-minute radio show, began broadcasting live on KFFA, a station just across the Mississippi River in Helena, Arkansas, starring harmonica legend, Sonny Boy Williamson (Rice Miller).

This started his love afair with the harp.

By the age of 9 both of his parents had died. Cotton was taken to Sonny Boy Williamson by his uncle and when they met, the young fellow wasted no time - he began playing Sonny Boy's theme song on his treasured harp.

"I walked up and played it for him. And I played it note for note. And he looked at that. He had to pay attention." The two harp players were like father and son from then on. "I just watched the things he'd do, because I wanted to be just like him. Anything he played, I played it," he remembers.

There were dozens of juke joints in the South at the time and Sonny Boy played in nearly every one in Mississippi (pronounced "miz-sip-ee") and Arkansas. Because Cotton was too young to go inside he would "open" for Sonny Boy on the steps of these juke joints, sometimes making more money in tips outside than Sonny Boy did at the gig inside.

After a gig early one morning Sonny Boy split for Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to live with his estranged wife, leaving his band to Cotton.

"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 played for tips on Beale Street in Memphis. He also was a shoeshine.

When he'd been with Sonny Boy, they had played a juke joint named "The Top Hat" in Black Fish, Arkansas. One night he heard Howlin' Wolf was playing there so he went to the show. Cotton got along well with Howlin' Wolf from the moment they met and they began to play together, with Cotton doing most of the driving down Highway 61.

At the age of 15 he cut four songs at Sun Records: "Straighten Up Baby," "Hold Me In Your Arms," "Oh, Baby," and "Cotton Crop Blues."

KWEM, a radio station in West Memphis, Arkansas, gave Cotton a 15-minute radio show in 1952. Cotton had gigs every weekend but to help support himself he found a job in West Memphis driving an ice truck during the week.

When he got off work one Friday afternoon in early December 1954, he walked to his regular Friday happy hour gig at the "Dinette Lounge" and played his first set. When the band took a break, a strange man approached and extended a handshake to Cotton saying, "Hello, I'm Muddy Waters."

"I didn't know what Muddy looked like but I knew it was his voice 'cause I'd listened to his records," says Cotton. Muddy needed a harp player. Junior Wells had abruptly left the band. He asked Cotton to play the Memphis gig with him. Cotton remained Muddy's harp player for 12 years.

"Muddy was a very sweet guy. I loved and respected Muddy very much. But I did all I could there, an' it was time to move on to something else," Cotton explains why he left the band in the latter part of 1966.

The year 1967 is well-documented as Cotton's first year as a bandleader with the two CD's "Seems Like Yesterday" and "Late Night Blues," recorded live in Montreal at the "New Penelope" club and unreleased until 1998 on the Justin Time label. During the last half of the 60's decade Cotton made four records: "Cut You Loose" was released on Vanguard; "Pure Cotton," "Cotton In Your Ears," and "The James Cotton Blues Band" were released on the Verve label.

During the late 60's Cotton opened for and/or sat-in with the Grateful Dead, Led Zeppelin, Santana, Steve Miller, Freddie King, B.B. King...to name a few. He played the Fillmore East in New York, the Fillmore West in San Francisco.

And he's still at it to this very day. One of the legends of the blues, james Cotton, Mr. Superharp! I saw him in Milan a few months back and man he can play the harp better than anyone!

Partial discography:

Cut You Loose! Vanguard 1966
Cotton In Your Ears Verve Records 1967
Pure Cotton Verve Records
100% Cotton Buddah Records
High Energy Buddah Records
Taking Care of Business Capitol Records
High Compression {Nominated for a Grammy in 1984} Alligator Records
Live from Chicago - Mr. Superharp Himself Alligator Records
James Cotton w/ Matt "Guitar" Murphy and Luther Tucker Live {Grammy Nomination, Best Traditional Blues Album} Antones Records
Take Me Back {Grammy Nomination, Best Traditional Blues Album} Blind Pig Records
Mighty Long Time Antone's Records
Living the Blues Verve Records
Best of the Verve Years Verve Records
James Cotton w/ Joe Louis Walker and Charlie Haden Deep in the Blues {Won Grammy Award} Verve Records
Seems Like Yesterday Justin Time Records 1998
Late Night Blues Live At The New Penelope Cafe - 1967 Justin Time Records 1998
Best of the Vanguard Years Vanquard Records 1999
Fire Down Under The Hill Telarc Records 2000

refrences and quotes from www.jamescottonsuperharp.com

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