James Cotton, King of the Blues Harp, Dead at 81

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No matter who was headlining, James Cotton was always the act to see at the King Biscuit Blues Festival in Helena, Arkansas. Cotton was the direct link to the festival's namesake King Biscuit Flour Hour, and the radio show's harp-blowing star Sonny Boy Williamson. For many years Cotton, who became Williamson's protege, even claimed Sonny Boy as his surrogate father.

Cotton was the blues. As a child shining shoes in Downtown Memphis he'd sneak into Beale Street clubs on his hands and knees to see the players inside. Over the course of his long career he backed Howlin' Wolf,  toured with Janis Joplin and came to be regarded as the elder statesman of blues harp. Seeing the old master play in Helena, where he learned his craft at the feet of the previous old, master was about as close as any fan could get to a perfect blues experience.

James Cotton passed away on Thursday, March 16, 2007. He was 81.



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