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On the Passing of James Cotton  


I remember the way James Cotton made me feel when he performed. When his band came to town, he'd walk into my youth drama already in progress, whatever it was that week, and remind me that no matter what was going on it was all very ordinary in the scheme of things. Life was a pain in the ass, no it was agony, have another beer, this is all perfectly normal. Maybe because I was always experiencing his performances in a bar and looking right at him just a few feet in front of me, I was never watching a performance, I was hanging out with James Cotton, suspended someplace outside of time, suspended someplace inside my head. James Cotton is why I love the blues, the real blues. I think anybody can sing and play the blues, I mean sure, go ahead, try. Be careful you don't sound like a parody of your own emotions. Playing the blues is a lot harder than it seems, and that's the point, it shouldn't be hard to express how freaking hard life is. Leave it to a professional.    

I saw this talented man perform with his band so many times I stopped counting during the time I lived in a small isolated college town near the Canadian border, for a four dollar cover charge at one of the coolest intimate bars that ever existed. One time, during what seemed like my hundredth James Cotton barroom night, as James Cotton and his band were playing, a stunned ecstatic young guy was walking around the bar exclaiming to anyone who would listen, "I can't believe I just paid only four dollars to see James Cotton!!!" And the guy looked at me and described how much he had to pay to see James Cotton in Manhattan at a venue that sounded very important. 

The James Cotton Band must have always been on their way to another regular venue in Canada, and it seemed as if they stopped off in my little college town both on the way to, and from, the other venue, like a regular route that he played, and so all us regulars at that bar began to take this great music for granted. For awhile he played at our bar every other weekend it seemed, and one time I made a mental note that it was two weekends in a row. I never asked but it seemed as if the bar owners, who were from New York City, knew James Cotton. Nothing else made sense why James Cotton would play for a four dollar cover in a small bar full of college students. 

For my roommate and me it almost got monotonous. "Oh, The James Cotton Band is playing across the street again." (sigh) "Well then who is playing at Alger's?" My roommate was a beautiful young woman a few years older than me who I'll call Joanie, and we both hung out at that bar across the street every weekend anyway. When his band took breaks, James Cotton would sit at the bar with all the wild students and have a drink; that's how he met my roommate whom he pursued, every time he was in town, with such fervor for so many months that she began to avoid going there completely when he was playing there. But I'd go, and he'd see me at the bar and ask me relentlessly, "Where's Joanie? How come she's not with you tonight?" I mean he seemed really in love with her, he had it bad, although she would argue that he was just another musician hoping to have a woman at every port, that it was just lust, and I would argue that if it was just lust, why was he so fixated on only her? This became another drama. Every time I saw James Cotton between sets sitting alone at the bar with his drink, I felt sort of bad for him. And when he got back on stage and sang the blues over a woman, I wondered just a little bit about him, and took a break from myself.    

Thank you Mr. Cotton. I won't say rest in peace. Play on. Maybe I'll see you again someday. 

copyright©2017, Carol Shriver, all rights reserved. 



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