It is often said that the smallest voice can make the biggest difference. Tiny in stature, but boasting and howling with sound, when played correctly the harmonica can overpower an entire band. James Cotton, a Mississippi native, learned this at a very young age—taking the ‘past-time’ instrument and giving it the proper tender, love and care that he thought it deserved.
Growing up, Cotton spent his days working in the cotton fields beside his mother—who would make chicken and train sounds on the harmonica she carried. Cotton, who thought these were the only two sounds that the instrument made, received a harmonica of his own for Christmas and quickly mastered all that it was capable of doing. However, at age nine, Cotton lost both parents; taken in by his uncle, he was introduced to his harmonica idol, Sonny Boy Williamson. Williamson listened to Cotton play his repertoire, still only a child, and soon the two became inseparable like father and son. Eventually when Williamson was ready to move on from his musical endeavors, he handed his band down to James—who struggled to hold the group together at such a young age. Without a family or home, Cotton was left with just his harmonica, playing for tips and shining shoes on the streets of Memphis.
At the age of fifteen, Cotton cut his first four songs at Sun Records (where artists like Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Johnny Cash got their start). This feat not only landed James a radio show of his own, but an introduction to what would be a lasting friendship on the stage with legend, Muddy Waters. Leading Waters’ band, and playing harmonica, Cotton would later go on to work with artists like Janis Joplin, Santana, B.B. King, Keith Richards, Grateful Dead, Charlie Musselwhite, Gregg Allman, and many others. Aside from his contributions to so many artists’ work, Cotton is a GRAMMY winner, and member of the Blues Hall of Fame.
The evening will open with the Mark May Band, a recognized and well received guitarist in the blues community. Perfecting his craft playing rough and tumble biker bars and blues clubs in Houston, Texas for over 20 years, Mark May’s confident vocals and technical guitar work once were the driving force for Dickey Betts and Great Southern. Mark’s current album is receiving heavy national radio play, and his music has been featured in major publications including Blues Review, Guitar Player and Guitar World.
6:30 p.m. – Food and beverage sales begin
7:30 p.m. – Performance