(born July 1, 1935)
At his high-energy, 1970s peak as a bandleader, James Cotton was a bouncing, sweating, whirling dervish of a bluesman, roaring his vocals and all but sucking the reeds right out of his defenseless little harmonicas with his extraordinary lung power. Cotton had some gargantuan shoes to fill when he stepped into Little Walter's slot as Muddy Waters' harp ace in 1954, but for the next dozen years, the young Mississippian filled the integral role beside Chicago's blues king with power and precision. Of course, Cotton had been preparing for such a career move for a long time, having learned how to wail on harp from none other than John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson himself. Cotton battled throat cancer in the mid-1990s, and his last recorded vocal performance was on 2000's Fire Down Under the Hill, but he continued to tour, utilizing singers or his backing band members as vocalists and remained a masterful instrumentalist.