”The Blues is what I am”
I fjol kom det in några promo plattor till Radio Vestland från Amigo. En av dessa var ”I can’t lose” av Deborah Coleman på Blind Pig. Jag blev genast fångad av hennes image och gillade också hennes musik. Till min stora glädje blev hon också extrabokad till Notodden Blues Festival, 98, så chansen att få en intervju var lovande. Efter lite straggel och strul i det nya, stora festivaltältet, fick jag till slut en invitation på Bolkesjø Hotell.
Senare fick jag en telefonintervju där hon berättar om den nya cd:n Where Blue Begins.
Some people have been waiting many years for the female answer to profiles like Buddy Guy. And here you are, Deborah Coleman!
– Yes, that’s what they say. But I’ve got the style of music that I play and the way I play it would lead one to kind of believe that. And so, I’m happy about that.
You started very young on guitar. Please tell me about it..
– Yeah, I started when I was about 8 years old. My father actually used to sit on the porch and play and just one day I kind of asked him; could I play, you know. Because back in those days a lot of women didn’t play guitar. Maybe they played folk, but it was very rare for an Afro-American female to play the guitar. So, I just asked him one day; could I play it and he handed it right to me. And I’ve been playing it ever since.
My daddy actually majored in music in college. He was a piano player. I guess one of his dreams was to eventually play music. But instead his faith took him towards serving in the military. So, he never get to fulfill his dream as a musician. But he can still play. As a matter of fact, in his house he has a baby grand piano. He’s sitting there right now and plays it up, you know, all the time.
And I’ve got a brother who plays the bass. He sort of plays in a rock band, back there in the States. And then I have a sister who’s involved with a folk type of music. Everybody play something.
The guitar player.
You started on electric guitar, right? Do you remember your first guitar?
– Yes I do. As a matter of fact, it was a Tiesco guitar. Right now I believe those guitars are collectors items, so I wish I had that, still to this day. But somehow, you know, back then we didn’t appreciate instruments like we should. So it kind of got lost. That was my first guitar, I got it for my birthday. It took me about a year to get it. I bothered my mom for a year and finally I got it.
Yes, my first one was an electric guitar. I knew I wanted to play an electric guitar from watching The Monkees on TV! Ha ha ha!
Now, you’re playing the Telecaster like Albert Collins, who might have inspired you a lot. Did you try other guitars?
– Yeah, I’m playing the Telecaster, now with a few little mods that I put on. You know, doing my own thing to it. And it kind of achieve the sound that I want out of it. I’m getting a lot of good compliments from it.
And I also have a Fender Strat but I don’t take it out on the road much anymore, but I have used it before. Let’s see, I had a Gretsch at one time. Yeah, and I played a lot of the other more rock guitars you see in the magazines.
But, nothing quite did it for me like the Telecaster. The Gibson Les Paul is another good guitar, it’s just too heavy for me. Ha ha ha. But the Gibson is a sweet sounding guitar.
Yes, I love Albert Collins, you know, I love what he used to do. He has such a dynamic style. They didn’t call him the Iceman for nothing. The guy’s wonderful.
Let’s talk about amplifiers, pedals and effects. Do you practice the Wah-Wah?
– Okay, currently I’m using a Roland Jazz Chorus. Another one of my favorites has always been the Fender Twin Reverb. I like that. The Super is another good one. And there’s a new amp out, that Buddy Guy is using. It’s called the Victoria. Actually, I used that particular amp in my new recording. That’s a nice sounding amp. But my amp choices are very few. The Fenders and the Rolands are about as far as I’m gonna venture. I’ve pretty much tried everything else, as I was coming up.
I try not to use many effects. In the recording studio, I don’t use any pedals at all. But live, if I try to achieve some of the same sound, I will use the Boss Blues Driver. It’s a nice little addition. And then also a Boss Digital Delay. But just a tab little delay on it, not much. I almost had the reverb yet, that will cause the delay effect.
But you know what I’m thinking about bringing the Wah-Wah out. Just in a couple of songs, as a matter of fact, on the I can’t lose album, there’s a particular tune up there, Feeling alright, that has a Wah-Wah in the rhythm track that we used. It has its place.
I know that you’re influenced by Jimi Hendrix. But you don’t use the feed-back like he used to do. Maybe it’s something that’s coming later?
