On James Cotton's new CD, Cotton Mouth Man, there's a song, "He was There," that makes the point that the blues harmonica icon has performed just about everywhere. Well, on May 17 the Cotton Mouth Man will perform somewhere he hasn't performed before: The Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix.
Cotton, who has been touring nonstop for decades, has performed on five continents and has lost count of how many countries in which he's performed. He has performed in Phoenix before but it was so far back he couldn't remember when.
"It makes me happy when I'm performing because I love the people," he said. "I'm looking forward to playing and having a good time in Phoenix. I'm ready to go and play for the people."
The 78-year-old shows youthful energy on his new CD, performing powerful rockin' and traditional blues.
Cotton Mouth Man, on Alligator Records, has an all-star list of performers on the CD with him, including Joe Bonamassa, Gregg Allman, Keb' Mo', Warren Haynes, Ruthie Foster and Delbert McClinton.
"I've been working for years, so I got to know all of them," Cotton said.
Cotton credits his producer Tom Hambridge for connecting him with the other blues greats. Cotton Mouth Man, which was recorded in Nashville, is meant as a positive celebration of Cotton's life. Cotton co-wrote seven songs on the CD and his larger-than-life persona comes through loud and clear.
Cotton had his vocal cords removed in 1993 due to a tumor. He can't sing like he used to, but he can still play the harmonica like one of the best in the world. The New York Times wrote, "The voice is gone, but the wind still blows."
Cotton said his secret is that playing the harmonica is based more on how the performer uses their stomach rather than their lips.
Since Cotton doesn't sing much anymore, Darrell Nulisch handles the vocal duties when the all-stars aren't grabbing the mic. Cotton's road band includes Tom Holland, on guitar, Noel Neal on bass, and Jerry Porter on drums.
Cotton sings the last song on the CD called "Bonnie Blue," which was the name of the plantation where he was born.
Cotton's mother used to play the harmonica at night at home when he was growing up. He was one of nine kids and his mother couldn't afford more expensive instruments, so she purchased a harmonica for 15 cents.
"I started playing the blues, because everybody in Mississippi has the blues," he said. "I started touring when I was 15 and I haven't stopped. It's just ongoing."
While his mother got him started, Cotton learned harmonica directly from Sonny Boy Williamson II as a child before touring with him and Howlin' Wolf. He spent 12 years touring with Muddy Waters before going out on his own. He cut the CD "The Blues Never Die!" with Otis Spann before forming his own band. Cotton has shared the stage with Janis Joplin, The Grateful Dead, Led Zeppelin, Santana, Steve Miller, BB King, Freddie King and many others.
Cotton has performed on albums with Matt "Guitar" Murphy, Koko Taylor, Johnny Winter, Dr. John, and Michael Bloomfield.
He has won Grammy Awards and was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2006. In 2010, Cotton was honored at New York's Lincoln Center by an all-star blues lineup as a tribute.
Cotton recently returned from Australia and when he takes a break from his American tour a stop in Canada is lined up. James Cotton Blues Band is scheduled to play the Musical Instrument Museum Theater on Monday, May 19.
Check the next page for CD of the Week. CD of the week: Terry Gillespie - Bluesoul
This CD has some great sounds to it.
"The Devil Likes to Win" is about coming from the country into the city. Folks new to Phoenix can relate to this.
The song "What Would Bo Diddley Do?" is a great tribute that will have everybody singing along.
The tune "Her Mind Left First" is a fun blues song that will make folks want to get up and dance.
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