Music Obits: Chuck Berry and James Cotton

Mar. 23, 2017

By Mindy Wolfle

At the age of 90, Chuck Berry remained one of the greatest guitarists of all time, a legend for his “duck walk,” wild-man antics on stage and whose first recording “Maybellene” in 1955, never lost its exuberance and place in rock and roll history. Berry left us on Mar.18 with a catalog of more than 100 songs, including one of the most recorded rock anthems, “Johnny B. Goode.” Berry released a memoir and was celebrated in a documentary Chuck Berry: Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll, prior to his induction in the first class of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It’s no surprise that Clapton and Keith Richards performed in the film. In 2012, the Hall devoted its week-long American Music Masters Series tribute to the Berry. Hail, hail and rest in peace, Chuck.

James Cotton, a child of the Mississippi Delta and master harmonica-playing bluesman, was 81 when he succumbed to pneumonia on Mar.16. Cotton’s harmonica playing began at age five, imitating the sounds of chickens and other farm animals, learned from his sharecropper mother. Alongside equally significant blues giants Muddy Waters, B.B. King and Howlin’ Wolf, Cotton also played with the likes of Janis Joplin, Eric Clapton and Led Zeppelin. His harmonica soared to heights far beyond the relatively small size of his “harp.” “I’m not sure why my music still speaks so directly to folks,” Mr. Cotton told the Los Angeles Times in 1998. “I try to play from deep inside of me and keep the music honest. I prefer it upbeat and up-tempo too, because all the problems people have … are gone once we start playing.”

Video: Chuck Berry – “Big Boys” from YouTube/Vevo.

Photo: James Cotton – Bengt Nyman/Creative Commons; usage of photos does not constitute endorsement.