A sad day for those who rejoice in the Blues. Another legend has left the building and now rejoins some of the other greats with whom he performed with during his time. James Cotton, Grammy Award-winning blues harmonica master whose full-throated sound backed such blues legends as Sonny Boy Williamson II, Howlin’ Wolf, and Muddy Waters died on March 16th of pneumonia at St. David’s Medical Center in Austin, Texas. He was 81.
Cotton, known as “Mr. Superharp,” began his professional career playing the with Sonny Boy Williamson II at age 9. He later joined Howlin’ Wolf’s band in the early 1950s. Cotton began working with the Muddy Waters Band around 1955. Although he did not play on the original recordings, he performed such classic songs as “Got My Mojo Working” and “She’s Nineteen Years Old.” Cotton’s first recording session with Muddy Waters took place in June 1957, and he alternated with Little Walter on Waters’s recording sessions until the end of the decade.
His overwhelmingly powerful harmonica playing was one of the most iconic sounds of the blues (Chicago blues, Delta blues, electric blues, Memphis blues). Over the course of his carreer he shared the stage with iconic greats such as Janis Joplin, The Grateful Dead, Led Zeppelin, Santana and Steve Miller.
Cotton released more than 2 dozen albums, including his 1996 Grammy Award-winning album, Deep In The Blues. His most recent album, Cotton Mouth Man in 2013, was nominated for a Grammy. In 2006, Cotton was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame at a ceremony conducted by the Blues Foundation in Memphis.
Cotton is survived by his wife Jacklyn Hairston Cotton, daughters Teresa Hampton and Marshall Ann Cotton and son James Patrick Cotton, as well as numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
The photographs below were taken during the Hall of Fame Blues Tour in 2015 at the Tralf in Buffalo New York.