Jazz Festival Reviews – James Cotton / John Mayall / Harry Manx

James Cotton

A legend was in the house …

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Mr. James Cotton – the harp player in Muddy Waters’ band for twelve years, Sonny Boy Williamson’s student and  fellow Mississippian B.B. King’s friend –  was in Montreal on Saturday night. For two reasons. To entertain and to receive the first annual B.B. King award.

Mission accomplished on both counts.

First, let’s be realistic. Mr. Cotton is turning eighty years old on Canada’s birthday. Second – Mr. Cotton has had health issues ( throat surgery ) in recent years. He is not the performer he once was yet does that really matter?

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Photo Phil Brisse

Mr. Cotton deserves the right to be void of criticism at this point in his life and career. He is one of the foundations of modern day music. A building block for Kanye West’s delusions. 

When Mr. Cotton did play at Salle Wilfred Pelletier – boy did he play. Displaying brilliance and the reason for his status on numerous occasions, James can deliver yet unfortunately for the patrons, not for long periods. Combined with unmatched enthusiasm with constant ‘yelps’ as the tune he was part of suited his experience, Cotton appeared to say; ‘The bar is set high and yes – we just reached it’.

Singer Darrell Nulisch ( singing with Cotton since 1992 ) was there to do the singing  the absence of Cotton’s voice has created. It also allows Cotton to catch his breath between no-holds-barred harmonica playing.

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The only sad thing about Mr. Cotton’s performance is his inability to speak clearly and loudly. The audience missing out on tales of playing with Muddy Waters although a brief story of playing with Muddy at the Newport Jazz Festival was profound for historical reasons.

Cotton’s band – Kenny Neal on Bass, Jerry Porter on drums and Mike Wiliams on guitar, provided the ‘meat’ to Cotton’s ‘potatoes’. The Blues appears simple on the surface yet the tightness of Cotton’s band requires years of practice. Experience which glimmered like a light on Sonny Boy’s Christmas tree. ‘Got my Mojo Working’ (Waters) and ‘Rocket 88’ (  Brenston) -perfect contrasts and vehicles to showcase the duality of a harp within a Blues formation.

Somewhere inside James Cotton’s soon-to-be- eighty year old body, there dances an eight year old boy who was mentored by Sonny Boy Williamson. Somewhere inside Place des Arts on Saturday evening there danced a wannabe harp player who was mentored by James Cotton.

Both of them had fun !

Thank you Mr. Cotton!


 John Mayall


In the history of the Blues – a fan would be hard pressed to discover anyone who has played with more legends and musicians than Mr. John Mayall.

Peter Green, Eric Clapton, Mick Taylor, Mick Fleetwood, Jeff Healey and virtually every British musician interested in the Blues in the 1960’s. Most people collect CDs or albums. John Mayall collects musicians.



Following an emotional performance by James Cotton, the eighty-one year old Mayall had a hard act to follow a hard act. In lieu of headliner Taj Mahal backing out of the night’s triple bill ( due to health reasons), Mayall along with bassist Greg Rzab,  drummer Jay Davenport and guitarist extraordinaire Rocky Athas were – by default, the headliners.

A trio attired for busking, none in the audience  could have understood what was about to happen as Mayall and his ‘Bluesbreakers’ started to play. 


Mayall ( and friends) brought the goods to the long time ‘friends’ in attendance. ‘Long Gone Midnight’,Nature’s Disappearing’, ‘California’ and ‘Parchman Farm’ (a song which arguably started Clapton’s rise to fame) satisfied the ‘older crowd’ and longtime Blues fans. Mayall, a genius on keys, guitar, harp and vocals – displaying his down-to-earth music with all focus on creating great music. Aside from an audience member shouting for him to play ‘Room to Move’, Mayall probably unaware an audience was in front of him.


When musicians get into a groove, everyone notices it. A feeling of bliss envelopes the sound men and women, the audience and the promoters ( the latter – sometimes for the wrong reasons).  Saturday in Montreal, John Mayall hit his groove around the year 1966 …

He has yet to come out of it …


Harry Manx


Poor, poor Harry Manx …

Not only must he feel lonely as he continues to discover Blues within and outside himself, he was thrust last minute on the end of a triple bill that lasted longer than most of the audience’s bed time.

Add to the mix that his style of Indian Blues is outside of Cotton’s and Mayall’s box – an unfortunate circumstance for Mr. Manx to display his weary wares.

Fresh off of touring his brilliant album ‘Twenty Strings and the Truth’ – a ‘call to duty’ rang true as Harry headed East ( once again) to please his Montreal fan base. Complete with a local thrown together band, Manx’s set was anything but ‘ thrown ‘ together.

Julie Lamontagne set the night on fire on the Hammond B3 organ in the song ‘ Bring That Thing’ and continued to do so all night long when called upon. Frederic Boudreault on bass, not only held the entire set on the ground like a weighted rock, he appeared to have the time of his life. Manx’s seated wizardry required movement and Frederic carried the weight along with his partner in crime; Alexis Martin on drums.


The tune ‘Tijuana’ fitting not just because of Manx’s worldwide globetrotting, poignant because of  Jean-Francois “Fafoui” Gagnon’s trumpet skills-gone-mad. Manx’s recent offering ( and Montreal gig at le Gesu ) was a solo affair, adding a band behind him – nothing less than formidable in a dinner setting kind of way. In a  slide guitar and 20-string mohan veena kind of way.

Hghlights included Coltrane’s ‘ A Love Supreme’ with Manx, Lamontagne and the trumpet taking precedence over the darkness of reality. The tune, soaring above high into the fingertips of Coltrane himself, close enough for him to grasp yet far enough to be new,

Poor, poor Harry Manx …

A Seven O’Clock gig with the Pipes of JouJouka more fitting than a misplaced fitting among the fans of Cotton, Mayall and Mahal.

At the very least, the doors were opened for a new audience for Manx to mesmerize. At the very least – Harry Manx mesmerizes.

For the future of the Blues – a good thing.



This week on Rick Keene Music Scene – interviews with John Jacob Magistery and Joss Stone.

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