Interview of this young guitarist, singer and songwriter by Mike Stephenson took place at the artist’s home in McComb, Mississippi, October 2013.Many thanks go to Peggy Brown for all of her help.
My name is Castro Mantale Coleman and I was born in Magnolia, Mississippi which is four miles south of McComb, Mississippi where I live now. I was born August 25th 1976 and born to the parents of John L and the late Vera Coleman. Both my mum and dad were musicians and singers and songwriters, so I come from a musical background. My parents had a gospel group back in the seventies and early eighties called The Starlights and they travelled from state to state and they covered the southern regions of the US. So music was always around us, me and my brothers. My parents did one recording back in 1979 and the album was called ‘The Light Of The World’ on an independent label.
My dad didn’t want none of his kids to be musicians. He wanted us to go to school and be lawyers and anything other than being musicians, and he said you could never make a living and raise a family and being a full time musician. And me being a little bad kid I guess, for me I always had the edge of, whenever somebody would say it can’t be done, I want to show that it can be done. So I took a great interest in music and I knew I could play from as far as I can remember. At the age of six was when I first came to my parents that I knew I could play. Back then my father was the band manager so all of the equipment used to stay at our house and when he would go to work or go to sleep, my brothers would sneak out and play around on the guitars and stuff, so my parents didn’t believe that we could play.
My mother’s oldest sister, which is Grace King, we went to her house and she had a group named The Mellownettes, and before rehearsals I played her husband’s guitar and she was shocked that I could play and I was so small then, and I had been trying to tell my mum and dad that I could play and they weren’t listening, so she immediately put me in the car and drove me back home and sat my mum and dad down and told them to listen to me play. So that’s where it started for me at six years old. After that my dad started me playing in the church, at the family church, and we had what they call revivals at weekly service and at times of the year we have revivals five nights a week and he started taking me around to different revivals to really gain the love of music.
At he age of eight my aunt Grace allowed me to join her group, so I started playing guitar for her at weekends, travelling all over Mississippi, Louisiana, some in Alabama and Tennessee and I did that for sixteen years following my auntie and her group Grace King And The Mellownettes. Watching her as a leader she was teaching me how to become a great leader. I was a humble follower, very obedient and very disciplined and very open to suggestions, so I watched her and I give a lot of credit to what I’m doing today to my auntie because for a women of her calibre and her busy schedule as for singing and performing and for her to take her time with her nephew to groom me for what I am today, I am so honoured and I can never say thanks enough to her. Back then that group didn’t do any recordings but in the later years in 2003 she recorded a project. The cream of the story is, she started me and because she had kids and other responsibilities she wasn’t really interested in recording back then, but after her kids got grown and got older and she was more free to travel and do more things, in the later years she came back and did recordings and I helped start her in the recording business. So she gave me my chance to play for her and grow myself and to learn all the things I need to learn, and in return in later years I produced all of her records and wrote songs for her and did marketing for her and she signed for my label which is Baby Boy Records.
After playing for my auntie for about seventeen years I wanted to branch out a little more, so I started my own gospel group so that took me out of the position of follower to a leader. I put together a successful band in 1996 called The True Believers and we actually landed a major record deal with Blackberry Records in 1997, one year after we had started; which was kinda unheard of in the rural Mississippi area for a group to start one year and land a record deal the next year. The CEO of Blackberry Records was Doug Williams and his wife was my third grade teacher. When I was in third grade back in the day Doug came for a career day and he was one of the lead singers with The Sensational Williams Brothers. He asked me what I wanted to do when I grow up and I told him that I was going to be his guitar player and band director and all of the kids in the class laughed at me. Doug told me that if I stay focussed maybe that may happen.
