Cotton Is King, by Steve Cheseborough | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Cotton Is King, by Steve Cheseborough

Eddie Cotton Jr. doesn't see any reason to leave Jackson. "Man, this town has been good to me," says the 32-year-old blues singer-guitarist. "They show appreciation. If you get to a place that's bigger, there's just more of nothing to do. Unless you have a big booking agent, the club scene doesn't get any better than this."

Cotton has toured nationally and overseas, but his meat-and-potatoes venues are Mississippi casinos and the 930 Blues Café. He recently rented the ballroom of the Ramada Inn Southwest for a release concert for his new CD, "Extra," and plans to seek more hotel gigs.

"I want to bring the music to a different group of people," he says. "Remember when the hotels had everything? When they had big entertainment, back in the days when the Mob controlled them? That's the idea I have."

Cotton is full of ideas. When he gets onstage, he's in constant motion, hopping around on and off the stage. Notes flood from his guitar in a torrent usually heard only in rock, although he cites only blues, gospel, jazz "and a little classical" as his influences.

The gospel influence is very much alive in Cotton's life. On Sundays he sits at the Hammond B-3 organ at Christ Chapel Church of God in Christ in Clinton, where he is music minister and his dad, Eddie Cotton Sr., is pastor.

"If it wasn't for my dad, I wouldn't know anything about music," Cotton says. As he was growing up in Clinton, his father encouraged his musical interest, bought him any instrument he wanted and sent him for lessons with area teachers, including Sherman Lee Dillon and Bob Etta. Then it was off to Jackson State University, where Cotton majored in music.

He earned an unofficial but no less important degree while playing for two years at the Subway Lounge, first in King Edward's band and then with his own group. "Oh Lord, he schooled me," Cotton says of Edward.

Both are in "Last of the Mississippi Jukes," a new documentary by Robert Mugge that is mainly a tribute to the Subway, a late-night blues venue in the basement of Jackson's historic Summers Hotel.

These days, Cotton is promoting his new CD, playing local gigs while trying to attract the attention of a major booking agent who might take his career to a higher level. In the meantime, he's enjoying doing everything himself.

Jackson: The Blues Capital

While the Delta is the part of our state that garners most of the world renown for blues, a case could be made that Jackson is truly the blues capital – and always has been.

The venerable bluesman Sam Chatmon, who played in the Mississippi Sheiks in the 1930s and continued a solo career until his death in 1983, always insisted, "I liked Jackson better than I did either Memphis or New Orleans. Blues was more popular."

The Sheiks, Memphis Minnie, Skip James, Little Brother Montgomery, Bo Carter and Tommy Johnson are some of the major blues artists who made Jackson their home or regular haunt during the blues' earliest flowering. In later decades, Sonny Boy Williamson and Elmore James lived, performed and recorded on Farish Street.

A room in the King Edward Hotel served as a makeshift recording studio for an important Okeh session in 1930. In subsequent periods, Speir Phonograph Company, Trumpet Records and Ace Records, all on Farish, recorded other blues classics. And Malaco Records, up on Northside Drive, kick-started the 1980s blues revival among black listeners in the 1980s.

Jackson's blues scene today seems healthy and growing. The 930 Blues Café presents nothing but the blues, local and national, in an upscale downtown setting. And for the more adventurous, there are the pulsing nightspots the Subway Lounge and the Queen of Hearts.

— Steve Cheseborough
Photo by Charles A. Smith

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