Conjure up a list of all time great blues harmonica players, and high up on it, you’ll see the name James Cotton.
Cotton’s music begins at the source: He was born in Tunica, Mississippi and started playing harp at the age of 9, learning directly from Sonny Boy Williamson II. He eventually made his way to Chicago, where he played for a dozen years in Muddy Waters‘ band before he struck out on his own.
James Cotton is now in his 69th year of performing. Throat cancer has captured his singing voice, but his harmonica continues to wail. Or, as he tells it: “The voice is gone, but the wind’s still there.”
Cotton’s latest album on Alligator Records is called Cotton Mouth Man. It features guest appearances by — among others — Gregg Allman, Delbert McClinton and Keb’ Mo’. NPR’s Scott Simon spoke with James Cotton and Keb’ Mo’ about making the new albu,; click the audio link on this page to hear their conversation.