Wallace Coleman

05.05.2013

Biography

In the 1940s, Wallace Coleman’s mother, Ella Mae, saved her money to surprise her young son with his very own radio.  This gift opened a new world to young Wallace.  As a youth in eastern Tennessee where country & western music still prevails, Wallace Coleman was instead captivated by the sounds he heard from his radio late at night.  The Blues arrived nightly on Nashville’s WLAC radio waves and they were sounds he’d never heard before.  They would be with him from that moment on.  These sounds haunted him by day where, he says, “I would be sittin’ in class and hear the Howlin’ Wolf singin’ just as clear in my head…”

It was on WLAC that Coleman first heard those who would become Blues Legends and who would also become his greatest musical influences:  Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters.  Creating and laying down the guitar foundation on many of those recordings was first-call Chess session guitarist Robert Jr. Lockwood – a man who, some 25 years later, would play a pivotal role in Coleman’s future.

Coleman left Tennessee in 1956 to find work in Cleveland, Ohio.  He found steady work and, to his delight, an active Blues community where Jimmy Reed, Sonny Boy Williamson, Muddy Waters, Elmore James, B.B. King and other greats  came to perform. Coleman went to see as many of the 1950-60s touring artists as possible.  In the 1960s Lockwood and Sonny Boy Williamson II, who had been performing together in the south, made their way to Cleveland via Chicago, taking up residence and performing.  While Coleman would not meet Lockwood until much later, Coleman often went to see Williamson perform at local venues.  The two became friendly, discovering they lived only several blocks apart.  Williamson would soon depart for Europe while Lockwood made Cleveland his permanent home.

A self-taught musician, Coleman played the harmonica on his breaks at work.  One day a co-worker brought his cousin to the jobsite to hear Coleman play.  That meeting sparked a year-long pairing with Cleveland’s Guitar Slim at the Cascade Lounge.  Discovering a real Blues juke joint nestled in his city of Cleveland where he could play his good old blues was more than Coleman thought he could ask for.  But his next step was just around the corner.

The Cascade Lounge is where Coleman caught the ear of Robert Jr. Lockwood, who had heard about him and had come to hear him play.   Lockwood liked what he heard and asked Coleman to join his band.  Coleman had a while longer to work in order to retire from his full-time job but promised to call Lockwood then.  One year later Wallace Coleman did retire, marking the end of his 31 year career at Cleveland’s Hough Bakeries.  Then he made the call to Lockwood as promised.

And at the age of 51, Wallace Coleman joined Robert Jr. Lockwood’s band…marking the beginning of his professional music career.

Soon he was traveling throughout the United States, Canada, and overseas playing major Blues festivals and clubs with one of this American art form’s most creative architects.   Little did he know that his next step would be to take the stage and be recognized for his own artistry and contributions. Coleman established his own record label, now named Ella Mae music, in honor of his late mother.

With his Ella Mae Music Label, Coleman has produced four critically acclaimed CDs:   “Stretch My Money,” “Live at Joe’s,” “The Bad Weather Blues,” and the newest “Blues in the Wind” Remembering Robert  Jr. Lockwood.  Visit Wallace Coleman on Facebook and at his website wallacecoleman.com.

Testimonials

Lockwood said that he would never hire a harmonica player.  Then he heard Wallace Coleman play.   “

…close your eyes and one minute you could be listening to Little Walter’s fat resonant tones…add to this, confident and relaxed vocals and you have an old school bluesman of considerable stature.”
Fred Rothwell, noted UK author & reviewer

“His phrasing, tone, and control over his instrument are otherworldly.”
Blues Revue

“Wallace Coleman should be ranked among the very best of today’s blues harp players.”  Living Blues

“One of postwar Chicago blues’ most indomitable torchbearers.”
Blues Revue

“…Sting’s song, Fields of Gold, done as a haunting instrumental…the clear ringing tones of a melody harmonica carries the song on lilting wings.  This moving tune is worth the price alone.”
Big City Rhythm & Blues

“His brawny, horn-like crisp enunciation, especially on chromatic, masterfully evoke Jacob’s jump-blues influenced stylings, and he throws in sweet toned warbles, triplet turnarounds, and squalling long phrases that recall Horton’s personalized tonal and melodic genius.”
Living Blues

“Wallace Coleman is, as the Budweiser ads used to say about other Blues men, the genuine article.”
Blues in Britain

“It is not hard to understand why Robert (Lockwood) felt Wallace was different from other harp blowers and kept him in his band for 10 years.”
Britain’s Blues Matters

Albums

Blues in the Wind ~ Remembering Robert Jr. Lockwood (Ella Mae Music)

The Bad Weather Blues (Ella Mae Music)

Live at Joe's (Ella Mae Music)

Stretch My Money (Ella Mae Music)

Recordings with Robert Jr. Lockwood:

What's The Score

Swings In Tokyo; Live at the Park Tower Blues Festival

I Got To Find Me A Woman (Grammy nominated)

Repossession Blues with UK Artist Dave Thomas