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James Cotton
James Cotton Monterey 1981.jpg
Cotton in 1981
Background information
Birth name James Henry Cotton
Born (1935-07-01)July 1, 1935
Tunica, Mississippi, U.S.
Died March 16, 2017(2017-03-16) (aged 81)
Austin, Texas, U.S.
Genres Blues, Chicago blues, Delta blues, electric blues, jazz, Memphis blues, rock
Occupation(s) Musician
Instruments Vocals, harmonica, drums
Years active 1953–2017
Labels Buddah Records
Alligator Records
Telarc International
Associated acts Muddy Waters
Howlin' Wolf
Matt Murphy
Pat Hare

James Henry Cotton (July 1, 1935 – March 16, 2017) was an American blues harmonica player, singer and songwriter, who performed and recorded with many of the great blues artists of his time and with his own band. He played drums early in his career but is famous for his harmonica playing.


Cotton first became interested in playing music when he heard Sonny Boy Williamson on the radio. He left his home to find Sonny Boy Williamson, and when he found him (in West Helena, Arkansas), Williamson took him in and raised him. Blues singer Bobby Bland was his half-brother.

First band

James Cotton - Hondarribia 2008-07-19
Cotton performing in 2008

Cotton first began playing the blues harp in Williamson's band, called Howlin Wolf's. After one gig, Sonny Boy quit the band to live with his wife in Milwaukee. He left the band in Cotton's hands. Cotton said, ""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."

Later career

Cotton started working with the Muddy Waters Band in 1955. He performed songs like "I Got My Mojo Working" and "She's Nineteen Years Old". After leaving Muddy's band in 1966, Cotton toured with Janis Joplin. Alone, Cotton wrote classic songs like "Cotton Crop Blues", "Rocket 88" and "Hold Me In Your Arms". He formed the James Cotton Blues Band in 1967. They performed all of Cotton's classics and more.


Cotton played harmonica on Muddy Water's Grammy Award winning 1977 album Hard Again. James Cotton's band would also get nominated for two Grammy Awards. The first one was for his 1984 release, Live From Chicago: Mr. Superharp Himself!. His second for Take Me Back.


James Cotton & Peter McGennis (Queen City)
James Cotton & Peter McGennis (Queen City)

Cotton had worked with many prominent artists, including:

Selected discography

  • Chicago/The Blues/Today!, vol. 2
  • 1965: Chris Barber Presents Jimmy Cotton and Chris Barber Presents Jimmy Cotton – 2 (45-rpm EPs with British band)
  • 1967: The James Cotton Blues Band (Verve)
  • 1968: Cut You Loose! (Vanguard)
  • 1968: Cotton in Your Ears (Verve)
  • 1970: Taking Care of Business (Capitol)
  • 1974: 100% Cotton, with Matt "Guitar" Murphy (Buddah)
  • 1976: Live & on the Move (Buddah)
  • 1978: High Energy (Buddah)
  • 1984: High Compression (Alligator)
  • 1986: Live from Chicago: Mr. Superharp Himself (Alligator)
  • 1987: Take Me Back (Blind Pig), reissued on vinyl, 2009
  • 1988: Live at Antone's (Antone's)
  • 1990: Harp Attack!, with Carey Bell, Junior Wells, and Billy Branch (Alligator)
  • 1991: Mighty Long Time (Anton's)
  • 1994: 3 Harp Boogie (Tomato)
  • 1994: Living the Blues (Verve)
  • 1995: Two Sides of the Blues
  • 1996: Deep in the Blues (Verve)
  • 1998: Seems Like Yesterday (Justin Time)
  • 1998: Late Night Blues: Live at the Penelope Café 1967 (Justin Time)
  • 1999: Best of the Vanguard Years (Vanguard)
  • 1999: Superharps, with Charlie Musselwhite, Sugar Ray Norcia, and Billy Branch (Telarc)
  • 2000: Fire Down Under the Hill (Telarc)
  • 2002: 35th Anniversary Jam (Telarc)
  • 2004: Baby, Don't You Tear My Clothes (Telarc)
  • 2007: Breakin' It Up, Breakin' It Down, with Muddy Waters and Johnny Winter (Legacy)
  • 2010: Giant (Alligator)
  • 2013: Cotton Mouth Man (Alligator)


Cotton died of pneumonia on March 16, 2017, at the age of 81, at a medical center in Austin, Texas and was buried on July 11, 2017 in Texas State Cemetery in Austin.

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