One of the great Chicago blues harmonica stylists during the city's golden blues era of the '50s and '60s, James Cotton played with Howlin' Wolf and Muddy Waters before embarking on a solo career that continues today. Mississippi-born Cotton's clever phrasing and hefty tones evolved from his early tenure with Sonny Boy Williamson. Cotton lived, worked and traveled with Williamson in the 1940s after hearing the legendary blues harp master on KFFA, the Helena, Arkansas radio station that aired Williamson's "King Biscuit Time," the first and most influential blues radio show out of the South. After recording with Wolf for Memphis' Sun Records in the early 1950s, Cotton struck out for Chicago, where at the invitation of Muddy Waters he replaced George "Harmonica" Smith in the Waters band. Cotton remained with Waters for nearly ten years, touring and recording with him on some of the greatest blues records ever to come out of Chicago. In 1966 he began his solo career, recording for Verve, then Alligator, Antone's and other labels. Harp Attack!, a record he cut with fellow harmonica players Carey Bell, Junior Wells and Billy Branch for Alligator in 1989, earned broad critical acclaim that drew further attention to his harp genius. Cotton continues to record and perform today.
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