Paul Cotton, former guitarist and singer of country-rock band Poco, has died at age 78. The late musician’s Facebook page broke the news yesterday, writing that he “passed away unexpectedly, peacefully.”

Poco cofounder Jim Messina — whom Cotton replaced upon joining in 1970 — reacted to the “very sad news” on Facebook, calling Cotton 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,” he wrote. “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 kindhearted soul, rest in peace.”

Cotton was born in Alabama and raised on Chicago’s south side, learning guitar as an early teenager and playing with numerous bands in the late ‘50s and ‘60s. The most famous of those acts, Illinois Speed Press, fused elements of R&B, rock and country on a pair of LPs for Columbia Records: 1969’s The Illinois Speed Press and 1970’s Duet.

He then joined Poco, first appearing on the band’s third album, 1971’s From the Inside. In addition to singing and playing lead guitar, Cotton also became one of the group’s key songwriters, penning hits like “Heart of the Night,” a Top 20 single from 1978’s Legend. And he became crucial to the band’s versatility.

"It would really depend on where we were on an album,” Cotton told Sound Waves in 2000. "If we needed something up, I was the guy they turned to. But if you’ve got a meaningful lyric, like with ‘Bad Weather,’ it needs to take place in a medium to slow things down."

Cotton left the band in 1987 but rejoined in the early ‘90s, staying in the lineup until 2010. The guitarist also released five solo albums, from 1990’s Changing Horses through 2014’s 100% Paul Cotton.

His death follows less than four months after the April passing of Poco’s Rusty Young at age 75.

In Memoriam: 2021 Deaths

Remembering the musicians, actors, producers and others who have died in 2021.