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Remembering The Life Of James Cotton, The Pioneering Blues Harmonica Player

James Cotton, the prolific Grammy Award-winning blues harmonica player, died yesterday of pneumonia at the age of 81. Affectionately nicknamed “Mr. Superharp,” Cotton was a pioneering force for the blues, with his career starting as a teenager in the early 1950s with the release of his first single, “Straighten Up Baby.” Over the next six decades, Cotton’s fame grew, playing and recording with the Grateful DeadJanis JoplinSteve MillerLed ZeppelinB.B. King, as well as taking on the role of Muddy Waters’ sideman for a time.

Cotton was a decorated and celebrated musician who was close to the pulse of the ever-evolving blues scene throughout his life. In addition to the Grammies he won for Hard Again in 1977 and Deep In The Blues in 1997 and the nomination for 2013’s Cotton Mouth Man, the harmonica virtuoso also received ten Blues Music Awards, six Living Blues Awards, and the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal’s prestigious B.B. King Award for his contributions as an artist.

You can check out a few of our favorite live performances featuring James Cotton below as a tribute to the life and work of this truly incredible man.

[Cover photo courtesy of AP / Dave Martin]

Grateful Dead with James Cotton and Steve Miller – “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl,” 6/25/1992


[Video courtesy of Gratefulvideo]

James Cotton and Eric Clapton – “Key To The Highway,” 2/24/2012


[Video courtesy of Michael Matza]

James Cotton Blues Band’s performance at Winterland, 6/15/1973


[Video courtesy of Blues / R&B on MV]

Muddy Waters and the James Cotton Blues Band at The Forum, 6/28/1972


[Video courtesy of EXPORT1876]

Keith Richards and James Cotton rehearsing “Little Red Rooster”

[Video courtesy of Keith Richards]

James Cotton Blues Band – “The Creeper”

[Video courtesy of Diabluz]