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dimanche 4 mai 2014

JAMES COTTON/ The beginning of a legend




JAMES COTTON/ The beginning of a legend

          
Si James Cotton jouit aujourd'hui à juste titre d'une réputation de légende vivante et figure au Panthéon des grands harmonicistes de blues, cela n'était certainement pas le cas lorsqu'au début des années 60 le petit cercle d'amateurs de blues européens le découvrit.
           Cotton n'était alors essentiellement connu qu'en tant que remplaçant de Little Walter au sein de l'orchestre de Muddy Waters, et pas forcément à son avantage!
           Né le 1er juillet 1935 à Tunica dans le Mississippi, James Cotton apprend très jeune à jouer de l'harmonica en écoutant les disques de John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson que son oncle lui prêtait et l'émission de radio King Biscuit Time dans laquelle officiait Sonny Boy "Rice Miller" Williamson. Persuadé que Rice Miller était le Sonny Boy des disques, Cotton convainc son oncle d'aller le voir. Flatté, Miller prend l'adolescent sur la route avec lui et Cotton le remplace sur scène (ou derrière le rideau selon les lieux étant donné son jeune âge) quand Sonny Boy est trop imbibé pour jouer. Lorsque Miller part soudainement vers le Nord, Cotton se retrouve embauché à Memphis par Joe Hill Louis puis Howlin' Wolf. Dans le groupe, Cotton noue une amitié durable avec les frères Murphy (Floyd et Matt), Pat Hare, Junior Parker, Willie Johnson... Presque naturellement, Sam Phillips enregistre James sur Sun, deux 78t de R & B de très bon niveau mais dans lesquels Cotton ne joue pas d'harmonica et qui ne se vendront guère.
           James gagne Chicago au milieu des années 50. Lorsque Muddy Waters licencie Big Walter Horton de son orchestre à cause de ses nombreuses inconséquences, James Cotton devient l'harmoniciste du groupe. Une fonction qu'il conservera une dizaine d'années. Cotton enregistre abondamment avec Muddy Waters et se fait ainsi connaître du grand public. Au début, il semble quelque peu gêné par la présence occulte de ses grands prédécesseurs (Little Walter notamment, au style très différent). Mais il développe peu à peu un jeu d'harmonica, bien plus terrien que celui des Walters, swinguant, tout en puissance et finalement extrêmement efficace.


           Lorsque Muddy emmène James avec lui en Angleterre, l'infatigable jazzman britannique Chris Barber en profite pour enregistrer James, huit titres qui ne paraîtront qu'en Europe sur deux 45t EP. Malgré un accompagnement laborieux et peu inspiré, cette séance de 1961 permet à Cotton de prouver l'étendue de ses talents d'harmoniciste et de chanteur. L'influence de John Lee Williamson est alors écrasante autant dans les trois morceaux qu'il lui emprunte que dans le reste.
           Cette escapade anglaise a permis à Cotton de s'aviser qu'un public blanc et international s'intéressait de plus en plus au blues et qu'il y avait là une opportunité à saisir. De retour à Chicago, Cotton se rapproche de la petite fraternité de jeunes fans de blues qui gravitent autour de Paul Butterfield et Mike Bloomfield et il se produit avec eux dans plusieurs campus universitaires et clubs du North Side, montrant au passage pas mal de "plans" à Butterfield. Quelques titres enregistrés au cours de ces prestations nous sont parvenus avec un Cotton particulièrement en verve. Sa voix chaude, grasseyante se marie merveilleusement à son harmonica et autant Butterfield en second harmonica que Mike Bloomfield (ou Elvin Bishop?) à la guitare montrent leur réelle empathie avec le vrai blues.
           En 1964, Cotton partage un microsillon produit par Sam Charters avec les autres membres du Muddy Waters blues band mais le LP est uniquement attribué à Otis Spann. Après un 45t pour Cadillac Baby dans lequel c'est Little Mack qui joue de l'harmonica (!), Cotton retrouve Charters et les autres musiciens de Muddy Waters pour cinq magnifiques titres qui paraissent dans la célèbre anthologie Chicago/ The blues today.
           Finalement, James se décide à tenter une carrière personnelle, forme son propre blues band avec Sammy Lawhorn à la guitare, le temps d'enregistrer un nouveau (et excellent) 45t pour le label Loma en 1966.
           Il lui faudra attendre l'année suivante (1967) pour enfin graver son premier album sous son nom sur le label Verve. Débute alors une autre et longue histoire.
                                                                 Gérard HERZHAFT

              If today James Cotton stands rightfully as a living legend and as one of the leading stalwarts of the Chicago blues harmonica style, it has not always been the case. In the early 60's for instance when Europe discovered the blues, Cotton was chiefly considered as a so so substitute to Little Walter in the Muddy Waters' blues band. And he will have to fight hard to stand out as his own.
              Born on a plantation near Tunica, Ms. July 1st, 1935, James learned at a very early age to play the harmonica while listening to his uncle's huge record collection, particularly the 78s of John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson and the King Biscuit Time's radio programme from Helena (Arkansas) that was led by the "other" Sonny Boy Williamson, Rice Miller.
              The uncle like the nephew, persuaded - like many others - that there was only one Sonny Boy, went to see his show, chatted and playing with him. Some time after, the young James was taken under the not so protective wing of Rice Miller who used him as a valet as well as a replacement on stage (or behind a curtain, Cotton being still too young to play in most of the joints) when he was too whiskey-soaked to stand up. When Sonny Boy dropped everything suddenly to go North with his new wife, Cotton tried to maintain the band for awhile but it was a too hard task for such a young man and he instead settled in Memphis, playing in several blues bands, particularly Howlin Wolf's. As almost every blues act around Memphis, Phillips recorded twice James Cotton, four nice R&B tracks with stunning Pat Hare's guitar parts but no trace of harp blowing.
             


James went to Chicago in the mid-50's, playing with almost everybody. At that time, Muddy was looking for a new harp player, Little Walter being already a star on his own and Big Walter proving he had a not reliable enough behaviour to play regularly with a busy touring band. And James was very reliable, so he took the place, a role that he would keep for more than a decade. And Cotton recorded widely with Muddy in a very different style than the Walters, more down-home, almost "Country", always Sonnyboyesque and more and more swinging, forceful and effective.

              When Muddy brought James with him for a tour of Great Britain, the indefatigable British jazz band leader Chris Barber took the opportunity to record him as a leader. Despite a very uninspired and pedestrian backing band, this 1961 session is very rewarding. Cotton proves his talents with his harmonica during eight titles with a very strong John Lee Williamson's influence.
              During this British adventure, Cotton realized that there was a new public outside the black ghettos for the blues. Back to Chicago, Cotton was more and more involved in the Blues Revival fledgling movement, beginning a friendship with the young white bluesmen like Paul Butterfield and Mike Bloomfield and playing with them on college campuses and North Side clubs. Some tracks recorded during those kind of venues had reached us, featuring a very masterful Cotton in this acoustic setting.
              In 1964, Sam Charters recorded five tracks by Cotton as a leader with the current Muddy Waters' band but the album was attributed only to Otis Spann. After a 45 for Cadillac Baby (in which Little Mack plays the harp, not James!), Cotton recorded another session for Charters with Spann and others, a stunning session that would be issued on the famed Chicago/ The blues today series, doing a lot to establish Cotton's reputation.
              At that time, Cotton finally tried to lead his own band enrolling the great Sammy Lawhorn on lead guitar. They recorded a masterful 45 for the Loma label in 1966.
              Cotton will have to wait 1967 to sign a contract with the Verve label and at last record his first album under his name. Then starts another new and long story.
                                                                    Gérard HERZHAFT


JAMES COTTON
Complete Early Studio Recordings
1953-66
James Cotton, vcl; Harvey Simmons, t-sax; Tom Roane, b-sax; Billy Love, pno; Pat Hare, g; Kenneth Banks, bs; Houston Stokes, dms. Memphis, Tn. 7 décembre 1953
01. My baby
02. Straighten up baby
James Cotton, vcl; Pat Hare, g; Mose Vinson, pno; John Bowers, dms. Memphis, Tn. 14 mai 1954
03. Cotton crop blues
04. Hold me in your arms
James Cotton, vcl/hca; Chris Barber, tb/g/bs; Alexis Korner, g; Keith Scott, pno. Londres, GB. 10 août 1961
05. Dealing with the Devil
06. Standing around crying
07. Slow and easy
08. Rock me mama
09. Jimmy's jump
10. Decoration day blues
11. Polly put the kettle on
12. Going down slow
James Cotton, vcl/hca. Chicago, Ill. 14 janvier 1962
13. Decoration day
14. Dealing with the Devil
James Cotton, vcl/hca; Paul Butterfield, hca; Elvin Bishop, g or Mike Bloomfield, g. Chicago, Ill. juin 1962
15. So glad I'm leaving
16. V-8 Ford blues
17. Polly put the kettle on
18. Digging my potatoes
James Cotton, vcl/hca; Paul Butterfield, hca; Billy Boy Arnold, hca; Elvin Bishop, g or Mike Bloomfield, g. Chicago, Ill. juin 1962
19. Three harp boogie
James Cotton, vcl/hca; Otis Spann, pno/vcls; James Madison, g; Muddy Waters, g; Milton Rector, bs; S.P. Leary, dms. Chicago, Ill. 21 novembre 1964
20. One more mile to go
21. Feelin' good
22. Dust my broom
23. Straighten up baby
24. I'm ready
James Cotton, vcl; Little Mac Simmons, hca; John Jackson, t-sax; Willie Henderson, b-sax; Detroit Jr, pno; Eddie King, g; Bob Anderson, bs; Bily Davenport, dms. Chicago, Ill. 19 septembre 1965
25. One more mile
26. There must be a panic on
James Cotton, vcl/hca; Otis Spann, pno; Pee Wee Madison, g; S.P. Leary, dms. Chicago, Ill. décembre 1965
27. Cotton crop blues
28. The blues keep falling
29. Love me or leave me
30. Rocket 88
31. West Helena blues
James Cotton, vcl/hca; Sammy Lawhorn, g; James Madison, bs; Sam Lay, dms. Chicago, Ill. 11 mai 1966
32. Complete this order
33. Laying in the weeds

28 commentaires:

  1. Cotton Early Recordings

    Disc 1: http://www67.zippyshare.com/v/62119074/file.html
    Disc 2: http://www67.zippyshare.com/v/63894186/file.html
    OK?

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    1. merci pour cette bonne musique

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    2. Merci, Gérard, pour cette magnifique anthologie, ainsi que pour les excellents renseignements biographiques! J'ai eu l'immense honneur d'accompagner Cotton il y a deux ans et ce fût l'un des hauts points de ma carrière!

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    3. Merci à toi Frank de continuer à jouer le bon blues. C'est un plaisir de te voir suivre ce blog. Amitiés

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    4. Thanks very much for these Gerard - great stuff indeed!

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  2. A long awaited collection of Cotton's Early work! a GREAT job to do this;

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  3. OK indeed Gerard. You're dead right about the "stunning Pat Hare's guitar parts" I can clearly remember my stunned reaction when I first heard that 1954 Cotton Crop when it came out on Blues Classics 15.

    As always thanks very much for these great collections you put together.

    Bob Mac

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  4. Most excellent post to wake up to...thanks Mucho!...Nappyrags

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  5. Another great collection , every post of you is highly appreciated here :THANKS !!! marc(fr)

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  6. WOW!!!!!!Fantastic....Thank you so much

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  7. Hi Gerard,

    When Muddy toured Australia for the 2nd time in 1974 his harp player was Jerry Portnoy. I met Portnoy in Perth and thought he was an egomaniac and a very mediocre harp player to boot (though in all fairness he did improve in later years) Apparently Muddy shared this view because after Australia the tour went on to New Zealand and our Kiwi blues connections reported that Portnoy had been sacked and none other than James Cotton flew out to NZ to finish the tour. So our lucky NZ blues brothers got to see the mighty Cotton performing once again with his former boss.

    However, it's interesting that this whole incident is shrouded in mystery today. For some bizarre reason Portnoy was soon back in Muddy's band and remained there for some considerable time. Today there are no mentions of the Portnoy-Cotton switch on any of the sites I've read. In fact the whole NZ tour is missing from the Muddy Waters Tour Dates site for 1974.

    Have you heard anything at all about this incident Gerard?

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    1. I also saw many times Muddy with Jerry Portnoy and even chatted with him. To my ears, he was a good harp player and moreover he was taking care of Muddy whenever needed. I've heard that in 1974 he had to go back to Chicago because one of his parents was deceased. But of course Jerry would know better.

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  8. Il y a quelques titres ici que je ne connaissais pas et qui valent clairement l'écoute. Merci beaucoup pour ces découvertes. Juste quelques mots pour souligner sa longue et fructueuse carrière (qui n'est pas terminée). Son importante discographie est constituée de nombreux sommets. A titre personnel, j'avoue avoir un faible pour ses enregistrements avec Matt Murphy (mais cela est certainement dû au fait que j'ai découvert James avec "100% cotton" et "Live and on the move"). Salutations.

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    Réponses
    1. Cotton a effectivement beaucoup enregistré ensuite, du très bon, du bon et du beaucoup moins bon (l'album Capitol par exemple). Mais tout ou presque est actuellement disponible en CD à des prix corrects.

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  9. Thank you for this post.....James is still alive right (although sick I believe)....I guess someone should ask him before it's too late........

    Snapper

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  10. HI Gerard
    I just wanted to congratulate you on the splendid, well thought out compilation, that you have put together. It certainly helps fill in lots of important gaps. Keep up the good work!
    Frank

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    Réponses
    1. Thanks, Frank (and all the others who give their appreciation here).

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  11. HI,
    great looking post but can you repost link.not working for me.

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    Réponses
    1. It works all right... Look at your browser. Generally most of the problems come from IE. Try Firefox or Chrome

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  12. hi,
    got it figured thank you. is the imesh mp3 download safe?

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    1. I can't tell. I use Firefox with Adblock Plus as add-in and I can tell you there are never problems for any dwld, particularly when it comes from zippyshare

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  13. Great !!!!!!!!!!!!! thank you so much! rockin' early cotton!

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  14. Cher Mr Herzaft

    A nouveau ,je vous remercie pour ces "James Cotton" et toutes les informations que vous donnez.Merci beaucoup.JPV

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  15. Bonjour Gerard,

    Il s'agit bien de Elvin Bishop à la guitare. Le Butterfield Blues Band n'existe pas encore et Bloomfield apparaîtra que bien plus tard dans le sillage discographique de Butterfield (fin 64)

    Bloomers

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  16. Outstanding compilation, Gerard, thanks a lot!
    My favorite track is the Otis Spann/Muddy Waters/James Cotton tune "One More Mile to Go". Coincidentally, this was the first blues I was listening to and (five years later) the first tune I played and sang (let's say, tried to...). My fellow "musicians" - German school boys of 15 or 16 years - never quite understood what I was telling them... no wonder as they wanted to play "Telstar".
    The Chris Barber /Alexis Korner sides are a bit strange but impressive, too.

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