“He told me to stop playing harmonica with my lips … that’s what it is. When I worked for him, I’d have to do the soundchecks and he would be there standing by the soundboard in the middle of the venue and he’d be going, ‘Come, on … dig a little deeper. Come on!’ He would be working me to get that tone that I needed,” he said. “That’s how I learned to emulate James Cotton’s tone. He forced me … beat it into me, to get that tone. He called me more names – in a good way – to get me where he thought I needed to be. You know, I learned from James and he learned from Sonny Boy (Williamson), so I’m third generation, man.”
Just because he learned to blow like Cotton doesn’t mean that Deak sounds like James Cotton, even though he most definitely could. It’s by choice that Deak sounds like … well, like Deak.
“Cotton and William Clarke – who was another great mentor to me back in the ‘90s, would always say, ‘Deak, I’ll show you anything you want to learn about the blues and the business, but you’ve got to make your own name, your own music.’ That was some of the best advice I ever got,” he said. “I mean, I can sound like Cotton, but I don’t use any of his licks. If you listen to my records, you really don’t hear anybody else’s (licks) but mine. I’m not the fanciest harmonica player and I know that … but I do have my own thing goin’ on. The beauty of the harmonica is, you can take it in so many different directions and everybody can sound like themselves.”