James Cotton, the blues harmonica great renowned for his long tenure with Muddy Waters and the high-octane energy of his own festival and nightclub shows, died on Thursday, March 16, in Austin, Texas. Pneumonia was the cause of death at age 81. Cotton was born in Tunica, Mississippi, on July 1, 1935. His father was a rural preacher who died when James was five, and his mother played rudimentary harmonica in imitation of barnyard animals. Cotton heard the real thing when he caught a broadcast of Sonny Boy Williamson’s local daytime radio show.