– You never know, ha ha. It could be. You know, if I write a song where I feel that it might be appropriate to use the feed-back like that, I will certainly put it in there. As a matter of fact, sometimes live, when I do shows. If I get, what we call, ”in the zone”, and start just doing my solo things, I had used feed-back. I put the guitar in front of the speakers, ha, ha, ha! I get that feed-back, it’s pretty cool, the people like it.
What about your breakthrough, it came by some competition. Can you tell me about it?
– Oh, let’s see, when I first got into the blues, or wanted to start playing the blues again, it was in 1993. I was already in a rock band back home. And besides that I wanted to try the recording way. So what I did was, I kind of quit that band and I went out and started watching all the blues acts I could possibly watch, coming through my town. I got a chance to see people like Johnny Copeland, Koko Taylor, Robert Cray, let’s see, Saffire – The Uppity Blues Women, Kenny Neal, Johnny Winter, you know, a lot of people, everybody. And after about a year of watching and studying them, I was reading Living Blues magazine. They were having a competition down in South Carolina. So I entered the competition, I went down there and I had to go up against 23 acts. But I ended up with winning the competition. And that led me to a small recording contract, which I did one album, (Takin’ a stand), with them on New Moon. That led me to a major blues label the next year, which was with Blind Pig. That was kind of like the story, you know. That’s how I got to where I am right now. I recorded I can’t lose with Blind Pig in February of 1997 and now I have the new album Where Blue Begins, that came out September 15, 1998.
Where Blue Begins
Are you satisfied with this CD, Deborah? Did you notice any positive reviews yet? You cut it with James Solberg.
– Yes I have. We’ve been getting some good ones, at least over here in the States. The ones I’ve seen are great reviews on the CD. It’s doing well on the radio charts, so I’m really happy right now about it.
I thought that it would be a nice surprise for some of the old Luther Allison’s fans, and of course, I have always loved Luther. I had the opportunity to do a lot festivals with him, so I got the chance to meet him and everything. And I always liked his band. I had the pleasure of working with a couple of Luther Allison’s band members in the studio on this, The James Solberg Band. I think we did a wonderful job in there and getting together and putting the music down for people who’s listening to it. So I’m very happy about it.
How come it was actually the James Solberg Band to do the session with you? Otherwise, you’re maybe booked for a recording session, with any other session player.
– Right, I couldn’t ask for a better group of guys to play with on this recording. What happened was that James was on the road, coming right through Chicago where we were cutting the recording. So we had an idea, let’s get the Solberg band in here to cut this album. I have been watching him. I always liked the James Solberg Band. Of course, I saw him all the time with Luther Allison. One night I was in Chicago and went into Buddy Guy’s Legends. James was playing in there that night. So, I sat in with him, he invited me on stage to play with him. One thing led to another and the next thing I knew my record company was calling me, saying; Hey! Would you like to do something with the Solberg Band. James is really interested and he’s really exited to do something with you. And of course, that was a golden opportunity, so I jumped all on it. I had fun with those guys in the studio.
It all happened very spontaneously. We both arranged the material. I wrote seven of the tunes and James came up with one song. I think we got something good hearing and we were pleased with the outcome. The rest is history, if you will. He went back on his merry way out on the road. And he has a great album out now. I wish him all the luck with the album L.A. Blues (RUF 51416 1417 2).
You got seven of your own songs on the album. Most of them are about love! As a song writer, looking at the cover pictures, we don’t expect the tough lyrics that you’re expressing.
– Oh, oh, ha, ha ha! Well, that’s probably because I had a tough life. I pretty much write from my experience.
Sometimes I tried to put a positive twist on it, or humorous twist on some of the stuff. Feeling alright is kind of one of those.
Yeah, I wrote seven of the tunes on the album. I tried to do most of the writing myself. When I do select covers, I try to find songs that are really obscure, that haven’t been done a thousand times over, you know. And every cover that I do, I have already lived what they have written about. So I know what they are saying. Yes, I do songs like that, but they are basically from experience. So I think we came up with a decent selection for the songs, this time.
When it comes to the love songs, I guess I’m starving for love, so I write about it, ha ha ha!
There’s a track I like especially, Hain’t it funny. And do you want to mention some other songs you like?
– Oh, if I wrote them and put them up, it’s because I like them all. I almost hate getting asked that question.
