Rock & Roll Globe recalls some of the amazing memories shared by the late guitarist, singer and songwriter
The sudden and unexpected passing of Poco singer, guitarist and songwriter this past Sunday is especially tragic in light of the fact that it follows by only a few months the sudden death of another Poco stalwart, Rusty Young.
Cotton, who left his first band, Illinois Speed Press, to join the band in 1970 as a replacement for original member Jim Messina, wrote several of the group’s most memorable songs — “Bad Weather,” “Indian Summer,” and two of their later hits, “Heart of the Night” and “Under the Gun.” He stayed with the band until 1987, appearing on 14 of the group’s albums, sharing a predominant role in the group alongside Young after the departure of founding member Richie Furay. He then rejoined the group in 1991 and stayed with them for nearly a decade, releasing five albums of his own as well. He eventually moved to Key West Florida where he led a leisurely life along with playing occasional local gigs.
“I actually followed Hurricane Wilma here by a few days,” he once remarked, noting that he opted to relocate at the urging of his wife. “That was my welcome!”
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“I woke up to very sad news last Monday, hearing that my friend and musical bandmate, Paul Cotton, had slipped into eternity,” Furay told Rock and Roll Globe. “This journey of life we’ve all been on has brought some wonderfully talented and creative people into mine. Musically, Paul was the complete package – great singer, exceptional songwriter and what a guitar player. He was a soft-spoken gentle soul; he was my friend. Along with the entire ‘Poco family,’ we will miss him but oh how thankful we are that we crossed paths along the way. Our heartfelt prayers go out to his wife Caroline and Paul’s family.”
“We spent time together before he joined Poco and indeed gave me a great honor when he filled my position,” Messina wrote on Facebook. “He came back into my life once again around 1995 when my son was three years old and we had a chance to spend some gracious moments together.” He went on to describe Cotton as a “special musical kindred brother.”
This reporter had opportunity to interview Cotton for the Broward County New Times in 2015, noting to the paper’s readers that indeed they had a legend living in their midst. What follows is an excerpt from that exchange.
“I’m from a town of 5,000 people in Illinois, so this town is just right for me,” he said at the time. “It would take me a lifetime to figure out where all the streets lead, what with all the nooks and crannies, but it’s got so much charm. It would be a hard place to leave.”
Despite the leisurely pace of life he found in his new home, he became an active member of the local community, helping with fundraisers and even developing a local theater production called Conchs, Cowboys, and Tales of Old Key West that ran for several years in a row at the island’s Red Barn Theater.
“The mayor presented me with a proclamation, making it Paul Cotton Day on November 15,” Cotton said at the time. “That was pretty nice. It was quite an honor.”
He also recounted how he came to doing Poco in the first place. He was playing with Illinois Speed Press at the time.
“Our two bands were playing a gig together at a place called the White Room in Buena Park, which was kind of near Disneyland. We were both stripped down to four-piece bands at the time, like we were both on our last legs, you might say. Something about me stuck with them, and a month later, [Poco guitarist] Richie Furay gave me a call and said, ‘Why not come over to the house?’ So I not only came over, but I brought my guitar, and we just clicked. The next thing I knew, there we were, playing in front of Neil Young at the Fillmore West. That was my debut, and it went over quite well. They were always quite satisfied with what I provided. They had always been labeled too country for rock and too rock for country, so we were always trying to find that happy medium. They definitely wanted to rock more, and I definitely brought that energy to them.”
Cotton would go on to be inducted into the Colorado Music Hall of Fame, an event which provided an opportunity for a brief Poco reunion.
“The place was sold out,” Cotton recalled. “We rehearsed eight hours straight the day before. We had [former Poco and current Eagles bassist] Timothy B. Schmidt with us, and it was just great. Richie Furay was there, of course, and [pedal steel player] Rusty Young just played his tail off. We performed ‘Good Feelin’ to Know,’ ‘Bad Weather,’ ‘Heart of the Night,’ ‘Crazy Love,’ ‘Call It Love,’ and ‘Keep on Trying.’ The crowd went crazy. It was deafening…We were on top of our game, and it blew the roof off.”
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During our conversation, Cotton shared several memorable memories as well. George Harrison referred to him as “King Cotton” while giving him an autograph, which read in part, “Good luck with the guitar.”
Other anecdotes followed. “I did ‘Bad Weather’ with the band at the Whiskey in L.A., and after our set, I came walking down the steps on the way to our dressing room and Jimi Hendrix nabbed me on the dance floor and gave me a big bear hug,” he remembered. “He said, ‘Paul, don’t ever stop writing songs like that one.’ That was big!”
He also shared a special moment with Eric Clapton when Poco opened for the guitarist during the ’70s.
“Yvonne Elliman, one of his background singers, had recorded ‘Bad Weather’ on her first solo album,” he explained. “So there was a connection between us that way. After we finished playing, she called out to me and said, ‘Get up on stage and play some guitar!’ The problem was that my guitar was already put away. So Eric gives me his black Stratocaster, and we did ‘Let It Rain’ in front of 10,000 people.”
Paul Cotton was 78.