Chris Cotton | I Watched the Devil Die

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Blues: Acoustic Blues Country: Country Blues Moods: Type: Acoustic
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I Watched the Devil Die

by Chris Cotton

Harkening back to days when the distinction between blues and country was hopelessly blurred... a modern-day jam session with all the boisterous spirit of a classic down-home revival.
Genre: Blues: Acoustic Blues
Release Date: 

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  Song Share Time Download
1. Morgan City, Mississippi
3:49 $0.99
2. Come On
3:20 $0.99
3. I Watched the Devil Die
5:12 $0.99
4. Dying Crapshooter's Blues
4:54 $0.99
5. That's It
2:47 $0.99
6. I'm So Glad
3:42 $0.99
7. Was it low?
5:21 $0.99
8. Black Night
9:22 $0.99
9. Louis Collins
3:13 $0.99
10. Blues for Big Bill
3:22 $0.99
11. Bill Bailey
2:43 $0.99
12. Goin' Back Home
5:13 $0.99
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.


Album Notes
An aural portrait that owes a debt to Southern bluesmen and Americana pioneers alike, Chris Cotton's Yellow Dog Records debut sounds like a house party caught on tape - world-weary men effortlessly strumming their guitars and bass, while passing around a jug of whiskey for sustenance. The barrelhouse piano, is, of course, pushed up against one wall; Cotton's gravelly voice reigns over the debauchery. The scene is timeless - harkening back to days when the distinction between blues and country was hopelessly blurred.

Cotton, former frontman of "The Blue Eyed Devils", traveled to Clarksdale, MS to record "I Watched the Devil Die" at producer Jimbo Mathus' vintage-equipment studio, housed in the city's historic WROX radio building. Employing Memphis and Clarksdale sidemen including special guest Big Jack Johnson, Cotton and Mathus concocted a modern-day jam session with all the boisterous spirit of a classic down-home revival.


The Making of "I Watched the Devil Die"

When California-based guitarist Chris Cotton arrived in Clarksdale, Mississippi, to cut his solo debut, I Watched The Devil Die, he was essentially "making lemonade from lemons," he says today. "My group, the Blue Eyed Devils, split up last January, and I called Jimbo to talk about what I should do next. He said, 'You need to come down here and make your own record.'"
Jimbo, of course, is James Mathus, former Squirrel Nut Zippers frontman, who's currently running Delta Recording in downtown Clarksdale. A versatile guitarist who's toured with the likes of Buddy Guy and his own group, the Knockdown Society, Mathus had produced the Blue Eyed Devils' second album, The Legend of Shorty Brown, at his old studio in North Carolina. He was, Cotton ascertains, "the only person I knew who would have insight into my situation."
Weeks later, Cotton packed up his favorite acoustic guitar, a custom Larrivee 00-10, and with a documentary film crew in tow, headed to the Mississippi Delta. "When I found out that this record was gonna happen, I only had about four original songs finished," Cotton admits. He and Mathus agreed on a concept for his solo album, deciding that spontaneity would be a key theme for the recording. Putting the word out around Clarksdale, Mathus quickly assembled a rag-tag group of musical co-conspirators for an intentionally loose, two-day jam session.
Those musicians included Clarksdale drummer Lee Williams (a virtual unknown), and special guest guitarist Big Jack Johnson. "I'd met Big Jack at a club in San Francisco," Cotton says. "A friend of mine who's a DJ at a blues station here introduced me to him at a gig, and suggested that I ask him to play on the record. To my surprise, Big Jack agreed to sit in. It was really exciting - we cut 'Black Night' on the first take with a full band."
Williams was another story entirely: the young drummer ("it's unclear how old he is," laughs Cotton. "He says he's 26, but I think he's only eighteen!") idolized established Clarksdale players like Johnson, Sam Carr, and Terry Williams, but he'd been getting into trouble. "Jimbo has been trying to show Lee that he can make some money playing music," Cotton explains, "so he called him for the date." In the studio, Williams opened eyes as his aggressive "Clarksdale boogie" backbeat propelled the session.
The approach proved to be the perfect fit: Although the musicians had never played together before, they gelled in the tiny studio, located in the one-time home of legendary WROX radio station - on the very site where such artists as B.B. King, Robert Nighthawk, Muddy Waters, and Elvis Presley played live over the airwaves.
Cotton plugged in a vintage RCA ribbon microphone, assembled his loose-knit band around him, and recorded everything live - with few overdubs, and, often, no second take. The sound built off the spontaneity - and was honed by the low-fi set-up of the studio itself. The sounds of passing traffic occasionally bled into the mics, whiskey bottles clanked, and at one point, a tube amp blew in the middle of a song. It was an ideal situation for recording a blues album, enhanced even further when it was mixed to analog - tape hiss and all - at Scott Bomar's Electraphonic Recording in Memphis.
"Jimbo and I share that minimalist approach," Cotton says. "We let the tape roll, and do it as live as possible. Some of it was kinda janky, but as far as I'm concerned, that's what makes it perfect."
Picture a dozen or so downtowners, lured out of their workplaces by the sound of a stinging blues song floating on the afternoon air. They stand out in the street, beneath an open studio window, soaking up the April sun. Then Big Jack Johnson lets a mean riff fly, and the crowd begins to move. "That's exactly what happened on the second day, when we cut 'Black Night,'" Cotton says. "Word got out that Big Jack was coming over, and we had nearly twenty people dancing and checking things out!"
Both that song and the title track capture an organic, only-in-Mississippi feeling, while Cotton's covers of obscurities like Skip James' "I'm So Glad," the Mississippi Sheiks' string band song "That's It," and Blind Willie McTell's "Dying Crapshooter's Blues" epitomize the life of a down-on-his-luck bluesman yet update them for the 21st Century.
"Working with a Clarksdale rhythm section changed the feel and even the tempos from what I'd originally planned out," Cotton says. "If I'd held the session in another town, the album would've ended up completely different. In a studio situation, there's always gonna be things that work and things that don't, but in Clarksdale, everything fell into place." Speaking with absolute certainty, Cotton concludes happily that, "This was fate."