But, Hain’t it funny, that’s one of my favorites to. That’s a song written by Jane Siberry, who’s from Canada. She’s well respected in the music business as a song writer. She had written this song for K.D. Lang, actually. And I heard the song on a K.D. Lang recording and just fell in love with it. And I thought I could do something bluesy of it and make it Deborah Coleman, you know. I rearranged it, it had to sooth me, so I tried and it worked. It’s one of my favorites on the album.
Then we have Travelin’ South by Gwendalyn Collins, who’s currently living in Las Vegas. Gwendalyn was the wife of Albert Collins. She wrote a few of Albert’s songs. This was one that she had written, that I like. The fact that I love Albert Collins, I kind of pay homage to him by recording a song of his on my first album that I heard him do. And I decided to do another one on this album.
This was recorded at Hot Ham & Cheese studio. Is that a new studio? I’ve heard about ”Streeterville” before, where a lot of people are used to hang around. Was this your first experience in Chicago?
– No, I’ve been there before, when I recorded my first album for Blind Pig, which was I can’t lose. We did it at a different studio there, the Tone Zone. But this was my first time at Hot Ham & Cheese studio, you know. We recorded the tracks and we did the final mixes there and everything. It was great, it turned out wonderful.
Normally, I don’t have a lot of people in the studio. You have all the session players, you have the engineer and then the record company, to check. That’s usually about it. We try to keep it pretty closed.
Oh, Streeterville is another that I’m interested in. I haven’t been there yet, but I’ve heard a lot about it and I’m anxious to check that one out. And see if I may be doing something there. We got a couple of options for the next album that I’ll do. We’re looking at Memphis, Tennessee also, as another spot. We’ll see, as time goes along.
Do you keep a personal record collection to pick ideas from? Another cover is They raided the joint. It’s arranged like you’re playing saxophone licks on the guitar. It’s an old Louis Jordan track, how old is it?
– Oh, my goodness, I don’t know. But that was another one that I heard and that I loved. I decided to try that thing. You know, we got a big swing moving in the States. Of course I didn’t know that when I recorded it, but after hearing it on the radio, as I was riding down the road, I said wow! It’s a good thing. I guess I’ll put this one up here to. Yeah, people seem to like that one also.
Oh, normally what I do is, when it’s time for me to start a recording, I might go to the library, or I start borrowing all my friends’ records, ha, ha. Let me listen to that if there’s anything up there that I need. I go on this method song search, when I go to find songs.
I love horns. I love saxophone and I do do that sometimes. Yeah, you’re absolutely right. I like to play guitar licks but I also like to incorporate horn licks on guitar, if I can. Or any instrument that sounds good to me, you know. Interesting that you picked up on that, yeah, that’s alright because I do do that.
Next tune I wanna ask you about is the last tune, Nobody to blame. It’s written by Mr. James Solberg, right.
– Yes, actually I was gonna do that song even before I knew it was actually gonna be on the recording. What happened was, he had sent a demo-tape of songs to the record company. They sent it to me to see if I wanted to do any of the songs. So I had picked ”Nobody to blame” already. It was just an added treat to have him in the studio, to actually performing it with me. I couldn’t have asked for better.
And there’s another Scandinavian ancestor on the bass, John Lundberg. I can’t say enough about him, he’s a solid bass player. He knows his instrument very well and I enjoyed playing with him in the studio.
So you trust them Scandinavians?
– Of course! Ha, ha, ha, at least for playing the bass part, ha, ha, ha!
You’re sliding on some other tracks, but you invited Joanna Connor here, to do the slide on that tune in particular. The outro on that song is a slide lick, but there’s a guitar chord there just before it. Is it yours?
– Yeah, it’s a ear ring, ha, ha, ha! Yeah I did. Everybody knows Jo by now, at least overseas. She has an awesome slide sound, I think she’s one of the best in the business, as far as her technique. And she kind of have that rock feed to her slide playing some times. So I decided to try her out for the part in there. She came into the studio, had a couple of ideas and came up with the one you’re hearing now. And it’s a great part for the song.
Are there some other track of your own, on the album, that you want to mention especially?
– Let’s see, let me think now. I like Do you want my love, I like Goodbye misery. Oh, The Dream is my favorite.
You’re a bandleader to. What does that mean to you? A whole lot of responsibility, maybe?
