Interview: Paul Cotton

Paul Cotton was a songwriter, guitarist, and singer for the country rock band Poco from 1970, when he replaced Poco co-founder Jim Messina, until 2010. His compositions for Poco include “The Heart of the Night”, “Bad Weather”, “Indian Summer”, and “Ride The Country”. He has also released three solo albums, and is currently working on his fourth.

This interview was done for a preview article for Cotton’s show at SOhO in Santa Barbara on 1/14/12. He emailed his answers on 1/10/12.

Jeff Moehlis: Can you tell me about the band which will be joining you at your upcoming show in Santa Barbara?

Paul Cotton: This band is based in San Diego. They are all named Tom! Consisting of my good friend Thom Landt on guitars, vocals and pedal steel guitar. Tom on bass guitar. Tommy Neel in on drums. My son Chris Cotton from L.A. is sitting in drumming on a few songs. This is a special treat for me as we have not shared the stage or played together in over 10 years.

JM: Way back when, you were in the band Illinois Speed Press, which is (undeservedly) not very well known these days. Could you give a brief quick overview of this band?

PC: This band was from the Rovin’ Kind. The history can be found on my web site under the ‘Archives’ link. Kal David, Michael Anthony and I were the three lead singers in this 5 piece band. Actually I still have fans in line after shows to autograph their Speed Press albums. There were two released on Columbia – the major airplays were “Get In the Wind”, and “P.N.S.” which I wrote. Kal and I reunited and had a Dueling Guitars Caribbean Cruise which was very successful. We hope to work together again soon.

JM: Are there any plans to make the Illinois Speed Press albums available again in some format?

PC: The CD’s are available at CD Baby, and I am not aware of any re-print of the vinyl. We never rule out new projects to come in the future.

JM: Illinois Speed Press was on the bill for gigs with an amazing set of bands, including Led Zeppelin, The MC5, Sly & The Family Stone, Tim Buckley, Spirit, and Ike & Tina Turner. Were there any performances by other bands that were particularly memorable?

PC: The Doors, Chicago of course, Blood Sweat & Tears (whom I will be playing with in the Keys March 24), Simon & Garfunkel. We played with Poco, which is where the initial introduction was made for me.

JM: How did you come to join Poco?

PC: Richie Furay called me when he heard of the Speed Press disbanding. I went over to this house and played an acoustic version of my “Bad Weather” I had written while in ISP. He was sold – as he tells it.

JM: Your first album with Poco was From The Inside, which was produced by Steve Cropper. What was it like working with him?

PC: Steve really liked my tune “Bad Weather” and introduced it to Yvonne Elliman who recorded it on her first solo album. He also liked my “Railroad Days” which was played on Saturday Night Live. I’d like to get one re-recorded. I’d like to touch base with Steve again — great guy.

JM: What was the feeling like in Poco when co-founder Richie Furay left a few years after you joined?

PC: Tim Schmit was still in the band, and that left Rusty [Young] and the two of us to write songs to fulfill an agreement with the label at the time. I think that helped each one of us become stronger writers.

JM: In the early years, Poco was sometimes described as “too country for rock, too rock for country”. What is your take on that description?

PC: I guess that is true to some extent. Over the years our wonderful fans have described us as the innovators of “Country Rock” and we are still referred to that way.

JM: The album Legend is generally regarded to be one of Poco’s best. To what do you attribute that album’s success?

PC: Timing really. The album contains two of our biggest hits – “Crazy Love” written by Young, and “Heart of The Night” which I wrote. So I would say that in itself made it successful.

JM: Poco took part in the No Nukes concerts. What was that experience like?

PC: It was a lot of fun! We played Madison Square Garden with Springsteen, James Taylor and many more. My song “Heart of the Night” was included in the album which attained Gold, and maybe Platinum status by now. I am very honored to be part of it.

JM: I’ve read that your song “Every Time I Hear That Train” is a tribute to Santa Barbara. What’s the story behind this?

PC: It is about Santa Barbara. The sound of the train whistle in the night that I heard while visiting there inspired the images for the song. It kind of wrote itself, reminding me of a familiar, beautiful place. I spent more time in Santa Barbara and really like it.

JM: You were with Poco for several decades. When you joined, what were your expectations/goals, and were they fulfilled?

PC: Well that was in 1970 and a young man’s expectations in that era were endless. My goal and main job was to write songs for a Rock and Roll band which was achieved. The rest I would have to say is “couda – woulda – shoulda”

JM: What are your plans, musical or otherwise, for the near future?

PC: I am very busy right now and have commitments for the next year. I have an awesome band in my home island of Key West, Florida. This band is based in Southern California. I have had a band for four years in Oregon, and now one in the North East and Midwest. That covers me spending the winters in the tropics, and touring on my own schedule. I am recording the fourth solo album in Key West. I am learning and applying all aspects of the recording process which I have never done. This has been more time consuming, but we are making diamonds and I’m very happy with the outcome.

We have scheduled and sold out our annual weekend Caribbean Cruise Feb. 24-27 out of Miami — which is being dubbed the “Nitty Gritty Cotton Cruise”. Jimmie Fadden – the 1966 founder and still current drummer for the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band will be drumming with me so we have fans from both bands and a big bunch of fun Keys Conchs. See the Birthday Cruise link for bookings – they added four more cabins.

I am looking forward to meeting all of you at SOhO and thank you in advance for coming out. Happy Trails, Paul Cotton


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