Well in 2005 I became the Williams Brothers’ band director with Mr. Doug Williams. When I started my group we had a successful run in the music industry and the downfall for the group was I was the only one conditioned and ready for what was to come. For the other guys in the group, I think it all happened a little too fast. The group did traditional gospel with a modern twist. It has been said that we changed the face of traditional gospel. We had a modern day look. We didn’t dress traditional, we dressed more urban, wearing tennis shoes, jeans, jerseys and T shirts, baseball caps, we brought all of that to the church and they accepted it. So that stood very tall for us. The downfall of the group was that everything started happening real fast and I don’t think most of the guys were prepared to travel and be on the road Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, come home Monday and start again. So in the later years the group kinda fell apart. We had the group from 1996 through to 2004 and we put out two albums on Blackberry Records, ‘Steppin’ Out On Faith’ and the second was ‘Live At Home With Family And Friends’ and they both did real well. There were seven of us in the group and that is band members and vocalists. The oldest guy in the group at that time was thirty seven, so we were a young group and the youngest was my brother in law and my first cousin, and they were fourteen and fifteen. We were full of energy and we did all original material and I wrote pretty much all of the numbers, some were co written. So that really started me in the gospel industry as a songwriter.
My songs were well recognised and played on the radio and TV and it was amazing to people in this area that a new and young group just popped out of nowhere. But it didn’t just happen, my auntie groomed me and planted the formula in my head so when I started my own thing I followed the formula and it works right up to today. I produced the CDs as well. I have always had an interest in recording, so therefore before I built my own studio I always had a little studio equipment. I would write songs and record them and play it back and modify it and I was self taught in the studio and I’ve always been graced to be in the presence of other producers and other songwriters. Even if I wasn’t producing, they would invite me to their studio. I was the pizza boy for some studios; I would go get the lunch, go get the water, go to the mail box, get a new guitar string, just to be around those guys to see what they was doing. This was in Jackson, Mississippi at the studios the Williams Brothers own, so I have been around them a long time watching them. So when my time came to present my music to the industry they were blown away and they were wondering where I had been and I told them I had been right here sitting on their sofa watching and listening.
So when the group fell apart me being an artist on Blackberry Records and at that time the Williams Brothers needed a guitar player and I was in the camp and kinda family connected in the industry with those guys, so they gave me a shot. They didn’t ask me first they tried out a lot of guitar players. They even went back and tried out some of their original guitar players and no one could do the job. One of the band members, which was Stan Jones, said the guy they were looking for was in their face. He knows our stuff, he has an ear for it, he can write and read it and we are overlooking him, so the older brother Melvin asked him who he was talking about and Stan said it was me. Stan called me and asked me what I was doing on Saturday as the Williams Brothers were going to North Carolina and can I go and I said “sure”. So after my first show with the Williams Brothers and having no rehearsal I’ve been with them ever since. I was with them for two years after that as a band member.
The Williams Brothers have been four times Grammy nominated, fifteen times Stellar Award winners and to be a member of that band and that camp spoke in volumes throughout the United States. For me at that time just to be in that band I was living a dream and those guys embraced me and they taught me a lot about the ins and outs of the business. I’ve been on every Williams Brothers recordings since 2005 and that is quite a few and they are all on Blackberry Records, which is owned by them. I have since become Blackberry Records session guitar player and that was another dream of mine to become a studio musician. I became the session guitar player in 2005, so that was a great year for me. So I have recorded with the Texas Boys, Bishop Neal Roberson, Stan Jones, Tim Rogers And The Fellas, Rance Allen, Yolanda Adams, Brian Courtney Wilson and his album, all kind of chart records and his album stayed at number one on the Billboard charts for ninety six weeks, and the list goes on. About sixty five national gospel groups I have played on sessions with, and I’ve written material for just about all of them and being a session guitar player allows me to submit songs to just about every artist that comes into the studio. I’ve produced a lot of albums for Blackberry Records as well and I’m still doing session work and working with the Williams Brothers. Music is my full time job for ever. I did work a physical job in 1997 to 1998, and it was at that time I had my own group and we had the record out that went crazy, so I couldn’t work a job.
