James Cotton - vocals, harmonica; Matt "Guitar" Murphy - guitar; George T. Gregory - tenor saxophone; Charles Calmese - bass; Kenny Johnson - drums
James Cotton had some mighty big shoes to fill when he replaced Muddy Water's harmonica player, Little Walter, in 1954. Having learned how to wail from none other than Sonny Boy Williamson himself, Cotton was well prepared and over the next 12 years, he played an integral role in Muddy Water's music as well as the Chicago blues scene in general. By 1966, he was prepared to make it on his own and formed the James Cotton Blues Band, releasing his debut album for Verve the following year. Along with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Cotton's band soon became favorites among the burgeoning blues/rock scene in San Francisco, through memorable performances at the Fillmore and rock venues across America. In the 1970s, he formed the James Cotton Band, featuring the outstanding guitarist, Matt "Guitar" Murphy. This band became legendary, playing to packed houses around the world. Cotton's blazing harmonica and the masterful instrumental abilities of this band dazzled everyone who listened and the group's relentless high energy, more often than not, had audiences up on their feet, dancing, screaming and sweating right along from the minute Cotton took to the stage.
On a Winterland bill that also featured Roy Buchanan and the Elvin Bishop Group, this James Cotton Band recording captures the group's triumphant return to San Francisco for the first time in nearly three years. To warm up their chops, they open with a high energy take on Little Walter's "Crazy Mixed Up World," which the audience enthusiastically applauds. One can hear Matt Murphy itching to crank it up a notch right before they launch into "Rocket 88," a song of praise for the Oldsmobile, originally recorded by Ike Turner's Kings of Rhythm and often cited as being a prototype rock 'n' roll song. The slow burning blues of "Born In Missouri" follows with a passionate intensity.
After introducing the band members, Cotton pays tribute to his mentor, Sonny Boy Williamson, while dipping way back into his own repertoire for "Don't Start Me Talkin'." The recording concludes with "Georgia Swing," written by Jelly Roll Morton, a seminal figure in the development of jazz in the early decades of the last century. This swinging jazz-inflected exercise features a blazing guitar solo from Matt Murphy, who displays impressive dexterity. The rhythm section of Calmese and Johnson are never less than propulsive, proving them to be equally adept at blues, jazz, rock, or virtually anything in between. Although the tape suffers from deterioration, this performance is a testament to the instrumental prowess of these five musicians.