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Posts Tagged ‘Sonny Boy Williamson II’

RIP, James Cotton (March 16, 2017) Blues Great

Posted by themusicsover on March 16, 2017

James Cotton
July 1, 1935 – March 16, 2017

Photo: Brian McMillen /

According to a press release from Alligator Records, world-renowned blues harmonica master James Cotton, whom Rolling Stone called, “One of the greats of all time, burning with brilliant virtuosity,” died on March 16, 2017 of pneumonia at St. David’s Medical Center in Austin, Texas. He was 81. His overwhelmingly powerful harmonica playing was one of the iconic sounds of the blues. He toured worldwide for over 60 years.

Born on a cotton plantation in Tunica, Mississippi on July 1, 1935, Cotton was a working musician by age nine. He learned harmonica directly from Sonny Boy Williamson II (Rice Miller), toured with Williamson and Howlin’ Wolf, and recorded for Sun Records in 1953 before spending 12 years touring and recording with Muddy Waters (starting at age 20). Cotton was featured on Muddy’s famous 1960 At Newport LP on Chess Records, including the iconic version of Got My Mojo Working, one of the classic recordings of Chicago Blues.

After his 1953 Sun sessions, Cotton didn’t record under his own name again until the mid-1960s, with tracks included in the groundbreaking Chicago/The Blues/Today! series of LPs on Vanguard. Along with Otis Spann, he cut The Blues Never Die! for Prestige.

In 1966 he formed The James Cotton Band, quickly earning a reputation as one of the most commanding and potent live blues performers in the world—a man who could literally suck the reeds out of his harmonica from the pure force of his playing. He made his initial solo albums, three for Verve and one for Vanguard, in the late 1960s.

Cotton’s blistering talent and full-throttle energy kept him in demand at concert halls all over the country. He played the Fillmore East in New York, the Fillmore West in San Francisco and every major rock and blues venue in between. During the 1970s, he cut three albums for Buddah and one for Capitol.

Cotton signed with Alligator Records in 1984, releasing two solo albums and the famed Harp Attack! with Junior Wells, Carey Bell and Billy Branch. He won a Grammy Award in 1996 for his Verve album, Deep In The Blues and recorded four albums for Telarc Records before returning to Alligator in 2010. His most recent recording was 2013’s Grammy-nominated Cotton Mouth Man.

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Died On This Date (May 6, 2012) Michael “Iron Man” Burks /Arkansas Blues Man

Posted by themusicsover on May 6, 2012

Michael Burks
July 30, 1957 – May 6, 2012

Photo by Paul Natkin

Born in Milwaukee, WI,  Michael “Iron Man” Burks was an exceptional electric blues guitarist, singer and songwriter.  By the time he was just five years old, Burks was already making beautiful noise on his guitar standing alongside his father who once played with Sonny Boy Williamson II.  During the early ’70s, Burks moved with his family to Camden, Arkansas where his father opened a juke joint.  Before he knew it, Burks was fronting the house band who played behind numerous visiting blues greats.  After the club closed during the ’80s, Burks all but left the music business altogether to earn a better living at Lockheed.  He eventually returned to making music full-time, releasing his debut album, From The Inside Out, in 1997.  Over the next two decades, Burk released three more albums for the esteemed Alligator Records while entertaining blues lovers around the world.  Upon returning from a European tour on May 6, 2012, Michael “Iron Man” Burks collapsed at the Atlanta International Airport and ultimately died from what was reported to have been a heart attack.  He was 54.

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I Smell Smoke - Michael Burks

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Died On This Date (September 16, 2011) Willie “Big Eyes” Smith / Grammy Winning Electric Blues Great

Posted by themusicsover on September 16, 2011

Willie “Big Eyes” Smith
January 19, 1936 – September 16, 2011

Photo by Michael Kurgansky

Willie “Big Eyes” Smith was an influential electric blues triple threat.  Not only was he revered for his singing and harmonica playing, but he was also an award-winning drummer.  Born in Helena, Arkansas, Smith moved to Chicago when he was 17 and initially took up the harmonica.  Inspired by the likes of harpists Sonny Boy Williamson II and Henry Strong, Smith formed his own trio within a year of landing in Chicago.  It was also around this time that he played on Bo Diddley’s recording of “Diddy Wah Diddy.”  Smith soon realized that harmonica players were basically a dime a dozen in Chicago, so he switched to drums and was shortly thereafter hired by Muddy Waters.  He went on to play with Waters on and off for the next two decades, only taking a break during the mid ’60s to earn more consistent money as a cab driver.  Between 1960 and 1980, Smith played on over 80 of Waters’ recordings, many of which ending up on Grammy-winning albums.  In 1980, Smith and other members of Waters’ band splintered off to form the Legendary Blues Band who some may recognize as the band behind John Lee Hooker in the 1980 motion picture, The Blues Brothers, starring Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi.  The Legendary Blues Band recorded seven albums and toured with the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, and Bob Dylan during their run.  It wasn’t until 1995 that Smith began making his own albums.  He continued to record and perform as recently as 2010 when he and former Legendary Blues Band mate and Muddy Waters refugee, Pinetop Perkins released Joined At The Hip for Telarc Records.  The album earned the pair a Grammy for Best Traditional Blues Album on February 13, 2011.  Perkins passed away a little over a month later.  According to The Celebrity Cafe, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith passed away on September 16, 2011 following a stroke.  He was 75.

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Joined At the Hip: Pinetop Perkins & Willie

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Died On This Date (January 10, 1976) Howlin’ Wolf / Blues Legend

Posted by themusicsover on January 10, 2010

Howlin’ Wolf (Born Chester Burnett)
June 10, 1910 – January 10, 1976

howlin-wolfWith his loud booming voice and raw harmonica skills, Howlin’ Wolf became one of the mid-20th century’s most influential blues men.  Wolf’s career began to build during the 1930s when he performed with the likes of Robert Johnson, Son House and Sonny Boy Williamson II.  His electrifying versions of such blues standards as “Smokestack Lightning” and “Backdoor Man” were what became embraced by later generations of rock bands like the Rolling Stones and the Doors.  Unlike most bluesmen before and since, Wolf did well financially.  He got an education, albeit later in life, and learned business skills that benefited him and his career.  Wolf suffered a few heart attacks toward the end of his life, and had his kidneys injured during a car accident.  On January 10, 1976, 65-year-old Howlin’ Wolf died of complications from kidney disease.

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The Chess Box: Howlin' Wolf - Howlin' Wolf

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