James Cotton, the Grammy Award-winning blues harmonica player who backed some of the greatest blues artists of his time, died Thursday, March 16, 2017, according to multiple news sources. Cotton was 81.
James Henry Cotton, was born July 1, 1935, in Tunica, Mississippi. He started his music career in the early 1950s as the harmonica player for Howlin' Wolf's band. He recorded some of his first songs in Sam Phillips' Sun Records studio in Memphis, where Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and other music legends also recorded.
In 1955, Cotton came to Chicago at the urging of another blues great, Muddy Waters. Cotton became the band leader, and he remained with Waters until 1965. That year, Cotton launched his own band, the Jimmy Cotton Blues Quartet, featuring the blues pianist Otis Spann, to perform whenever Waters' band was on hiatus. Cotton eventually went full-time with his group and never looked back. He would later return to play harmonica with Waters for the latter's 1977 album, "Hard Again." The album, produced by Johnny Winter, won a Grammy Award.
In the 1980s, Cotton began recording for Chicago's Alligator Records label. In 2010, he returned to the Alligator fold.
Some of Cotton's best work came during the 1980s and '90s. His James Cotton Blues Band was nominated for a Grammy in 1984 for "Live From Chicago: Mr. Superharp Himself!" on the Alligator label. Three years later, the band received a second Grammy nomination for the album "Take Me Back," on the Blind Pig Records label. Cotton won a Grammy for best traditional blues album for 1996's "Deep in the Blues."
In 2006, Cotton was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame.