Ten years of search is over. In the early 2000's Living Blues had a completely glowing review of a record with Eddie Cotton Jr.. It was not possible to get, how hard I looked, and I even emailed Living Blues, but they did not know either. They had got it from an unknown addressee! I got in contact with a promoter who claimed to represent Eddie and he sent me Live at the Alamo, and he would also arrange for an interview.
It didn’t happen as he probably did not represent Eddie, as he was not representing any other included on his list. Extra came out, that I managed to get. Our old editor Scott Barretta was living in the Jackson area and I asked him to contact Eddie, but Scott pulled away, he had previously been refused by Eddie. Then it's quiet, but I could now and then see that Eddie performed in Jackson. Suddenly, bang and boom, he's booked at Peace And Love in Borlänge 2010. I regret to this day that I could not go there. But then we get in contact with Mike Stephenson and I bring Eddie Cotton highest at the top of my wanted list. Now I finally succeeded. The fact is that on the basis of the two records I have with Eddie, he is one of the most fresh and interesting blues artists in the traditional blues style. So wrote Living Blues also once. Enjoy, the mission is completed. /Anders Lillsunde
Interview by Mike Stephenson took place in Eddie’s church in Jackson, Mississippi in June 2012. Many thanks go out to Peggy Brown for al her help.
I started strictly in church behind my daddy’s church, The Church Of God In Christ, which is a very musical church. I was born in 1970 and I have been in it ever since then and I just happened to be part of a church that allows people to praise God and allow any type of musician to come in, it didn’t matter. It allows freedom and praise in God and that’s how we learned instruments. We couldn’t do much as they were very strict, but they believed in music and so that’s pretty much all we had to do was play music. I was born in Jackson but the church is in Clinton, which is a suburb of Jackson, and we moved here when I was two years old and been here ever since. I started into music at a very early age and I got the chance to see a lot of musicians that are not known but they existed and were good. I was around guitars mostly and I always had a fascination for guitars, and organ sometimes. We had a piano in the house and I had my first lessons on piano, but I was always fascinated by the guitar; it was a special instrument to me. I learnt how to play by listening and getting different chords from different people, learning theory and I taught myself how to play better organ off of the guitar, after I had learnt theory. It’s the same notes, you just have to learn the instrument and get co-ordination on it. My daddy never played an instrument but he loved music. Most preachers underestimate the music department in church, we don’t. The music department is the backbone to our church. We have always bought good instruments and we have more instruments than we have musicians.
We were always moving to different churches and meeting friends that were playing and it became like a competition and we just loved to play. There was no business side to it, we just learned to play for the love of it, we didn’t make no money, the church didn’t pay us. We had this thing called testimony service, which is basically like karaoke, anybody could jump up and sing and you had to pick the music up by ear. I’ve seen some of the greatest gospel musicians and singers at the Church Of God In Christ. Mattie Moss Clarke was the national minister of music and I got a chance to go to some of her rehearsals and see how she did things, and because of the creativity of the Church Of God In Christ they had all elements in their gospel music like funk and blues. So when you have blues musicians that haven’t stopped by the church, they are doing themselves an injustice; you learn so many chords in church that you can turn into blues. So I learnt how to play the blues right here in church. So when I play for King Edward what I had learnt in church, I turned into blues. Now B.B. King often had an organ player on a lot of his old stuff and no bass and this is where he got if from was the church, and the Church Of God In Christ, where B.B has been in his time, never allowed a guitar in the place in the early days and that church is responsible for a lot of blues players. An example being that Jesse Robinson’s father was an elder in the Church Of God In Christ.
I stated getting into playing blues and getting into the blues scene when I went to school. Dr. Thomas at Jackson State University, my sister sent a tape in of me and that school gave me a full scholarship. Then when I got to school a whole lot of other things opened up for me as I started to learn music theory, then the theory put you on the history of music. We use a lot of dominant seventh and jazz chords in the Church Of God In Christ compared to other churches. So I don’t feel no particular kind of music, because it is always feel that wins out and you can’t teach feel.
When I got to Jackson State I got a full scholarship to play jazz and we would play blues and when we went out to a competition to play blues they would always put me up to play the last blues solo and we would win competitions because we played jazz and blues. I have always loved the blues. I used to hear Howlin’ Wolf and all them when riding along in cars with my uncle on 90.1 Charles Evers station and I would hear that blues and that feel made me feel like church, the same feeling when I was in church and sometimes an even more deeper feeling. I met King Edward one night and he let me sit in with him and he gave me a job the very next week at the Subway Lounge and that’s where it started from for me and that was in 1991. I played with King Edward at the Subway Lounge for about two and a half years. One thing led to another and then I got my own band and we never looked back from there, and I started my own band in 1996 and that’s when I put the Mississippi Cotton Club together. That’s the name of my band and it’s still called that up to today.
