Paul Cotton, lead guitarist and frequent singer and songwriter for country-rock group Poco, died July 31 near his summer home in Eugene, Oregon. He was 78 years old.
His wife, Caroline Ford Cotton, said he died suddenly but did not cite any cause. His death came less than four months after that of Rusty Young, Poco’s longtime guitarist.
Mr. Cotton joined Poco, replacing founding member Jim Messina in 1970, just in time to appear on the group’s third studio album, “From the Inside” (1971). Produced by Steve Cropper, guitarist of the Memphis R&B combo Booker T. & the MGs, the project marked a new artistic direction for the band, perhaps nowhere as much as on the three songs written by Mr. Cotton.
More rooted in rock and soul than country and bluegrass which had until then been the band’s main influences, Mr. Cotton’s muscular guitar work and dark baritone voice on songs like the ballad “Bad Weather “greatly expanded the emotion and style of Poco. palette.
“There was no doubt that he was the guy to replace Jimmy,” said Richie Furay, who founded the group with Mr. Messina and was its lead vocalist, of Mr. Cotton’s impact on the group. in a 2000 interview with soundwaves.com. “We knew he added a little bit more to our sound, and we wanted to be a bit more rock ‘n’ roll.”
Mr. Young said in the same song on Sound Waves, referring to longtime Mr. Furay and Poco drummer George Grantham: “You have to remember we had very high-pitched vocals back then. Paul had a much deeper voice and he had that rock sound.
Poco became a major influence on West Coast country rock bands like Linda Ronstadt and the Eagles and, a generation later, on alternative country bands like the Jayhawks and Wilco.
Formed in Los Angeles in 1968, the group originally consisted of Mr. Messina and Mr. Furay, both formerly of the influential rock band Buffalo Springfield, as well as Mr. Young, Mr. Grantham and bassist Randy. Meisner, a future member. Eagles. (Timothy B. Schmit, another future Eagle, replaced Mr. Meisner when he left the group in 1969.)
Mr Furay left in 1973, disappointed by the group’s lack of success compared to that of his former fellow Crosby, Stills & Nash and the Eagles, especially after the release of critically acclaimed but commercially disappointing Poco albums. like “A Good Feeling to Savoir” (1972) and “Crazy Eyes” (1973).
The remaining Poco members continued without Mr. Furay, with Mr. Cotton doing much of the singing and songwriting, until the group took a hiatus in 1977 and he and Mr. Young were entered the studio to record as the Cotton-Young Band.
In 1978, ABC, the duo’s label, released the recordings, made with British musicians who had accompanied pop hitmakers like Leo Sayer and Al Stewart, but insisted on crediting the group with Poco.
“Legend”, the resulting album, produced a pair of unexpected hits, the band’s first and only Top 40 single: the brilliant “Crazy Love”, written and sung by Mr. Young, who reached the first place in the ranking of contemporary adults. , and the “Heart of the Night”, just as browned, written and sung by Mr. Cotton. The album was certified platinum with sales of one million copies.
Poco continued to tour and release recordings into the 2000s, with Mr. Cotton, Mr. Young, and Mr. Grantham leading the lineup.
Norman Paul Cotton, the eldest of five children, was born on February 26, 1943 in Fort Rucker, Alabama, in the southeastern state. Her father, Norman, owned a line of grocery stores. His mother, Edna, kept the books of the family business. Young Norm, as he was known at the time, started playing guitar at age 13.
At the age of 16, the Cottons moved to Chicago, where he attended Thornton Township High School. There he created a group, eventually known as Rovin ‘Kind, who released several singles and appeared on “American Bandstand”.
In 1968, after seeing them perform at a Chicago club, producer James William Guercio, best known for his work with jazz-rock group Chicago, signed the group to Epic Records. Mr. Guercio advised them to change their name and move to Los Angeles, where they rebranded themselves as Illinois Speed Press. Mr. Cotton began to introduce himself as Paul rather than Norm.
Illinois Speed Press, with Mr. Cotton and Kal David as twin lead guitarists, released a pair of roots rock albums for Epic, with little commercial effect. Mr. Cotton was invited to join Poco in 1970, shortly after the release of the group’s second and final album, “Duet”.
Besides his wife of 16 years, Mr. Cotton is survived by his sons, Chris and James; two brothers, David and Robert; two sisters, Carol and Colleen; and a grandson.
Mr. Cotton spent three decades with Poco and also released a handful of solo albums between 1990 and 2014. Passionate about fishing and boating, he moved to Key West, Florida in 2005.
Poco has gone through many lineup changes over its more than 40-year history, but one of the constants, from Mr. Cotton’s arrival in 1970 until his retirement in 2010, has been its partnership with Mr. Young.
“There has always been something there,” Mr. Cotton said of his relationship with Mr. Young in 2000.
Mr. Young added, “He never lost that voice, nor that great guitar playing. I can count on him. I wouldn’t want to do this without him.