Street Beat kicks off Wednesday
VAIL – James Cotton grew up tending to the cotton fields of Tunica, Miss., beside his mother and father and eight brothers and sisters. His free time was either spent at the Baptist Church where his father, Mose, was a preacher or listening to his mother, Hattie, play the harmonica.For Christmas one year, his parents gave him a 15 cent harmonica, and the young Cotton mastered the instrument in no time. When he began listening to the legendary Sonny Boy Williamson’s radio program broadcasted live just across the Mississippi River in Helena, Ark., he discovered something else – the harp – which would become his life’s passion. By the age of 9, both of Cotton’s parents had passed away. An uncle took him to Sonny Boy and after Cotton played his harp for him, the two became inseparable. Sonny Boy took him under his wing. Cotton spent the next several years playing in clubs, if he could get in, playing his harmonica and harp outside of theaters, on the streets, on the radio, anywhere he could.His career would eventually lead him to a 12-year stint with Muddy Waters. In 1966, ready to go out on his own, Cotton left Waters and 1967 was his first year as a bandleader. Cotton became the ultimate showman, opening for everyone from Janis Joplin to Led Zeppelin.VD: You’re on the road right now. Where are you?
JC: I don’t know. Where are we? Quakerstown, Penn. We just flew from Austin to Atlanta and drove up, but there was a terrible snowstorm. The bags didn’t arrive until Thanksgiving. We had the harps with us though. It was one of those spinal tap days. VD: How long have you been on tour?Well, we just got back to the states. We were in Italy for 12 days. We spent a week in Milan at the Milan Blue Note and a week at the LucerneVD: Who’s in your band right now? The bass/drums team are two brothers out of Chicago, Charles Mack and Mark Mack. On second guitar and vocals and the youngest member at 27, is Tom Holland. On lead guitar and vocals is Rico McFarland, who’s been with me since ’92.VD: You’ve opened for Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead, Led Zeppelin, Santana, Steve Miller, Freddie King, B.B. King, to name a few, who was your favorite musical companion and why?
I played with everyone you can think of from 1960 on, but I have to say Janis. I made her play and knowing she was going to come out with a big band, it made me play as well. That was 1969-70.VD: Who are your musical influences?JC: The people I started with. My mother taught me to play the chicken and the train when I was 4-years-old. Sonny Boy Williamson took me under his wing when I was 9. No doubt Little Walter Jacobs for his firey sound. Little Walter put the amplifier to the harp and really made it scream. And of course, Muddy Waters.VD: Do you still do back flips on stage?JC: July 1987 was the last of the summersaults. I used to do them on stage when I played with guys like Clapton and Cream. It gave me just a little bit of edge in the music.VD: You’re 70 years old, 61 of those years have been spent in the entertainment business. What do you consider your greatest accomplishment in life?
JC: The grammy award in ’97 for “Deep in the Blues” on Verve. Next year marks the 40th anniversary of the James Cotton Blues Band and given the musical terrain these days that’s a pretty strong statement.VD: What can the crowd in Vail expect? JC: Rockin’ boogies. We’re coming out with all the horses that night. We’ve always played the Vilar, so we’re excited to play in Vail. It’s supposed to be a Street Beat dance party. We’re coming to boogie. Staff Writer Laura A. Ball can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14641, or email@example.com.Vail, Colorado