Tyrone Cotton: An American Original

by Ron Whitehead

Singer, songwriter, guitarist Samuel Tyrone Cotton grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, USA. His Grandfather’s rough, beautifully arresting singing grabbed the young Tyrone’s full attention. His grandfather was a baptist preacher. He sang with a sweet, raspy near illegal charm. He had so much charm he could afford to give some away. He cast a spell. Music was always around: radio, stereo, and his mother's singing. Cotton’s mother loved gospel, blues, and R&B. His first concert experience was BB King. King thrilled and captivated the youngster with his playing and his tale weaving. Tyrone was lured in.

Tyrone Cotton took up the guitar at 13. It was true love. The guitar became the central focus of his life. He opened up to new sounds: rock, blues rock, folk rock, poet rock, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan. He was spellbound. He began to concentrate on lyrics.

By 15 Cotton was playing in garage bands. He began to realize that the music within him was making him feel emotions that he could share and communicate with others. Music, and lyrical poetry, became his vehicles of expression. In his early 20s he began to sing. He hit the coffee shops. He put poems by Langston Hughes to music. He sang original folk blues but in his Tyrone Cotton distinctive way. His style was evolving.

He moved to Boston where he was exposed to new worlds.  After sitting, in the audience, at Wally's or a Cambridge club,  he began to appreciate jazz. Now, like in his childhood, he was a listener. The music opened doors in his mind his being. It called his name. It wouldn't it hasn't let go.

Tyrone Cotton has moved audiences in every size venue from New York University to the Kyoto International Folk Festival in Japan. He has toured Japan four times. He has played from New England to Austin, Texas to California to Thailand.
Cotton has played with The Blind Boys of Alabama, Paul Thorn, James Hunter, David Amram, Michael Pollock, Sarah Elizabeth and Ron Whitehead, Frank Messina, and many others. He recently returned from The Wanderer Tour, with Messina and The Whiteheads, which stretched from New York City to Kentucky to California. He will soon perform with the legendary Johnny Winter at NYC's The Turning Point where he recently received a standing ovation at a concert he did with Grammy nominated James Hunter.

After opening for Rahn Burton, former pianist for jazz legend Rasahn Roland Kirk, Burton said “Tyrone can play his music anywhere in the world. If it were not true I would not say it.” After a  Louisville performance, Beat legend Lawrence Ferlinghetti approached Cotton to tell him, “You’re the real thing.” Historian Douglas Brinkley was blown away by Cotton’s performance at an INSOMNIACATHON music and poetry Festival. And legendary composer, musician, author David Amram, who has heard and performed with Cotton several times, said, "He’s amazing!”

Cotton was once a student of classical guitar. Also around that time he began playing blues and folk blues in coffee shops and small venues, mixing blues with classical. He employed classical techniques such as a right hand classical finger style, playing arpeggios of chords instead of strumming. He also began to sing. He developed a love for words, especially the work of Langston Hughes, and began to realize their power. The desire to play music, to sing, and to tell a story was born.
For Cotton, the blues was a point of departure. He mixed it with folk, rock, jazz, and pop. He explored. He assimilated the sights and sounds of his ever-expanding environment and made them his own. He found his voice, and a new blues was born.

There is no other performer, no other sound or voice or style, like Tyrone Cotton. He is an American original. No label can be placed on him. Yes his music is blues based but the scope and variety of his songs are boundless. Tyrone Cotton is pure American music but it is also pure World music. He travels from deep blues to provocative ballad to folk to poetry to jazz to a fusion that combines all of the above. His songs have a different life a different personality night after night. One night it's a love song then the next night that same song has a sarcastic bitter cynical edge revealing love's opposite.
There is an energy a vibe at a Tyrone Cotton concert that is unlike anything experienced at any other concert. His audiences are made up of the spectrum of humanity, all ages, races, styles. A Cotton concert is a sight to behold, an experience to be remembered.

Cotton's new self-titled, TYRONE COTTON, cd is receiving international acclaim. The new cd was produced by Danny Kiely, In Room One, Louisville, Kentucky. On the cd Cotton is accompanied by a truly stellar group of musicians: keyboardist Gabe Dixon, (Paul McCartney, Gabe Dixon Band), guitarist Steve Ferguson (founding member of the legendary NRBQ), guitarist Tim Krekel (Jimmy Buffet, Billy Swan), drummer Tommy Hambridge (Susan Tedeschi) and harpist known only to us as "Jellyroll" Johnson. In addition to Ferguson and Krekel many other Louisville natives on Cotton's new recording include drummer Paul Culligan, guitarist Mark "lupe" Hamilton, keyboardist Pete Petersen, saxophonist Reid Jahn, and Danny Kiely on double bass.

"From Louisville, Kentucky, Tyrone Cotton is a quintessentially American artist, exhilaratingly real, steeped in the blues and mixing folk, gospel, jazz and pop to make American music that has been compared to Tom Waits, Bob Dylan, Ray LaMontagne and Johnny Cash. With a striking assortment of stylistic exploration and embodiment of genres from straight up Americana to hints of rhythm and blues, modern pop to singer/songwriter folk rock, Tyrone Cotton somehow makes all these moods, languages and directions meld into one, cohesive sound, unusually original and especially personal. With his distinct voice, slightly reminiscent of Bob Seger (or even the faintest hint of Otis Redding), he carries these songs (on his new TYRONE COTTON cd) with an unforgettable presence, as lush as David Gray and as raw as Dylan. Don't miss this one."  CD Baby

written by Ron Whitehead

Copyright (c) 2007 Ron Whitehead and Tyrone Cotton

"We need a great healing,
And we need a Great Forgiving.
But healing can't begin without forgiveness."
 Chief Looking Horse, Chief of the Great Sioux Nation

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