– A lot of work. It’s a whole lot of work. You know, being a bandleader and also a songwriter, a player and a singer. That’s a lot of work for me to do on my own. But, that’s part of the business, part of what I wanna do. The thing I can hope for is to work with some really good people and I’ve been fortunate at that part, I’ve been lucky in that regard, so I’m happy right now. My guys don’t give me a whole lot of heartache or anything. They don’t give me the Blues.
Yes, my mind is there. I probably have at least four different things running through my mind, while I’m performing on stage. In addition to singing and playing, I got make sure that things are sounding right, everything’s looking right. Yeah, everything! You wouldn’t know what I’m actually thinking about all that stuff and making sure the people are happy. All of that run through my mind at the same time, so it can be something.
Do you work with a steady band?
– Yes, I have a steady band. They’re called ”The Thrill Seekers”. I have B.A.T. Richardson on the bass guitar, Warren Weatherspoon on the drums and Billy Crawford on second guitar. So, I just work with four pieces out on the road. I’m thinking about incorporating that famous Hammond B3 sound, though, into the unit. But it’ll be in the future.
Another thing, watching your show. You’ve got some choreography there. Is it something you practice, or does it comes naturally?
– Basically, it kind of comes naturally. We play night after night. After a while, you start to connect with your band members, we kind of watch each others. As we see something that we like, that one or the other person is doing, or I’m doing, they’ll do it with me. That’s how we kind of get that choreography in there. Now, we do have some stuff that we’re gonna do. We’ll get ready to do rehearsals and come up with more choreographed shows, because it seems to be working out for us. I like that and I think the people like that to. It adds a visual touch to the show.
A new Afro-American Blues expression.
– You’re playing the Blues, right. But I felt that you’ve got a new Afro-American expression of the Blues.
– Yeah, you know what, I think so to. I worked real hard trying to have my own style and bring something to the blues, that we can get our Afro-American people back into it. You know, have something that they’ll like. So far, I’ve noticed that the crowd is starting to be more mixed at the shows. So, the Afro-American people are really liking what I’m doing. That’s what we need, because we got so many young people into rap and stuff like that. And I wish they were listening to more blues music. I’m trying to do something to draw their attention to what I’m doing and it seems to be working. Only time will tell.
You do a lot of touring, you’re booked a lot, aren’t you?
– Yes, I’m playing all over the U.S. And just started to venture out overseas. I’ve already been to Belgium, Italy and there’s plans to go to Paris and hopefully back over to…to…Norway! Ha, ha, ha! Yes, Spain, you know. There’s a lot of places that I haven’t gotten to, that have Blues, so I’m looking forward to an international thing. So, we’ll be seeing you guys real soon. Hopefully we’re gonna get into your area, I’m keeping my fingers crossed.
What’s your impression of the Notodden Blues Festival?
– I loved it! It’s one of the best festivals that I’ve been to. We were treated very well, we had great company. It was pretty well put together and people took care of us. That’s what we like, it was great! It really was. And I was honored to be able to play there.
Now that you’re starting to work world-wide, what does the blues mean to you, in your life?
– You know, it took a while to figure that out. The Blues is what I am! It’s what I always probably should have been doing from the beginning, ha, ha, ha. It’s a part of me. And what I wanna do now is just be able to share it with anybody who wants to listen.
You wrote an instrumental tune named My love belongs to you. It’s a bit different to the other songs you do.
– Yeah, I was kind of inspired by Larry Carlton to write that song. He’s another guitar player that I listened to when I was coming up. I always liked his guitar work, cause it was like smooth and it kind of sings like a bird. I was just sitting down one day, just playing some stuff and it kind of came out! That’s a nice instrumental and I really like it. Actually, in the States radio programs use that to close their shows with. It did its job, I like it.
This is what will happen on Radio Vestland, we’ll close the show with that song.
– Oh, great. Good deal, I’m glad! Go ahead, keep doing it.
Deborah Coleman var nominerad till 1999 års W.C. Blues Award i kategorien Contemporary Blues-Female Artist of the Year, men priset gick till Susan Tedesci.
1994 – Takin’ a stand – New Moon Blues – NMC 9406
1997 – I can’t lose – Blind Pig Records – BPCD 5038
1998 – Where Blue begins – Blind Pig Records – NPCD 5048
Palle Paulsson / Jefferson #121
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