Several years back, a senior colleague opined to me that media types like myself tended to overuse words such as "great" to the point of irrelevancy. Keeping that in mind, I'm been reluctant ever since to call someone a "legend," "great," much less a "national treasure."
Well, all of that goes out the window when needing to describe this week's surprise, virtually last-minute announcement that Red Butte Garden has crafted a Jerry Jeff Walker and James Cotton double-bill for Aug. 7. Tickets go on sale at 9 a.m. Today at www.redbuttegarden.org.
All of the aforementioned adjectives and many others would be needed to aptly describe these two under-appreciated icons of American music.
Although they play vastly different types of music, Walker helped personify and define the outlaw country movement of the '70s while Cotton's tenure as a respected blues sideman before becoming a long-time band leader stretches back into the Eisenhower administration.
Both have made incalculable contributions to the landscape of American music. Even if the 69-year-old Walker had done nothing but write "Mr. Bojangles," he'd rightly achieved some level of fame - but having gone on to craft the definitive recordings of some of country's finest, edgiest moments with songs like "Gettin' By," "Pissin' in the Wind," "Redneck Mother," and "London Homesick Blues" - the latter many will recognize as the theme to the "Austin City Limits" TV show. The past several years have seen the 67-year-old Walker tour far less frequently than he used to, so the Sunday night gig offers a relatively rare chance to see the troubadour, who also frequently plays solo gigs - accompanied with a backing band.
And although his live shows are no longer blues stomps, they were as late as the mid-'90s, it's tough to get a purer, more authentic offering of Chicago-style blues than that rendered by Cotton. Even though he's a Mississippi native, the long-time Chicagoan symbolizes that city's major contribution to American music. Famous for "Rocket 88," "Cotton Crop Blues," and playing for years alongside Muddy Waters, including his work on the the blues giant's outstanding late '70s comeback record, "Hard Again," Cotton is on the extreme short list of all-time great blues harmonica players. It's the reason no one blanches when he bills himself these days as "James Cotton Superharp."
Because of a battle with throat cancer, Cotton stopped singing in 2000, but tours often with blues vocalist Darrell Nulisch - who will most likely be at Red Butte.
So even though guys like me would certainly queue up at noon on a Tuesday in the midst of a freeway n order to watch either of these guys play, Salt Lake City music fans should consider themselves lucky that they have a chance to see both on the same night at RBG.
Then find out if these gentlemen aren't also worthy of a few of your seldom-used adjectives.
Here's a great clip of Cotton from several years ago playing his instrumental cooker: "The Creeper."