American Routes Shortcuts: Eddie Cotton Jr.
Eddie Cotton Jr. grew up in the Church of God in Christ in Clinton, Mississippi near Jackson. He heard guitar-playing deacons and preachers. His father was a preacher who bought Eddie his first guitar when he was six with plans for him to play for the congregation. After leading the church band, Eddie went on to study music theory at Jackson State University, where he realized that gospel and blues shared the same form, and developed a sound that incorporated blues, gospel, and soul. He continued playing music in church, but pursued a career in blues, opening for Ike Turner and B.B. King, while sticking with fellow musicians in Mississippi and his family.
Eddie Cotton: My mama had brothers, and every now and then you would ride with them. They didn’t listen to the gospel station; they listened to the blues stations. And I started hearing guys like Howlin’ Wolf, B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Elmore James. I heard all the big names that have come from the Delta, and I loved their music. I was sitting there listening to how it was relating to some of the stuff that I was hearing in church. I started searching these people out because the feeling that I heard in their music, I liked it, and it was something not necessarily that I was getting in the gospel realm. It was spiritual to me too. So I started researching it, and I just had a natural love for it.
Nick Spitzer: Tell me about King Edward, the blues picking king.
EC: Okay I met King Edward one night that this friend of mine had introduced me to this place. I was like 21 years old. King Edward was there. He was playing and picking that blues.
NS: This was in Jackson?
EC: In Jackson, Mississippi. So I sat there, and he watched me. He said, “Young man, you’re a guitar player?” I said, “Yeah I try.” He said, “Well come on and sit in with me.” I sat in with him, he liked what I was doing, and he invited me to his regular gig, the Subway Lounge, and he hired me. He showed me that I could do it for a living.
NS: So you formed this band after a couple of years with King Edward, what was the name of that band?
EC: The band is the Mississippi Cotton Club, meaning it’s friends of Eddie Cotton from Mississippi that come together to play music.
NS: Were you aware of the name of the Cotton Club in Harlem?
EC: Later on, I got hip to the Cotton Club, but I figured since it was my last name… (laughs)
NS: And you are from Mississippi.
EC: That’s right. To this day I travel with Mississippi musicians. That’s one of the missions of my goal, to expose Mississippi musicians that are playing blues. We go around the world, and all of us are from Mississippi.
NS: But you stayed home near Jackson it seems to me and taken care of the local folks too.
EC: That’s right. I never want to leave Mississippi. I love Mississippi. I’ve been a lot of places, but there’s no place like Mississippi to me, and if I owned Mississippi by myself, if God would just give me Mississippi, I’d be one of the happiest men in the world.
NS: But you’ve got a lot going on, you’ve got people who love blues, you’ve got family members that support you, you’ve got a good band, Mississippi is beginning to recognize the importance of blues. What’s your sense of what you would like to see happen for you and the music and, you know, playing with a band?
EC: We want to keep this legacy alive, we want to keep the blues alive because I love this music, and I love what the guys went through so that I can play it today. The blues is here to stay, so that’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to give good quality music to people that want this brand of music.
To hear the full program, tune in Saturdays at 5 and Sundays at 6 on WWNO, or listen at americanroutes.org.