To introduce my own record label I watched the Williams Brothers, and I thought how smart it would be to be an artist and to have your own record label, so when I get too old to travel I can have something set up where I can send other young groups. So that’s what the Williams Brothers did and I’m watching, so that’s what I have done now with my Baby Boy Records. I named it Baby Boy Records as I’m the baby boy of my family and that’s what most of the musicians on the gospel side call me is Baby Boy so that was my slogan and nickname out there. I have two albums on the label, a group out of New Orleans, The Harvey Spirituals, and I just signed a new gospel group from the delta, Pastor Marcus Newson and The Newson Singers. And my aunt, Grace King, has two albums on the label and I am in the process of recording my oldest daughter. She is sixteen years old and she is fabulous and her name is Dersuhnda Coleman and she is a singer, writer, producer, musician and she lives in the studio with me. Baby Boy Records has a website as well.
As for the blues, my thinking was twenty five years of gospel music has been great for me. I have travelled all over the United States, several countries overseas, and I have done all of the things I have wanted to do in gospel and made a living out of it. I have a wife and four kids and we are all doing fine from gospel music, something my daddy said you couldn’t do. I felt like I wanted to try something else and I didn’t want to become stagnated. I’m still doing my gospel stuff, writing and producing, but I wanted to do something different so I took a few months to research music. I knew I wanted to do other music but I wasn’t sure what style of music and this was about a year ago. I didn’t want to do Hip Hop because the competition was too steep and, being from a rural part of Mississippi, it would be harder to break into that market. I didn’t want to do r&b or funk, although I love that music. I needed something that had longevity and when I stared researching the blues it of course has been around a long time and the blues is everyday living and real talk, and it’s the stories behind it that are awesome. Reality sits with the blues, so therefore I thought this is what I should be doing and my location being in Mississippi is just a great place to be to be a blues man.
So I started researching some of the guys in Mississippi and therefore taking all the things I’ve learnt in gospel, like how to market a record, how to record an album, write and choose material and I thought that if I applied that to blues, maybe something could happen. So that’s what I did and I’ve had a busy time since. After I did the research I followed the same patterns that I followed in gospel and I always relate back to what I did in gospel. I believe that if something works here, you go to a different area but keep the same methods. So what I wanted to do was approach the traditional blues with a new style and it seems to have been received very well. I want to keep the traditional feel but add a little modern funk, a little modern twist, but not to change it too much, because the blues is what it is, but put a little me in it. So for the dress code, the marketing, the lensless glasses with the tape, it’s just branding for me.
My influences in the blues world are B. B. King and I’ve had a love of his style of playing since I was eight. Even in my gospel stuff and you hear some of my guitar licks they are very blues influenced and the more I think about the gospel church, the blues and gospel are so heavily related. Albert Collins, Freddie King, Stevie Ray Vaughan, John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, the arrangements of Willie Dixon, they all played a major part for me. As for my core playing, B. B. King is so simple yet so tasteful in his playing and it speaks in volumes to me. His placement is just right. A lot of cats can play a lot of notes and do a lot of stuff but if the placement is not right. This is something I was taught when it comes to producing, you can put one note in the right place and it will be better than ten notes.
I have a CD, it is called ‘It’s My Guitar’ and that is one of the songs on the album. The CD is all my work, written, recorded, instruments played, mixed, mastered all by me. It’s on my Baby Boy Records and I’m the first secular artist on my label. With the label I do believe in treating fair and being the first on the label because I wanted to work out all the bugs on myself before I started bringing other artists to the label. I have a plan to bring other blues artist to the label in the future and I plan on doing the blues for the rest of my days. I call myself Mr. Sipp and that is short for Mississippi and because I’m so young in it, I’m The Mississippi Blues Child.
The CD has sold very well and a whole lot better than I thought it would because when I recorded the album I didn’t know anybody, didn’t know any radio personnel but by way of the internet and researching I tapped into some information and the album is really moving along. It’s available on I Tunes, CD Baby and it’s been moving real well. I re order the CD about every week at 300 copies at a time and basically every weekend that I perform I sell out of the CD that weekend. At this point a rough number for sales of the CD is 9000 copies.