We then went to the next level when we started recording. We recorded in 1998 and then we recorded in 2000 and 2003 and then 2007. These albums have never had the distribution and the push that they deserve but the music on them has survived on its own so I do believe in the bible. My first CD was called ‘You’re The Girl’ from the Mississippi Cotton Club. A lot of people haven’t heard that one, it’s ten songs and I wrote every one of them. That’s when I figured out that record labels do want original music and that makes this CD more valuable than the other CDs. The others are half and half. That CD was recorded in Jackson and some of the numbers on there are ‘Why Must I Cry’, ‘You’re The Girl’, ‘Love War’, ‘Time Will Tell’, ‘Don’t Give Up On A Love Affair’ and I have recorded some of the numbers on that CD again and they have featured on some of my other albums. When I write stuff you will hear more chords. All of my recordings have been on my own label. The musicians on that first CD are Myron Bennett, James Evans, Forrest Gordon and Sam Brady and myself. They were some of the top musicians around at the time. My second album was in 2000 and that was ‘Live At The Alamo’ and that had Little Milton on there and we played ‘Walkin’ The Backstreets And Crying’ as a tribute to him. The next album was in 2003 called ‘Extra’ and we did that in Jackson and the last one was called ‘Live Back At The Alamo’. We did that in 2004 and put it out in 2007 and it has horns on it and that’s what makes it different to the others. I’m the first artist to record at the Alamo Theatre and put it out internationally.
I’ve been on the DVD called ‘Last Of The Mississippi Jukes’ and I did a Robert Johnson movie as well which is on YouTube and Glen Marzano from Los Angeles produced it and it’s called ‘Stop Breaking Down’ and it’s a thirty minute documentary on the life of Robert Johnson. Me and Grady Champion did an album and I played guitar on that with him it’s called ‘Live Back In Mississippi’ recorded at the 930 Blues club and there is a video of a number called ‘Mr. Policeman’ that you can see from that album. I’ve played on a few gospel recordings and one with a friend called Marquise Pile and I played on his album. I have this thing with gospel, it’s hard to look at it as a business. Because of the way I was brought up in churches, I’ve never seen churches as me making money from them. When you go to church it’s a labour of love and when I play in churches I don’t charge, I trust God to pay me back. I’ve done some recordings with Jackson State Jazz Ensemble.
When you are in the music industry you need labels and distribution and they don’t want to book you consistently if you don’t have a label. You either need a label or you need your own money. We have had to do things out of our own pocket. I don’t really have the time to chase that crap anymore or play the games. When I first started out I thought people would want the best but that’s not the case, people seem to want what they can control. I’m a straight up guy that will come and do my job and get my money and go. I’ve never stood anybody up and I’ve kept my reputation intact but it is the games in the business. I call them non musicians who have deep pockets that have infiltrated the music industry and it’s just a money game with them and I don’t have time for that, you either want me or you don’t. I’m glad we have had this interview in the church or else I would be saying more words about this.
I’ve played the Sunflower Blues Festival and the Chicago Blues Festival in the past. In my band now I have a three piece rhythm section with a harp player who is Carlos Russell and he played on ‘Live Back At The Alamo’. These are some of my students that I hand trained and put them out there. Havres Good, who is my first cousin, he has been playing with me here since he was nine and when he was old enough we put him out there. He is twenty five now. I train musicians here in the church. Jarekus Singleton, when he was young and just little was sitting on the steps watching me. His great uncle taught me, and his granddaddy was a guitar playing preacher and was my father’s best friend and so Jarekus I’ve been knowing ever since he came into this world. A lot of these people have come up under me and indirectly Jarekus is family. I teach people who want to be professionals, I don’t teach formal music classes, and this is mainly through the church.
My musical influences are all the old blues guys like Howiln’ Wolf, B.B and Albert King, Buddy Guy, Elmore James, Son House, Robert Johnson, Magic Sam, Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters, I admire all those cats. Then I have gospel influences too, I like the old quartet groups Canton Spirituals, Supreme Angels, The Dixie Hummingbirds, Clark Sisters. I like Count Basie and Duke Ellington. I still write my own material and where I am in the business right now is to make money. If I did another CD it would need better distribution. So when the budget is right I may consider doing another CD. Dealing with some people in this business they make things impossible on purpose. Nobody is getting my publishing for nothing and I’m not going to be one of these cats that run yourself ragged and somebody else gets rich and I don’t, that’s not going to happen to me. I have my own company which is the Mississippi Cotton Club and that is based on friends of Eddie Cotton that want to come together to explore music.
I’m trying to get my own building open. How can it be right that non musicians are making more money then the musicians in this business? The non musicians have the building, the liquor licence, the funding and the musicians are just knocking on the door asking if they can get a gig and they are wondering why they are broke and struggling and I don’t have time for that. So I am going to use the same concept and we are going to use revenue from the door and beverage and food sales to push recordings through. My daddy didn’t wait for anybody, he got himself a building and preached a message. My concept will be here in downtown Jackson. So my company handles the bookings, the publishing and everything, I am a totally independent artist. I have a regular gig at the Mediterranean here in Jackson and we practise numbers there and we play new numbers to see how the people respond to them. I’ve played the casinos and I’ve been on bills with all manner of blues and soul/ blues artists. I’ve opened up for B.B. King, Little Milton, Buddy Guy, Jack Johnson, Bobby Rush, Ike Turner and I’ve met just all of them at some time.
I have a lot of stuff on You Tube as well. We played on the Grammy programme at the Grammy museum and I put a band together and Hubert Sumlin sang with me and Honey Boy Edwards and that made Billboard magazine with me and Honey Boy he was sitting and I was standing and that was a great honour for me.
Text: Mike Stephenson. Photo: Max W Siewert