Space Blues
The musical career of Jeff Cotton

Jeff Cotton, The Exiles, The Magic Band & MU

Early Years
Between Exile & Magic
Space & Beyond




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Early Years

Jeffrey Ralph Cotton was born in 1949 (or possibly 1950, I've not been able to confirm this). Around 1962 Jeff's parents moved him and his little sister, Kathy, from Porterville to the desert town of Lancaster in California's Antelope Valley like many others to find work in the local aircraft industry.  

At some point Jeff got himself a guitar and in an attempt to develop his skills he tracked down some like-minded youngsters in the town. Don Giesen, along with brothers Ron and Steve Beaver also had guitars. After the brothers' Dad had helped them tune their instruments and shown them a few basic things they tried figuring out surf tunes from their 45's. Occasionally a neighbour of Ron's would bring over his student snare drum and join in. 

Don Giesen told me:-

During this basic learning process, Jim Ferguson's family moved in down the street from me. We used to teach him stuff on our guitars as he didn't have one of his own. His house was kind of a hang out for us because his mom would let us smoke cigarettes there.

Jeff Cotton was new in town and lived a few neighborhoods away by the fairgrounds and the junior high. Somehow he heard about us and used to ride his 10 speed bike over with his first guitar to Ron's or Jim's. We would show each other songs and chords  and generally share knowledge about things we had figured out. We all seemed to have pretty good ears for picking things out. Of course they were elementary early surf tunes.

While working at the small Lancaster airport Jeff's dad had befriended a Mr Fankhauser who's son, Merrell (pronounced Merle) played guitar. The 21 year old Merrell also worked at the airport and was asked if he'd get together with Jeff who was learning the guitar.

Merrell was already an experienced recording and performing artist with the surf band The Impacts which he'd quit earlier that year (1963) because of the lack of financial success. The 14 year old Jeff was a fast learner as he and Merrell practised every day playing surf songs and their version of the newly emerging beat music.

It wasn't long before they had enough of their own songs and, like hundreds of other teenagers, decided to form a band. In fact, Merrell recalls that they may well have decided to form a band at their first meeting.

In Lancaster at this time, the mid-60s, THE place to congregate was Rohr's Music Box, a music store owned by Cliff Rohr. It was here that Jeff and Merrell gave guitar lessons. Jeff obviously had an innate flair and ability for the instrument and his playing had soon surpassed that of his older band mate and former teacher.

But Jeff still had to attend school ... Antelope Valley High School. Fellow student Don Aldridge described Jeff as "THE man in high school" while another friend, Bruce Gardner, says that he "was always a front runner in many things, long hair before it was popular. Talked drug talk ... claimed to have used grass and LSD". But music wasn't far away. Although involved with The Exiles he stuck at high school, sang in the Acapella Choir and played guitar and sang in the school's folk group called The Balladiers. The acapella choir would perform at other local schools.

As well as being naturally good looking Jeff seemed to have a natural talent for playing guitar too. Bruce Gardner again, "He tended to play most anything [...] I heard him play classical, folk, rock ...very, very talented!" He may have started out on surf music, then soaked up the sounds of the the 'British invasion' groups but he was now being influenced by the blues-based music coming out of England at that time, especially that played by The Yardbirds.


The Balladiers
Antelope Valley High

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