“The blues is all about feeling… If I don’t feel it, I can’t play it.” (James Cotton)
My passion for harmonica started in college. I was doing the Mee-Ow Show (an Improv/Sketch Comedy group) at Northwestern University… Go Cats!… and our live band, Dr. Bob And The Fakoktah Blues Band, featured Todd Weeks on harmonica, among several other instruments. I was hooked, and asked him to teach me a bit, which he did.
That summer we took the show to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, where Wesley Stace (aka John Wesley Harding) bought me my first two harmonicas.I will never forget the first moment I was able to bend a note… It floored me!
For the rest of the time I was in Chicago, I would haunt the Blues clubs even more, getting to see some harmonica/harp idols like Sugar Blue, Junior Wells and my favorite, James Cotton. I would listen to their records over and over, trying to copy their playing. To this day, I play alongside of James Cotton And His Big Band – Live From Chicago (Mr. Superharp Himself) and “When It Rains It Pours” is one of my all-tike favorite blues tracks!
What makes this record even more amazing… is that I was there when it was being recorded (February 1-3, 1986 at Biddy Mulligan’s, Chicago, Illinois)… Same thing with The Clash’s Live At Shea. Not bad places to be, let me tell you!!!
I’ll never forget seeing Cotton play one of those Biddy Mulligan’s shows with my friends and frat brothers Barry Flanik and Jon Weiswasser… and Ray “Killer” Allison giving up his kit so that Jon could get on stage and actually sit in!!!
The band that night was:
JAMES COTTON, harmonica and vocals
JOHNNY COTTON, trombone
MICHAEL COLEMAN, guitar/band leader
RAY “Killer” ALLISON, drums
EDDIE HARSCH, piano
DOUGLAS FAGEN, tenor sax
DANNY “BONEY” FIELDS, trumpet
NOEL NEAL, bass
“Born on a cotton plantation in Tunica, Mississippi on July 1, 1935, Cotton learned harmonica directly from Sonny Boy Williamson II (Rice Miller) as a small child.” Quite a career and journey he had… For the rest of James’ bio I will refer you to the Alligator Records site, his label since 1984. But suffice it to say, with his passing yesterday, the world has lost a true and profound Blues Legend.
There are not many legends left… so grab on to the Blues… turn it up… play it loud and pay homage!
And yes… I make that very same face!!!
RIP James Cotton. Tomorrow, I play for you.