"You know, if it's not me; I don't think people will like it," laughed blues artist Gina Coleman as she emphasized how personally and deeply connected she is to her music and the blues. "There is a level of authenticity that has to come across for it to be legit for people who want to hear it; not all blues music is sad and downtrodden and I don't want people to slip into that notion. It has to be deeply personal in order to relate to the masses and if it's not personal then I don't feel the sense in putting it out there. So, yes, absolutely, everything I put out there has a personal connection whether it be from my own personal experiences or the personal experiences of people who are close to me."
Gina started singing, "On a dare from her co-workers" and has now fronted her band Misty Blues for more than 21 years. Over the course of that time she has shared the stage with Charles Neville, Tab Benoit, John Primer, Albert Cummings and more, Coleman and her band have also been finalists in The International Blues Challenge sponsored by The Blues Foundation and have produced 10 studio albums; the latest of which is called, "None More Blue." "The album is 11 tracks; actually, all of our albums are 11 tracks by design because I'm a crazy "Spinal Tap" fan," she said, laughing once again. "Even this album has a nod to "Spinal Tap;" the name of the album, "None More Blue."
With a pleasant disposition, a gutsy, lower range voice and refreshing talent, Coleman has been gracing stages and making her way across the globe but the journey, like many others, started from humble beginnings.
"I'm originally from the South Bronx, born and raised; a projects gal, not from any great means or any means at all really," she started in a somewhat pensive tone. "I sort of traversed from the South Bronx, I ended up going away to high school on a scholarship. I ended up in Wellesley, MA as a scholarship recipient and from there I ended up going to college in Williamstown, MA to Williams College and that's kind of where my story begins and sort of the origins of how I started performing blues. After graduating from Williams, I decided to stay in the area which is Berkshire County, MA; it's the furthest western county in the state of Massachusetts. I had an opportunity to perform in a Summerstock Theater production for the Williamstown Theater Festival of "A Raisin in the Sun" and Ruben Santiago Hudson was the lead actor and Viola Davis was the lead actress and I was cast as a gospel singer; I would traverse the stage in between acts so that there wasn't any down time. I would sing these gospel tunes and at the end of the run of that production, Ruben Santiago Hudson said, "You know, your voice is so perfectly suited for the blues" and he gave me this CD collection called, "Men Are Like Street Cars" which was all female blues artists from the early twenties to the mid-sixties and it really transformed me. I was playing in a band at that time that was kind of a folk/funk band but we were kind of trailing off; some of the members were moving out of the area and I went to some of the remaining members and said, hey, let's switch things up; let's become a blues band and they said, "Yeah! We love the blues" and off the top of my head I said, let's call it Misty Blues. That's how I started in the blues and we were primarily doing female blues classics and slowly but surely we started incorporating classic male artist tunes and then writing our own music."
Nearly 22 years in any business is a long time and like any business, bands experience growth and change; has this been the case with Misty Blues"
"We've been together since 1999, a long time; we've had change but I still have my original bassist and my original guitarist just retired about a year or two ago. We started out as a three-piece and have now grown to a six-piece and on this last album we brought in a couple of other musicians that kind of fill-in for members when some are not available for shows. I have a back-up bassist, guitarist, keyboard and horn player; I have this bullpen (laughs) of musicians that I've acquired over the years so, I never have to say no to a gig I want. The cool thing with Misty Blues is that I've been able to have musicians who are dedicated to really keeping on top of our material; whenever I call them up; hey, you've studied up on the latest album, absolutely, I'm ready to go."
The blues permeates all genres of music and as Coleman mentioned earlier, it is an emotional form of expression. Now, most would say that all music is emotional; opera comes to mind, the symphony perhaps but blues, much like jazz, are at their best when the compositions are freeform and the performers are allowed to interpret what they feel at any given moment; it's rare that any blues song is played the same twice. Gina relies on that spontaneity to give her recordings and live performances that little something extra but with a pandemic mucking up the works; how did she keep that feel for her recent release?
