Pete Johnson’s Blast From My Past: The James Cotton Band – “100% Cotton”

I have to give credit where credit is due. I owe my love of James Cotton to Victor Campanile, drummer of Shyneboxx. He was the one who told me about the core band on Muddy Waters’ “Hard Again”. That album was my real introduction to my love of the blues. When we’d listen to the record, I’d ask Victor what Muddy was saying in between lines and verses of the song. I had no idea that Muddy yelling “Puh-hina -tup”, was him talking to blues piano genius Pinetop Perkins. He’d say “Cod-dun”, and I ‘d say what is that and Vic told me it was the harmonica player, James Cotton.

Now I love harmonica. On my own I’d discovered Sugar Blue, from the Stones “Some Girls”, or Little Walter, from “Juke”, and I actually love Mick Jagger’s harp playing as well. But Cotton’s playing on “Hard Again” – just kills me! Every note is perfection on that record. He fits inside the music in a way that makes him my most loved harmonica player in my heart. I can intellectualize the genius of Little Walter or Toots Thielemans, and I love them. But I love Cotton more.

So I asked Vic one day if he knew any other records with the guys in Muddy’s band that were worth getting. He whipped out this one on me, “100% Cotton”. This album has so many intersections in my life. One look at the credits on the record and many of the people I worked with at Arista Records will note a familiar name and face:

100% Cotton Album Band Credits
Guitar – Mat Murphy

Bass – Charles Calmese

Drums – Kenny Johnson

Saxophone – Little Bo

Design [Packaging Direction] – Milton Sincoff

Photography By [Cover] – Peter Sweet

Photography By [Liner] – Stephen Morley

Producer – Al Dotoli

Milton Sincoff. You cannot think of Milton without thinking of the face. He was an old school record guy, a real character. The man drank his weight in Dr Brown’s Celery Soda every day. There are many Milton stories, but decorum prohibits me from mentioning them here. The other names that stand out is the guitarist Matt Murphy, drummer Kenny Johnson (My pop’s name), and saxophonist Little Bo, an artist I distributed many albums for later on in my music distribution career.

Now musically this album is just a killer. So often music is just about capturing the energy and feeling instead of a so called ‘perfect’ recording. This album is full of live energy, hot playing and a wide variety of the styles of the blues idiom. It is funky on some tracks, like “Burner” (go Kenny on that one). The cover of “Rockett 88” is so good and one of my faves alongside with the vaunted original “Boogie Thing”. In fact I often say, “It’s a Boogie Thing. You wouldn’t understand”. “The Creeper Creeps Again” is another instrumental favorite that percolates like a pot of southern chili.

I made it my mission in life to see Cotton whenever I could in life. There was a great club in NYC called Chicago Blues, and thankfully many times Cotton came through and I saw him, once with Matt Murphy. The last time I saw James Cotton alive was when he came and played the waterfront park in my town. If you look at the picture below, he is sitting onstage in the red shirt, playing great as always. He was a sweet man and was very gracious when you met him. I have the concert poster signed by him on the wall of my office. I do not have much music memorabilia like that, very few. It has to be very meaningful to me to hang it on my wall. James Cotton is my fave harmonica player in the world, and “100% Cotton” means so much to me. If you listen to this record you will know I am 100% correct. Go buy it and thank me later. ;o)







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