Rolling Stone says Grammy Award-winning blues harmonica legend James “Mr. Superharp” Cotton is “among the greats of all time….He blazes on harp with brilliant virtuosity.” On May 7, 2013 Alligator Records will release Cotton Mouth Man, a joyous celebration of Cotton’s 69 years as a professional musician (beginning at age nine). Recorded in Nashville and produced by Grammy-winning producer/ songwriter/ drummer Tom Hambridge (Buddy Guy, Joe Louis Walker, Susan Tedeschi), the album is a trip through sounds and scenes from Cotton’s long and storied career.
Guests on the album include Gregg Allmsn, Joe Bonamassa, Ruthie Foster, Warren Haynes, Delbert McClinton and Keb Mo.
Cotton co-wrote seven of the tracks with Hambridge (who co-wrote five additional tracks). The songs were inspired by Cotton’s colorful and sometimes perilous life and his memories of the Mississippi Delta, Sonny Boy Williamson II, Memphis, Sun Records, Chicago, and Muddy Waters. Throughout the CD Cotton’s blast-furnace harmonica sound and larger-than-life personality are front and center.
Helping Cotton tell his stories and showcase his music are guests Gregg Allman, Joe Bonamassa, Ruthie Foster, Warren Haynes, Delbert McClinton, and Keb Mo. Other vocals are handled by Darrell Nulisch, who has been singing in Cotton’s band for many years. Members of Cotton’s road band — Jerry Porter, Noel Neal, and Tom Holland — are also on board for some songs. Forming the core of the backing band on the CD are Hambridge (drums), Rob McNelley (guitar), Chuck Leavell (keyboards), and Glenn Worf (bass). Tommy MacDonald and Colin Linden each add guitar to one track. Cotton, who after a bout with throat cancer turned the vocal duties over to others, was inspired by the sessions to return to the microphone, singing his own Bonnie Blue (the name of the plantation where he was born), and making Cotton Mouth Man the most personal, celebratory and just plain fun recording of his seven-decade career.
According to Cotton, “I feel so happy about the music in this album. The blues is all about feeling — if I don’t feel it, I can’t play it. My hope is that everyone who listens feels it. I know I sure did!” Cotton has recently been signed by the prestigious Rosebud Agency and will be touring the world in support of the album.
Cotton’s history is now the stuff of legend. Born on a cotton plantation in Tunica, Mississippi on July 1, 1935, he learned harmonica directly from Sonny Boy Williamson II (Rice Miller) as a small child. He toured with Howlin’ Wolf, recorded for Sun Records, and spent 12 years with Muddy Waters before stepping out on his own. Leading his own band, he rose to the very top of the blues and rock scenes, touring non-stop and earning his reputation as one of the most powerful live blues performers in the world, a man who could literally suck the reeds out of the harmonica from the pure force of his playing.
He first recorded under his own name for the Chicago/The Blues/Today! series on Vanguard, and along with Otis Spann, cut The Blues Never Die! for Prestige. He made his first solo albums — three for Verve and one for Vanguard — in the late 1960s, with bands featuring outstanding musicians, including famed guitarist Luther Tucker. With his gale-force sound and fearless boogie band (later featuring Matt “Guitar” Murphy), it wasn’t long before he was adopted by the burgeoning hippie audience as one of their own. Cotton shared stages with Janis Joplin, The Grateful Dead, Led Zeppelin, B.B. King, Santana, Steve Miller, Freddie King and many others.
Cotton was universally renowned as one of the hardest-touring and most popular blues artists of the 1960s and 1970s. His acrobatic showmanship (he often did somersaults on stage) and full-throttle energy kept him in demand at concert halls all over the country. He played the Fillmore East in New York, the Fillmore West in San Francisco and every major rock and blues venue in between. During the 1970s, he cut three albums for Buddah and one for Capitol. He rejoined his old boss Muddy Waters for the series of Muddy albums produced by Johnny Winter, starting with Hard Again in 1977. Cotton also guested on recordings by Koko Taylor and many others. He was joined on his own albums by stars like Todd Rundgren, Steve Miller and Johnny Winter.
Cotton signed with Alligator Records in 1984, releasing High Compression and Live From Chicago: Mr. Superharp Himself!!! (which earned him the first of his four Grammy nominations). In 1990 he joined fellow Chicago harp masters for the all-star release Harp Attack!. He won a Grammy Award in 1996 for his Verve album, Deep In The Blues, was inducted into the Blues Hall Of Fame in 2006, and was honored by the Smithsonian Institution, which added one of his harmonicas to their permanent collection. During the 2000s Cotton has continued recording and touring relentlessly, playing clubs, concert halls and festivals all over the world, electrifying audiences wherever he performs. Cotton’s 2009 return-to-Alligator release, Giant, was Grammy-nominated. USA Today said, “Since 1966 James Cotton has been carrying the Chicago sound to the world. On Giant, he pours 75 years of living into that harmonica and out comes devastating and powerful blasts of notes.”
In June 2010, Cotton was honored at New York’s Lincoln Center, where his friends Hubert Sumlin, Pinetop Perkins, Taj Mahal, Shemekia Copeland and others paid tribute to him in an all-star concert. There James Cotton played to yet another sold-out venue, with fans cheering the man known worldwide as “Mr. Superharp,” an undisputed giant of the blues. He is currently touring as part of Blues At The Crossroads II, a tribute to Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf, and he continues to tour nationally and internationally with his own band. In March 2013, he played three nights in Tokyo, Japan.