Poco guitarist Paul Cotton dies aged 78

Paul Cotton
(Image credit: Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns)

Paul Cotton – ex-guitarist for American country rockers Poco – has died at the age of 78.

In a new Facebook post shared by Poco founder Jim Messina – whom Cotton replaced in 1970 – the late guitarist is described as a “special musical kindred brother”.

“We spent time together before he joined Poco and indeed gave me a great honor when he filled my position,” Messina writes.

“He came back into my life once again around 1995 when my son was three years old and we had a chance to spend some gracious moments together. I am now so very grateful I had a chance to meet up with Paul in 2009 when we performed together once again.

“I last heard his voice on the evening of Rusty Young's Radio Memorial that was hosted by John Cowan. The sound of his voice is now forever imprinted in my mind and in my heart. May he, this very kind-hearted soul, rest in peace.”

Born in Alabama in 1943 and raised in Chicago, Cotton went on to form rock group Illinois Speed Press in 1965, before joining Poco in 1970. Following the departure of frontman Richie Furay in 1973, Cotton became co-leader of Poco with singer/pedal steel player Rusty Young.

Cotton remained a member of Poco until 1987, appearing on 14 of the group's studio albums, and penning hits including Heart of the Night, which reached #20 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1978. Notably, Cotton – inspired by his "love and lust for New Orleans" – claimed to have written the song in 20 minutes.

In 1987, Cotton left Poco, but rejoined the band four years later in 1991, continuing to play with them until 2010.

As a solo artist, Cotton released five studio albums: Changing Horses (1990), Firebird (2001), When the Coast Is Clear (2004), Sunset Kidd (2007) and 100% Paul Cotton (2014).

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Sam Roche

Sam was Staff Writer at GuitarWorld.com from 2019 to 2023, and also created content for Total Guitar, Guitarist and Guitar Player. He has well over 15 years of guitar playing under his belt, as well as a degree in Music Technology (Mixing and Mastering). He's a metalhead through and through, but has a thorough appreciation for all genres of music. In his spare time, Sam creates point-of-view guitar lesson videos on YouTube under the name Sightline Guitar.