Sunday, March 31, 2013

Superharp: James Cotton Comes to D.C.

Last week, I caught James Cotton in concert at D.C.’s Howard Theatre. Just thought I’d put together a few factoids on his life as I know them:

Although he started out as a drummer, James “Superharp” Cotton is best known for his work on harmonica, which he played for artists such as Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters.

He first became interested in music after hearing Sonny Boy Williamson II over KFFA radio out of West Helena, Arkansas. As a youngster, Cotton actually did spend time learning blues harp from Williamson.

In the early 1950’s, Cotton  played harp in Howlin’ Wolf’s band. By the mid-fifties he was playing with Muddy. Still, for most of his recordings during that period, Muddy used Little Walter on harmonica.  Cotton’s first recording session with Muddy took place in 1957; afterwards he would alternate with Little Walter.

In 1965 he joined forces with pianist Otis Spann to form the Jimmy Cotton Blues Quartet, which recorded together between Cotton’s gigs with Muddy’s band. Cotton toured with Janis Joplin after leaving Muddy’s band in 1966 and then formed the James Cotton Blues Band in 1967.

In 1977 he played harp on Muddy’s award-winning album, Hard Again, which was produced by Johnny Winter. 

In 1984, his band received a Grammy nomination for Live From Chicago:Mr. Superharp Himself!

He received a second Grammy nomination for his 1987 release, Take Me Back. He finally won a Grammy in 1996 for Deep in the Blues.

A throat condition left him unable to sing from the mid-1990’s on, but he continued to tour, using other singers.  He recorded the album Baby Don’t You Tear My Clothes in 2004 and joined singer and multi-instrumentalist Ben Harper in 2008 to induct Little Walter into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
In D.C. he was joined on stage by 12-year-old Josh King from Charlotte, N.C.

James Cotton’s website can be reached at


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