PAUL COTTON... Musical Archive

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Los Embajadores,April 18, 1959

High School Color Guard

Senior Class Photo

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Norman Paul Cotton was born on February 26, 1943 at Camp Rucker (now known as Fort Rucker), an army base in Alabama. The oldest of five children, he was raised in Hazel Crest, Chicago, Illinois, where his parents owned a grocery store. He went to Warren Palm grade school in Hazel Crest, IL and then to Thornton Township High School, Harvey, IL until 1961. He started as a butcher & also attended a barber school before making a full time career in music. His first musical instrument was a banjoette purchased for Paul by his grandfather. His initials “NC” were proudly carved in the neck of the instrument. (In fact his grandfather bought 2 of these but Paul says that he converted one of them into a bongo drum!). Paul still has his banjoette today. His musical journey progressed with taking piano lessons before he started kindergarten & he took up the french horn in elementary school. Paul first became interested in learning to play the guitar at the age of 13 & convinced his parents to eventually buy him a guitar - a $35 Harmony Guitar with a $16 pick-up. Buddy Riley was a school friend who attended Thornton Township Hich School with Paul. Paul credits Buddy with giving him his initial inspiration and ecouragement to play guitar. Another friend who helped him out was Joseph Schwantner. Paul had the best of both worlds with these two guys - Buddy mastered the rock 'n' roll style and Joe was more of a technical player. It took Paul about one year of daily practice for two hours a day to become proficient enough to join a high school band as a guitarist. Early guitar influences ranged from Les Paul (his first influence) to Duane Eddy. He was also inspired by the lead guitarists on the hit records of that time, especially James Burton who was with Rick Nelson (later with Elvis), and Scotty Moore (also with Elvis).

It was during High School, that Paul's first band, the Captiols was formed. Music was a large part of Paul's life at High School. The 1960 yearbook has a picture of the TTHS Varsity Band which included Frenchy Germany---(percussion), Jerry Urban---(sax), Keith Anderson(accordian, bass), Joseph Schwantner (trombone). Paul's picture was included with the Cadet Band, where he appears with his French horn.

Here are some reflections from Joseph Schwantner:
"I was in the same high school class as Paul (Norm) at Thornton Township High school, in Harvey, Illinois. I began to learn to play the guitar around the age of eight while in grade school. My recollection is (and I could certainly be mistaken about this) that I may have been the first, or one of the first persons to introduce both (Norm) Paul and Walter (Buddy) Riley to the guitar. (Paul may have a more specific and a quite different memory about this?) I believe that I had already been studying the guitar for several years before he and Walter first became interested in music. From the photographs & other papers I found, I can tell you that Norm was a member of the Thornton Township High school Color Guard, he played French horn in the high school band, and an entry in the 1960 high school yearbook indicates that Paul was in the Boys Club, Weightlifting, Gymnastics, Homecoming Chairman and a member of the High school Band."
An All-American kid!
He & I were also members of the "Los Embajadores- a musical ensemble drawn from members of the high school Spanish class. We performed at a variety of high school functions and at the, "Las Esuvelas de Chicago"- Fiesta Panamericana, on April 18, 1959 at Northwestern University. As an aside, and to put all of this in proper historical context and perspective, it is certainly true that the musical activity at Thornton Township High school, a suburban school south of Chicago, some forty years ago, was simply extraordinary. The high school possessed several bands, (Norm was initially in the Cadet Band, i.e., freshman student musicians) an orchestra, a jazz ensemble called the "Thorntoneers," numerous choirs and a variety of other musical ensembles, in addition to the student initiated ensembles that frequently performed at the high school dances, called the Purple Xs.
As I became more interested in jazz and serious musical composition in high school, Paul became ever more involved with pop bands such as the "Mus-Twangs." Only, very much later, did I become aware that Paul was a member of the legendary group, POCO. I hope that this information helps shed some additional "light" on this famous musician's early engagement with music. While our paths have not crossed since we were teenagers, I recall the boyhood memories of (Norm)Paul Cotton with considerable fondness."

Further reflections from Buddy Riley's brother, Jim:
I remember my brother being very impressed with Joe Schwantner for his music knowledge and abilities Joe lived in Hazel Crest along with Norm and Buddy. I remember going to Keith's house in Harvey with my mom lugging the old Revere reel to reel. I still have some of the tapes here at the house but no reel to reel to play them on.
on one tape I have Norm playing and singing to me...I was about five and laughing like crazy. What times I remember. One was Buddy and Jerry painting the sax candy apple red...I think all the keys froze up!!! Putting the striping on the Frenzy's drum. Norm's 62 Tempest......I will be 50 this year, time does fly."

Thanks to Bill Bielby for the following photo links from the 1959 TTHS yearbook :
TTHS Band - Paul, in brass section
TTHS Band - Keith and Jerry in reeds
TTHS Band - Guy (Frenchy) in percussion
Chuck Edelhoffer in Spanish

Further links to Paul's musical history -

History main page--- Beginnings--- Capitols--- Mus-twangs--- Starfires--- Carol Vega & Trio--- Gentrys--- Rovin' Kind--- Rovin' Kind Gig Dates--- Illinois Speed Press--- Illinois Speed Press Gig Dates--- Poco & Beyond--- Joseph Schwantner--- Chuck Edelhofer--- Keith Anderson--- Gerald (Jerry) Urban--- Guy Franchot (Frenchy) Germany--- Walter (Buddy) Riley--- Johnny Jordan--- Johnny Moyer--- Carol Vega--- Johnny Moore--- Verne Johnson--- Frank Bartell (Bortoli)--- Mike Anthony (Harry Baikauskas)--- Fred Page (Pappalardo)--- Rob Lewine--- Bobby Simms--- Barney Pip--- John Uribe--- Kal David--- Jim Jarosz--- Ronnie Laas---

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