James Cotton, Grammy-winning blues artist, dead at 81

James Cotton, a Grammy Award-winning blues harmonica master whose full-throated sound backed such blues legends as Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson II and Howlin' Wolf, has died at age 81.

Blues harp great, who backed Muddy Waters, recorded music all the way until the end

James Cotton performs during the 2008 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in New Orleans Saturday, April 26, 2008. (AP Photo/Dave Martin) (The Associated Press)

James Cotton, a Grammy Award-winning blues harmonica master whose full-throated sound backed such blues legends as Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson II and Howlin' Wolf, has died at age 81.

A statement from Alligator Records, Cotton's label, says he died Thursday of pneumonia at St. David's Medical Center in Austin.

The Mississippi Delta native performed professionally since age nine. Cotton backed Muddy Waters in his landmark album At Newport on Chess Records.

Ben Harper, left, and James Cotton perform at a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame event in New York on March 10, 2008. (Jason DeCrow/The Associated Press)

After going solo in the 1960s, Cotton released almost 30 albums, including his 1996 Grammy Award-winning Verve album, Deep In The Blues. His most recent album, Cotton Mouth Man for Alligator Records in 2013, was nominated for a Grammy.

Cotton spent considerable time touring in Canada and recorded or jammed with the likes of Ronnie Hawkins, Colin Linden and Downchild Blues Band.

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