NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday will feature blues harmonica legend James Cotton on Saturday, May 11. Host Scott Simon talks with Cotton about the new CD, Cotton Mouth Man, which was released on May 7. Fellow bluesman Keb Mo (who appears on the CD) joins the conversation to discuss Cotton’s status as a true blues legend, and one of the all-time masters of the instrument.
Cotton Mouth Man premiered on April 29 on the USA Today website with a full album stream. Rolling Stone said, “James Cotton is a world-class harmonica-playing bluesman. Cotton Mouth Man is an upbeat, warm blues album boasting fine musicianship and Cotton’s undeniable spirit.”
Cotton is featured on the cover of the current issue of Living Blues magazine. The 10-page cover story, written by blues scholar David Whiteis, takes an in-depth look at Cotton’s entire career, including his learning directly from Sonny Boy Williamson, recording for Sun Records (before Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash), working with Howlin’ Wolf, touring with Muddy Waters, leading his own band, and the absolute joy he had recording the new CD.
Cotton Mouth Man was recorded in Nashville and produced by Grammy-winning producer/ songwriter/ drummer Tom Hambridge (Buddy Guy, Joe Louis Walker, Susan Tedeschi). The album is a trip through sounds and scenes from Cotton’s long and storied career. Helping Cotton tell his stories and showcase his music are guests Gregg Allman, Joe Bonamassa, Ruthie Foster, Warren Haynes, Delbert McClinton and Keb Mo. Other vocals are handled by Darrell Nulisch, who has been singing in Cotton’s road band for many years.
The other members of Cotton’s road band — Jerry Porter, Noel Neal, and Tom Holland — are also on board for some songs. Forming the core of the backing band on the CD are Hambridge (drums), Rob McNelley (guitar), Chuck Leavell (keyboards) and Glenn Worf (bass). Tommy MacDonald and Colin Linden each add guitar to one track. Cotton, who after a bout with throat cancer turned the vocal duties over to others, was inspired by the sessions to return to the microphone, singing his own Bonnie Blue (the name of the plantation where he was born), and making Cotton Mouth Man the most personal, celebratory and just plain fun recording of his seven-decade career.