When: Fri., May 10, 7:30 p.m. 2013
There aren’t a lot of bluesmen left who merit the overused epithet “living legend,” but harmonica player James Cotton qualifies. Mentored in the 1940s by the fabled Sonny Boy Williamson (aka Rice Miller), Cotton became a mainstay on the thriving early-50s Memphis-West Memphis circuit, working and recording with Howlin’ Wolf, among others; in 1954, Muddy Waters lured him to Chicago. He remained with Muddy until he began his solo career in 1966, and he’s been a dominant force ever since. The aftereffects of a 1993 bout with throat cancer have reduced Cotton’s voice to a hoarse whisper (Texas bluesman Darrell Nulisch usually handles vocals for him now), and at age 77 he no longer delivers sweat-soaked, high-energy blues marathons onstage; he can still direct formidable lung power through a harmonica, though, and his improvisational imagination is undiminished. His latest CD, Cotton Mouth Man (Alligator), features guest stars such as Gregg Allman, Joe Bonamassa, and Warren Haynes, but it’s Cotton’s show from beginning to end. Alongside his usual hard-driving shuffles and blues anthems (which he tends to flavor with R&B, blues rock, and a little funk), he indulges in a bit of nostalgia, reprising the train whistles and chugging locomotive effects he learned as a young boy in rural Mississippi. And on the autobiographical “Bonnie Blue,” named after the plantation on which he was raised, he half-narrates, half-sings in his corrugated rasp and showcases his Sonny Boy-influenced harp work at its rawest and most unadorned. —David Whiteis Rob Stone opens.