James Cotton – Take Me Back [vinyl reissue]

January 01, 1970

(Blind Pig)

 

www.blindpigrecords.com

 

When the definitive history of the post World War II
electric blues is written, the chapter dealing with harp players will have two
names at the top of the list: Sonny Boy Willimason II aka Aleck “Rice” Miller
and Little Walter Jacobs. Then will come the second tier with names like Junior
Wells, Big Walter Horton and James Cotton. Only the latter is still with us at
the age of 74. Take Me Back  is a 180 gram vinyl reissue of an album
Cotton did for Blind Pig in 1987. The 52 year Cotton on this LP is at his full
high energy strength as a singer and blower. This album was nominated for a
Grammy Award when it came out.

 

James Cotton’s career has spanned the history of the blues
from the Mississippi Delta to the mean streets of Chicago. At 9, he ran away from his home in
Tunica, Mississippi,
looked up Sonny Boy II and convinced him that he was an orphan. He got Sonny
Boy to take him in and started his apprenticeship with the master. By 1953,
Cotton was cutting sides at the legendary Sun Studios in Memphis, a year before a white kid by the
name of Elvis ever entered the building. His big break came in 1954 when Muddy
Waters came through town and needed a harp player for his touring band. While
still a teenager, Cotton hit the road with Waters, occupying the chair recently
held by Junior Wells and, most significantly, Little Walter before him. Waters’
band was crucial in that he set the foundation and lineup for every rock band
that would follow.

 

Waters was a tough and demanding band leader; in his early
days he would play in competitions with other bands for prize money. He didn’t
like to lose. His band was not called “the headhunters” for nothing. Cotton
would spend 12 year on the road with Muddy. Take
Me Back  
is a bit of a reunion album
of sorts in that three of the six players were Muddy alumni, including Sam
Lawhorn, who played second guitar for Waters, and excels here, and the legendary
piano player, Pinetop Perkins. Perkins is also still with us at 97 years young.
The songs here are all covers of blues standards with Cotton paying tribute to
Little Walter and Jimmy Reed and Howlin’ Wolf, as well as his old boss. And
from a high pitched cry to full bodied wail, Cotton displays both his lungpower
and mastery of the reeds. Also he also gets to show off his voice, which has
been silenced to a large extent in recent years due to throat problems. Cotton
in his prime had the perfect blues voice: half growl and the rest deep soul.
Cotton is especially effective on the Waters song, “Clouds in My Heart.” This
is the deep blues at its finest.

 

This LP is also another example of how the Chicago blues in its golden age was really
tight ensemble music. Yes, there was a star or headliner, but each member of
the band was almost as important. This is perfectly on display on the second
side of Take Me Home when the band
swings from Howlin’ Wolf’s classic “Killing Floor” to Elmore James’s “Dust My
Broom.” There is the duel on the latter song between Cotton’s harp and
Lawhorn’s guitar. Then Pinetop Perkins takes a solo and second guitarist John
Primer eventually follows him into the spotlight. Meanwhile the time is kept by
another legendary Chicago
player, Sam Lay, a veteran of Wolf’s band. And when Cotton sings the classic
lines, his voice is the blues: “I believe my time ain’t long. I got to leave my
baby and break up my happy home.” On “Killing Floor” he growl/ sings: “I should
have quit you a long time ago. I should have quit you, baby, a long time ago… I
wouldn’t be here tonight down on the killing floor. God knows I should have
been gone.”

 

That is the blues: eternal music about the human condition
and overcoming that condition through song. It is a treat to have this album
reissued on vinyl. It is as great today as it was the day these nine songs were
cut.

 

 

Standout Tracks: “My
Babe” “Clouds In My Heart” “Killing Floor” “Dust My Broom”  TOM CALLAHAN 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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