The never-ending blues 

Legendary Superharp James Cotton still playing the blues after 36 years on the road

Who: James ‘Mr. Superharp’ Cotton

Where: Buffalo Bill’s

When: March 10

"I finally had to tell (Muddy Waters) ‘hey man, I will never be Little Walter. You’ve just got to give me a chance to be myself,’" says James Cotton, otherwise known as Mr. Superharp one of a long line of Memphis blues greats.

Cotton’s exposure in the PBS documentary American Roots last November highlights his place in the world of Memphis blues legends.

Lingering drawls and howling riffs are the promise with his harmonica, alongside a four-piece back-up band that includes guitarist Luther Tucker, pianist Alberto Gianquinto, Bassist Bob Anderson, and drummer Francis Clay.

Boogie rhythms and hard percussion are mixed with down home blues on Deep in the Blues , released on the Verve label.

The album, which won a Grammy for best traditional blues album in 1997. It keeps the mind wandering like the flow of Fitzsimmons Creek, then revs you up with the flash of Nairn Falls.

And after 36 years of touring, Cotton, like the blues, just keeps going. Now based in Austin, Texas, Cotton’s music is a surefire way to fuse a little sultry sound into the cold winter nights.

The single Stormy Monday Blues might be an apt early week ditty, while Dealing With the Devil feels soulful and restless.

Born and raised in Mississippi, Cotton got his first musical wakeup when meeting Sonnyboy Williamson, who became Cotton’s mentor.

An uncle brought Cotton into the KFFA radio studio in Arkansas to play for Williamson. From sitting and watching many sessions, Cotton picked up harmonica licks and the rest was history.

He later assumed the role of bandleader with Williamson’s band, making his way through the Memphis Blues scene. Playing alongside Howlin’ Wolf, then guitarist Pat Hare, Cotton also doubled as drummer.

Stepping in as Muddy Water’s sideman, replacing Little Walter, was a pivotal point in his career. After a solo on Got My Mojo Working on a live album recorded at the Newport Jazz Festival in ’60, Cotton was highlighted as a solo artist.

"I did all I could do there. It was time to move on and do something else," he says.

Since 1966 Cotton has pursued a career as front and centre harmonica man.

Seems Like Yesterday was recorded live in Montreal in 1967, while 1974’s 100% Cotton was an LP released in conjunction with Buddah records. High Compression, Harp Attack!, and Mighty Long Time preceded this latest album.

The sounds of Cotton’s blues can also be heard on Kenny Wayne Shepherd’s album Deep In the Blues and Steve Milller’s Fly Like an Eagle .

One Chicago reviewer says Cotton "sucks the keys straight out of the harp and spits them back into his hand."

Now that’s a show worth writing home about.

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