to write a review

mike seeba

listening to him watching the devil die
As one of the privileged folks to get an advance preview of the new album, I just want to say, f***ing awesome! This is easily Chris' best album to date. Black Night is an absolute masterpiece of live blues. Yet the album is also breaking out of the restrictions of 12 bars into uncharted territory. It's a new Chris, yet beatifuly blended with the best of the old Chris. Vocally he covers new ground as well, like the heartfelt and soul stirring IM SO GLAD. I feel an autobiographical flavor to the new songs like Morgan, Mississippi or in Come On, where he admits to never having killed a man. I love it!Kind of reminded me of a rapper admitting he's not in a gang but he can still flow. All in all, a pleasure to listen to from the first track to the last. Keep up the good work and see you at the cd release party!

Alex Henderson All Music Guide

Lovers of roots music can't go wrong with this excellent CD
Ask a group of musicologists what type of music Leadbelly performed, and you're likely to get different responses. Some will categorize his work as folk; others will say southern country blues. Truth be told, Leadbelly was both of those things-he was as relevant to folk as Woody Guthrie; he was as relevant to southern county blues as Charlie Patton, Son House or Robert Johnson. Like Leadbelly, Chris Cotton is clearly an example of an artist whose material has as much to do with folk as it does with the type of rugged, pre-World War II country blues that Patton, House and Johnson were known for-and he also gets some inspiration from bluegrass, Appalachian music and old-time country. I Watched the Devil Die is a very raw, unpretentious and raggedy album; Cotton obviously identifies-quite strongly, in fact-with the earthiest sounds of the '20s, '30s and '40s. There isn't the slightest hint of slickness on this 2004 recording; nor is there a trace of irony-and the singer/guitarist is as expressive on his own songs as he is on down-home performances of Blind Willie McTell's "Dying Crapshooter Blues," Mississippi John Hurt's "Louis Collins," the standard "Bill Bailey" and Skip James' "I'm So Glad" (a tune that many lovers of '60s British Invasion rock associate with Cream). When I Watched the Devil Die is playing, it is evident that Cotton would have no problem telling you what Woody Guthrie had in common with Blind Lemon Jefferson or what Sleepy John Estes had in common Jimmie Rodgers, the Carter Family and Bill Monroe. Lovers of roots music can't go wrong with this excellent CD.

Alexander Amoibé

Lovers of roots music rejoice!
Imagine finding yourself in an outskirts-of-town honky-tonk where a live band is playing... you're swaying in the arms of a partner you've never met before and he/she sure ain't pretty but you feel safe in the embrace of the music which seems to penetrate every pore of you, getting inside even the whiskey molecules in your blood, making a ruckus which allows blessed surrender and love... that's Chris Cotton's "I Watched the Devil Die" in a nutshell. You can trust it, it'll be good to you.