For over three decades, Tyrone Cotton has cultivated a sound that draws from every corner of the American songbook.
Cotton will play an early solo show in Savannah on June 22 at El-Rocko Lounge with a setlist that will feature mostly new material, with a handful of older tunes.
A native of Louisville, Ky., Cotton’s earliest days were marked by the gospel of his grandfather, the Rev. Cleveland Roosevelt Williams. Blues seeped in later. He studied music performance at Western Kentucky University, learning the classical guitar picking style he would later incorporate into his soulful tunes. While living in Boston, Cotton found jazz at a club called Wally’s.
Through years of performance, both nationally and internationally, Cotton’s songwriting has evolved to include influences as varied as Bob Dylan and Buddy Guy to Jimi Hendrix and The Rolling Stones.
While in Japan for a time, Cotton recorded an album of songs that he rarely plays anymore. A second album didn’t meet muster and he moved on from it. A third, self-titled album, was released in 2006. For his fourth studio album, Cotton went into the studio with Josh Kaufman and Ray Rizzo. Kaufman has worked on albums by The Hold Steady, including their latest EP, Craig Finn (solo work), Bob Weir of The Grateful Dead, David Wax Museum, The National, Josh Ritter and The War on Drugs.
For the latest batch of songs, Cotton recorded in part in Woodstock, N.Y., where Dylan made timeless tracks, and in part in Louisville.
“Josh was amazing,” Cotton said of Kaufman. “He brought a lot. I’ve played with him before. Yeah, in the studio, he was amazing. He had great ears and some great ideas. He just really helped flesh out the tunes.
“They were songs I had been playing around with for a time,” Cotton said of the new album. “Tunes that I'd come to like. Sometimes, I’ll write a song and I’ll fall in love with it or out of love with it. I play them. I stop playing them. I start playing them again. These tunes were like that. In the end, I just kind of hung on to them. There were a few, very recent ones, that came late.”
For the new album, which will see single releases in the fall, Cotton wrote more introspective tunes, while exploring some new ideas and approaches. It may be hard to pinpoint exact musical references in his work, since he draws from such a wide pool of influence. This is in part due to his listening habits.
“At times, I’ve listened to lots and lots of music,” Cotton said. “Just sitting down and listening. At times, I wonder if I should have the guitar in my hands a little more or something. There’s been times, when I’ve seen a lot of different music live. It pays off in some kind of way.
“Music is always changing,” Cotton continued. “The younger people always bring something new to the table. Great music always seems to last. It remains great. I think one of the inspirations for making art, is other art. You hear something and you say, how do I do that? That’s great.”