Who Is Joe Cotton?

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By: David DiPino Contributing Writer

Down on Sunshine Drive a local realtor is enjoying an abundance of creativity piling up and oozing out of his microphone and guitar amps.

While most of his baby boomer peers are letting loose and indulging into passions they always wanted to tackle in life, Steve Martel is tightening up his sound into an appealing mix of tunes and melodies.

Influenced by The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Stevie Ray Vaughn, The Black Crowes, Government Mule, The Grateful Dead and just about any jam band and classic Rock ‘N’ Roll from the ‘70s and countless acts from blues, country, folk and the ‘50s and ‘60s bands, Martel and a tight group of peers are making unique original music with an attractive tone. The Joe Cotton Band led by Martel, vocals and guitar, recently rocked out 21 songs to 168 fans during a set at the Arts Garage, 94 NE Second Ave.

Martel and his band: Jack Shulman, bass guitar and vocals, Peter Rice, piano/keyboards, and vocals, Joe Mateka, drums and vocals, Jeff Fisk, guitar and vocals, and Jennie Hickory, fiddle, vocals and percussion, have their sights set on playing a local Delray Beach landmark later this year and perhaps recording a live album.

At the Arts Garage, Shulman and Martel bounced around the stage with boundless energy, Shulman and Mateka are the back bone of the band driving a tight rhythm pace through each song, Hickory is stunning and her fiddle playing is sweet, Mr. Fisk noodles each song into a nice crescendo courtesy of distinctive bluesy riffs, and if the band has an MVP it’s Rice with his piano and keyboard work and vocals. Martel led the way with energy, interesting lyrics and choruses, spot-on vocals and was flawless on rhythm guitar.

One of the tracks laid down by The Joe Cotton Band at the Arts Garage was the song “Half Hearted Rainbow” which starts off sounding like Pink Floyd and morphs into the Grateful Dead sound and into Neil Young land. After the show The Joe Cotton Band fans blasted praise in all directions including across social media channels like Facebook.

“We were beyond impressed with Steve Martel and his band, not only can he sing but he also wrote most of his music,” Debbie Schaffer Brookes said.

“Steve rocked it!,”Lenny Felberbaum said.

“The Joe Cotton Band! I love seeing great musicians do their own thing,” said Peggy Kelleher.

“Go Jenny Hickory! The Joe Cotton Band did awesome,” Allison Turner said.

The Joe Cotton band and the fans sang along in unison on one song, “Hey Ho, Find me an Island, Hey Ho, Bring me your Key – Hey Ho, Everyone’s Smiling – The wind, water and me.”

On solo acoustic guitar Richard Warren Rappaport opened the evening for The Joe Cotton Band with a nice venture into America’s Rock ‘N’ Roll songbook. Rappaports vocals were firm and his strumming was nice, while he laid the groundwork for a great night of music. His storytelling before each song was interesting.

A question Martel regularly fields have to do with why The Joe Cotton Band isn’t busy booking gigs at bars and restaurants up and down the avenue? While Martel tips his hat to the local music scene, he’s lived another life of playing shows at similar joints in New England, Memphis, and southern California.

“The Joe Cotton Band is a concert band,” Martel said.

“I want to record a live album with The Joe Cotton Band at the Crest Theatre.”

Martel has recorded at the famed Sun Records where Elvis Presley cut his teeth and recorded all of his early hits. Martel’s song “Ain’t No Crying” was recorded with a Chicago blues band at the Sun Studio in Memphis, TN.

To Martel it’s more about the camaraderie of creation at this point in his career. Bands he’s founded and played in include Beggarman’s Thief and SNAFU just to name a few. While living in Franklin, Mass., just over a quarter-century ago, Martel stumbled upon a box in a hideaway of the farm house he was living in and found his first birth certificate. The details on the certificate stated that on November 29, 1962 Joseph Michel Cotton a child born in Montreal in 1961 was adopted and given the name Stephen Joseph Martel. He had the name for his new band and a new focus on music.

“Joe Cotton’s been there the whole time!”

His previous band, before The Joe Cotton Band, Beggarman’s Thief had opened for the Pixies and The Fools. Martel got to play Mama Kin club owned by Aerosmith in Boston.

“I want my band to play like the Faces and record like the Stones,” says Martel.

Martel, 55, came to Delray Beach a decade ago and immediately fell in love with the scene. He and his wife Lori dove deep into helping local non-profits raise money for countless causes. Soon, he began to show up at Kevro’s Art Bar, 166 SE Sixth Ave., on the south side of East Atlantic Avenue, and eventually rocked the funky roadhouse with his live band. Martel met the coolest people in the city and soon began filling slots in his band’s landscape.

“My favorite part of this is the process,” he said.