Concerts

Poco's Paul Cotton Dishes About Rock's Greats From His Key West Home

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Cotton enjoys the leisurely life. "I can't do 18 holes," he chuckles. "I can barely do nine. But I do a lot of fishing. I ride my bike and walk my dog. Occasionally, I go to see other acts and sometimes sit in with out-of-town bands that come through. And that keeps me plenty busy."

He originally relocated to Key West at the urging of his current wife, Caroline, a travel agent who has lived in that far-south hamlet for the past 18 years. The two were married in 2008 and have resided there ever since. "This place suits me just fine," Cotton insists. "I'm from a town of 5,000 people in Illinois, so this town is just right for me. It would take me a lifetime to figure out where all the streets lead, what with all the nooks and crannies, but it's got so much charm. It would be a hard place to leave."

On the cusp of his 72nd birthday, Cotton's at the age where most people retire. He claims, however, that he's a long ways away from that. He's touting a new album, 100% Cotton, on which he redid several of his seminal songs. "I wanted to re-create them in the mood and the mode in which they were written," he explains. "Some are just personal favorites that didn't get recognized as much as I would have liked. The rest are favorites of the fans and requests I've gotten from them over the years. They always ask to hear these songs in performance, so here they are in a kind of snapshot. We'll probably start working on a volume two in early spring. I'm already taking requests."

In addition, he's become quite involved in the local Key West community, taking part in fundraising benefits, playing gigs at various local venues on a monthly basis, and hosting an annual cruise. He also helped develop a local theater production called Conchs, Cowboys, and Tales of Old Key West that runs for the fifth year in a row at the island's storied Red Barn Theater this coming April.

And the community has recognized him in return. "The mayor presented me with a proclamation, making it Paul Cotton Day on November 15," Cotton says proudly. "That was pretty nice. It was quite an honor."

Still, Cotton's not convinced he'll overshadow the island's most famous native son, the singer and songwriter who made Key West synonymous with "Margaritaville." "We just saw Jimmy Buffet give a private concert for his employees at Margaritaville," he beams. "It was just spectacular. He played for like two hours. We knew the doorman, so that's how we got in. They just sort of fit us in. It made me a fan all over again."

Cotton may be modest, but he's attracted an impressive fan following of his own over the course of the past four decades. His initial breakthrough came with a band called Illinois Speed Press, with which he recorded two albums for Columbia Records (both produced by James William Guercio, the man who discovered the band Chicago), prior to being recruited by Poco.

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Lee Zimmerman