"None More Blue" was totally written during the pandemic," she explained. "We were really struggling as how to stay creative and involved when we weren't able to really perform out to people like we usually do and the creative juices just kept on going and we found a way to share music and share ideas virtually and then at some point in November we were able to get into the studio and even the studio experience was different because not all of us could be in the studio at the same time. So, a few of us would lay down tracks and then the other half would come back in and lay over that and that was an unusual process for us because generally we really like that live feel, we like to all be in the same room where I can throw solos to folks and they can see my cues and it's really organic that way. I think we actually did a really fine job of still capturing that live feel even though we were not able to be in the same room together. No one emailed anything in, everyone had to physically come into the studio at one point. We just limited the amount of people in the studio and if they were musicians that didn't have to blow a horn or sing then they were masked at all times."
One of Coleman's talents is not as surprising as it is somewhat rare for female artists; come to think of it, there aren't many male artists who claim this talent either, in comparison to the more traditional methods.
"I play the Cigar Box Guitar, there are a few of us," she said proudly. "Quite a few years ago, a dear friend gifted me a cigar box and I immediately started playing it; I tuned it to an open G and wrote my first song within minutes of opening up the packaging. That song turned out to be a huge hit for us and ever since there is no way that I can't put a cigar box tune on my albums. Then I started getting endorsed by cigar box luthiers; I own about eight cigar boxes and I don't think I've purchased many of them. I have a cigar box from Sweden, Kansas City, from California and Destin, Florida and all different places. Some of our most popular songs have cigar box on them; "Hear My Call" is that first tune that I wrote with that first cigar box that I owned and on the last album, "Weed' Em And Reap," "No More To Give" which was the single release from that album was a cigar box tune and from this new album, "Days Gone By" and it's a cool tune because it's probably the most traditional what I call "Porch Blues" song that we've ever recorded. It's very acoustic, a rustic tune; in fact, it was the very last tune written for the album. We were in the studio and about two days later my guitarist Seth Fleischmann reached out to me with an iPhone recording of an acoustic guitar. He said, "I have this tune and I know you are always writing and I know we just left the studio; do you hear anything?" I listened to it and I automatically heard this song; I wrote the lyrics to it and put a cigar box part on it and sent it back to him probably within an hours' time. We talked a little bit about it and I decided to pull the cigar box tune we had already put on the album and said, it'll go on the next album; we're gonna put this one in its place. So, I sent my guitarist, my drummer and my son on bass back to the studio and we did a real stripped-down version and it seems to be resonating with a lot of folks."
Due to the current restrictions which have put a damper on the music industry an everything in general; many bands are using the time to create new music, revisit old and find inventive ways to get their product out to their fan base. Misty Blues is no different and they have two albums out since the pandemic hit. So; what's the plan to promote two?
"I don't know," she said with that now familiar laugh; "I've got two albums that came out during this pandemic. Our last album we released on April 1, so, it's not quite a year old but we had already put it in the can and then everything shut down. So, I said, well, we can't sit on it, we've got to put it out. Then we had nothing else to do so we kept writing and now we have two albums. We are doing our best to try and promote it as widely as we can without having live opportunities but we've tapped into some opportunities to do virtual shows in real venues. Recently we had our CD release concert on February 12 at Universal Preservation Hall in Saratoga Springs, New York and that is a phenomenal venue. The folks were great, great lighting and sound and several camera angles but no audience and that was aired live. There are a few re-broadcast opportunities as well and I think that was exceptionally well received and it gave us as a band the opportunity to be back on a real stage again but other than that we've been faithfully doing, almost weekly, live Facebook livestream shows from my rehearsal space in my attic; not the full band because we can't have that many people in that space and still be safe."
To discover more about Gina Coleman and Misty Blues band, please visit www.mistybluesband.com.
That's it for this week! Please continue to support live and original music and until next week....ROCK ON!