Deborah Coleman is, as USA Today notes, "one of blues music's most exciting young talents." Along with a discography that now spans a decade, she also gives knockout live performances that have made her one of the hottest commodities on the contemporary blues scene.
Meticulous and focused in the studio and highly charismatic onstage, Coleman has developed a guitar style that reflects the influences of Jimi Hendrix, Buddy Guy, Freddie King, Albert Collins and Larry Carlton. Her vocal inspirations are as often found in the singing of Chrissie Hynde and Patti Smith as in the recordings of Bessie Smith, Janis Joplin, Memphis Minnie and Alberta Hunter.
Coleman was born in 1956 in Portsmouth, Va., and raised in a music-loving military family that lived in San Diego, San Francisco, Bremerton, Washington, and the Chicago area. With her father playing piano and her two brothers on guitar, and a sister who plays guitar and keyboards, Deborah felt natural with an instrument in her hands, picking up a guitar at age eight.
At 15, she joined a series of rock and R&B bands—first as a bass player, but later switching to lead guitar after hearing Jimi Hendrix. Like most musicians of her generation, radio was an important early influence. "Back then, the formats of the radio stations were more diverse," she says. "I remember hearing Joe Cocker, James Brown, Ray Charles and the Beatles on the same station."
As her interest in guitar-driven music grew, she plugged into rock groups such as the Yardbirds, Cream and Led Zeppelin, and followed the roots of their music back to its origin in the blues. "Jeff Beck was one of my favorites," she recalls. "I didn't find out until later that they were doing blues tunes and I went to find the original artists." A pivotal event for Coleman was a concert she saw when she was 21 that featured Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker all on the same bill. "I will never forget that show," she says. "It started me on a path to my roots."
Coleman married at 25 and put her musical career on hold to raise her daughter, developing a career as an electrician along the way. "I raised a family, held a nine-to-five job, then I finally decided to play music fulltime," she recalls. Coleman got the big break she was looking for in 1993 at a talent search sponsored by the Charleston Blues Festival. Her band consisted of her brother and his friend, both of whom only played heavy metal. "We rehearsed for a week, and I taught them tunes. It was the beginning of my professional career," she said. She knocked out the crowd and the judges with a performance full of fire, took first place in the competition and hasn't looked back since.
She immediately put together her own group and began her solo career as a bandleader and featured performer. The prize from the blues festival competition was free studio time which she used to record a demo and secure a record deal with New Moon Records, based in Chapel Hill, N.C. Her first album, Takin' a Stand, was released on the New Moon label in 1994.
After a string of albums on Blind Pig, Coleman joins the Telarc label with the release of What About Love? in May 2004. Recorded in November 2003 at The Centre for Performing Arts in Unity, Maine, the album explores the ups and downs of matters of the heart—in a way that only a highly accomplished blues singer and songwriter like Coleman can do it.
"I've come to the conclusion that, at least for me, I have a real need to keep it real and keep it live and spontaneous," says Coleman. "That's what matters to me and I think that's what matters most to my audience."