I did well at the Chicago Blues Festival, The Fourth Of July Festival in Vicksburg, I play at the Ameristar Casino in Vicksburg every first weekend of the month. I’m still primarily playing down south in the US. I’ve played some dates in Alabama, Louisiana, Tennessee and that’s just this year, 2013. I have two bands that I take out, one is a four piece and if there is something that requires a bigger sound then I have two horn players.
In 2012 I won the regional in Vicksburg for the International Blues Challenge and I advanced to Memphis to compete and at that time I was two months old in the blues world and we finished fourth out of 261 bands, so that was a powerful motivation for me to have just started. We are competing in the 2014 International Blues Challenge as well and we are now more confident and the show has been groomed and we know more about the ins and the outs of the blues. [Mr. Sipp went on to win the band category in the 2014 IBC in Memphis in January 2014]. It’s all happening quickly for me and the band. We should embrace the blues and it is left up to the younger generation to keep it alive, and I see the Dexter Allens, the Stevie J’s, Jarekus Singleton as taking our heritage alive and hoping we stay true to the music, keeping the true roots and elements of it, so the blues won’t lose its true flavour.
I play other instruments. I play the keyboards, drums, bass and on my album every instrument you hear is me playing it. I blow the harmonica, but not enough to perform right now. I’m getting into the trumpet and I’m trying to learn the sax. I’ve been playing a lot of those instruments for many years. For me mixing my gospel music and history and blues has not been a problem for me. Because of the type of career I had in gospel I was always against the grain of what it was supposed to be anyway. So my gospel audience gained a respect for who I am and what I bring to the table rather than being placed in a box. They respected me as an artist and when I started my gospel group I said to the guys that I wanted to be respected as an artist and not as a gospel singer, so I would be respected as an artist and what I am bringing to the gospel industry. So when I made the announcement that I was going to switch over to the blues, in the back of my mind I thought that maybe the church may have something to say about it but they embraced me. Forty per cent of my audience at some of my local shows are my church fans and we all have a great time. Gospel and blues are similar with same chord structures and both tell stories of your life.
I’m also a singer, although I was forced to be a singer. I never wanted to be a singer, but when I started my gospel group I had my cousins in the group who are awesome singers. I brought them into the group to sing. I wanted to be this band director and moving guitar player that’s calling the shots in the back. Those guys could sing but they didn’t want to sing the material. So on our last album with Blackberry, which was ‘Live At Home With Family And Friends’ we came off the road for seven months to get ready for the live album. My lead singer never came to rehearsals, so I’m singing the songs to the band so they can learn the material, and at this point I got the band singing background. So Melvin and Doug Williams said I should sing my own songs and that nobody can deliver them like I do. I told them I’m not a singer I’m a guitar player, and they insisted that I should sing my songs. So on the live CD and DVD with the True Believers I sung nine of the twelve songs as a lead singer and the audience loved it. So that put me in front of the mic. In gospel most of the lead singers have either been guitar players or bass players so that is pretty much how it happens anyway. I was forced to sing and I’ve been singing ever since. I don’t consider myself as being a great singer but people enjoy it. I know guys who can sing a ring around me.
I have been approached by a major blues label, but I have been in and out of situations and contracts since 1998 and I don’t think I can do it again. I’ve learnt the ins and outs and what it is about and it is business, and I respect business therefore I’m a businessman so therefore I’m going to get on in the business. I am hoping to make my label established and the only way I can do that is stop going somewhere and build my own house. We are going to start working on a new album, maybe early 2014, and it will take about four months to complete the album. It will probably have about twelve tracks but during the course of recording the album, I may record twenty five to thirty songs and then we have different listening parties so I let some industry minded people pick the songs on my album. I also try some songs out on the stage as well to gain audience reaction.