Paul Cotton, Longtime Poco Guitarist/Vocalist, Dead at 78

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Paul Cotton (Photo from his website)

Paul Cotton, the guitarist and vocalist who replaced original Poco member Jim Messina in 1970, died on Aug. 1, 2021, according to a post on the Poco Facebook page, which simply stated, “Paul Cotton, you will be truly missed.” No place or cause of death was stated. Cotton was 78.

Cotton’s death comes only a few months after that of his bandmate, steel guitarist Rusty Young, who passed on April 14.

Cotton joined Poco in 1970, replacing former Buffalo Springfield member Jim Messina. Cotton first appeared on Poco’s From the Inside album in 1971, for which he wrote three songs including the mainstay “Bad Weather.” He remained with the group through 1987, then rejoined in 1991, staying onboard until 2010.

Listen to Poco’s “Bad Weather,” performed live

Norman Paul Cotton was born February 26, 1943, in Fort Rucker, Alabama, but was raised on Chicago’s South Side. He began playing guitar in his early teens, touring with several bands in the late 1950s and early ’60s. In 1968, his band, then known as the Rovin’ Kind, changed its name to Illinois Speed Press, which performed at numerous venues and festivals and signed with Columbia Records. In 1969, that group released a self-titled album for the label, followed in 1970 by Duet. Following that album’s release, Poco’s Richie Furay (formerly of Buffalo Springfield) approached Cotton to join that band, which he did later that year.

ca. 1973 — Poco: (l to r) Timothy Schmit, Richie Furay, George Grantham, Rusty Young, and Paul Cotton. — Image by © Henry Diltz/CORBIS

At that time, Poco consisted of Cotton, Furay, Young, bassist Timothy B. Schmit (later of the Eagles) and drummer George Grantham. From the Inside was followed in 1972 by A Good Feelin’ to Know, 1973’s Crazy Eyes and nearly a dozen other albums featuring Cotton, although he did not appear on 1989’s Legacy, which reunited the original lineup.

Related: Our Album Rewind of Poco’s 1971 (pre-Cotton) live album, Deliverin’

Cotton’s most successful composition for the band was the 1979 single “Heart of the Night,” which reached #20 on the Billboard singles chart; it appeared on the album Legend, which at #14 was their highest charting LP.

Cotton next appeared on 2002’s Running Horse, which reunited him with Young and Grantham for the first time since 1977.

Cotton also released several solo albums, beginning with 1990’s Changing Horses. After leaving Poco he formed his own Paul Cotton Band.

Related: Musicians we’ve lost in 2021

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Jeff Tamarkin
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  1. Bob Sled
    #1 Bob Sled 2 August, 2021, 09:04

    Sad news indeed for those who are familiar with Paul’s great catalog of tunes. His pairing with Poco & the music they created have been part of my musical influences & appreciation for 50 years.

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  2. Bob Sled
    #2 Bob Sled 2 August, 2021, 09:06

    This is very sad news to me; I’ve appreciated Paul’s work with Poco for 50 years beginning with the excellent “From The Inside” lp.

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  3. Michael
    #3 Michael 3 August, 2021, 01:02

    I saw the post-Furay four-piece back in ’74 or so,sandwiched between Marshall Tucker (a band I respected but never warmed to) and Charlie Daniels (who I never liked much). Poco was absolutely on fire – it felt like they were radiating the sheer joy of playing together. They were LOUD and kicked serious butt, having the time of their lives. A great memory for which I am grateful. Thanks, boys. May you never be forgotten.

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  4. muddywatersmann
    #4 muddywatersmann 3 August, 2021, 01:04

    Sad news indeed, 1st coming to know of him in band ILLINOIS SPEED PRESS, purchased cuz of cool cover w/ his and other band members faces, and great selection of tunes inside, late 60’s, which I still listen to these days….then followed him into POCO, esp loving so many Poco albums…talented, handsome, great singer & musician, RIP Mr Cotton, my sympathies to his family and band mates!

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    • Linda
      Linda 3 August, 2021, 10:54

      Loved PNS followed Illinois Speed Press then POCO back then.. so much fun at their concerts

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  5. Palestra Jon
    #5 Palestra Jon 3 August, 2021, 16:16

    You’re way off on Paul Cotton not being on any Poco albums from 1979 until 2002–he was on 5 albums between 1980 and 1984 before he left Poco when the original group reunited (a Richard Marx produced album that sounded nothing like Poco). But Paul Cotton was great in a band than never quite got its due.

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  6. JWIB
    #6 JWIB 3 August, 2021, 23:25

    Great talent, great songwriter. Indian Summer is a masterpiece. Thanks for decades of great music, Paul Cotton.

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  7. Emerik
    #7 Emerik 6 August, 2021, 23:55

    Saw poco in anchorage in 1985 paul and rusty what a show rip too both.

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  8. ChrisSnyder
    #8 ChrisSnyder 8 August, 2021, 12:25

    Somewhat shocked to read this, but they’re all getting older – don’t think of it so much seeing youtube videos where they never age. My favorites by Poco are Indian Summer and Rose of Cimarron, but all songs are good (been getting into Driving Wheel lately).

    I first heard of Paul with the Illinois Speed Press, and “P.N.S.” (Paul’s New Song) on KSHE.. it’s on youtube and still great… will put it on now! THANKS for the music, Paul.

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  9. John T.
    #9 John T. 27 August, 2021, 20:56

    Paul was a musical genius and one of the most underrated singer, song writers and guitarist of all time. He carried Poco for many years as the band most prominent member. His solo albums are a showcase of his exceptional talents. Rest in peace my friend.

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