Castro Coleman has had and continues to have a masterful career in the Gospel music realm. His gospel catalogue includes over 125 recording credits on more than 50 national releases and the man continues to perform and produce music in that genre with his quartet, The True Believers. But his versatility and showmanship has blossomed in so many directions over the years even fans are surprised by his accomplishments; and there are many.
He has released five albums in the last decade under his blues pseudonym; Mr. Sipp. His latest, ‘the Soul Side of Sipp’ was recently honored with a Grammy nomination for Best Traditional Blues album. And then there are the just announced Blues Music Award nominations where Coleman has been recognized in not one or two, but four different categories. Those include Album of the Year, Soul Blues Album, and the performance-based Contemporary Blues Male Artist and the highly-coveted B.B. King Entertainer of the Year. It makes sense really considering his earliest blues influences are indeed legends, like the aforementioned B.B. King, John Lee Hooker as well as songwriters and showmen like Willie Dixon and Bobby Rush.
Never one to rest on his laurels, there’s Coleman’s burgeoning acting career. He appeared in the James Brown film, ‘Get on Up’ the television miniseries ‘Sun Records’ where he portrayed a young B.B. King and the feature film ‘Texas Red’ that also highlighted one of Castro’s original songs, ‘Dirty Mississippi Blues.’
The man is more productive than any three people I know and when we had the chance to sit and talk, we started with the music. After so much success and decades of playing gospel music how did Mr. Sipp come to be? “Mr. Sipp came to be after 26 years of playing gospel music, I took two years off in 2010. I came off the road as a gospel singer and stayed at home as a family man, just hanging out with my four girls, my son, my wife and the dog and I eventually realized I was a road rat. And I also became aware that the family missed me more or were happier to see me after I was gone and then came back.” (laughing) “So I decided to go back on the road but wondered what should I do? Should I do R&B, should I do hip-hop, soul…neo-soul? But I decided I’m going to do the blues, I’m from Mississippi and some of the greatest blues artists came from Mississippi. And I also realized once I got to the blues that I had been playing the blues for 26 years before I became a blues guy…because church music and blues music are first cousins.”
And you still live in McComb, Mississippi. “Yeah, I still live in McComb, I’m not looking forward to dying anytime soon, but I want to die in McComb.”
You spoke of great artists from Mississippi, a number of them came from right there in McComb; Bo Diddley, Vasti Jackson, King Solomon Hill…what’s in the water down there? “It’s a little fish grease!” (laughing) “Nah, the soil in McComb is rich for music and I’m grateful to be from McComb, Mississippi and following some of those greats you just named, and continuing to carry the legacy of music out of McComb. I’m very proud to do that.”
You and your band don’t seem to have any limitations in the music you play…you still incorporate gospel, soul, rock and blues in your sets and that’s definitely reflected in your productivity with Grammy and BMA nominations for vocalist, songwriting, guitarist, producer…are there any limitations in what you do? “No there are no limitations when it comes to music for me. To be a carrier of the gift of music first of all is just a major blessing. Music reaches all people, all kinds, any time, all the time and to be a carrier of that gift is just…it’s freedom. Its freedom and when I think about music and think about the notes and think about lyrics or the melodies I think about the freedom of it. So no, no limitations. After whatever, Grammy’s, BMA’s we’re reaching forward, if nothing else we want to just keep spreading the joy and love.”
You picked up the guitar early. “At the age of six was my first chance at showing my parents that I could play. I knew I could play before six; I got the chance to spend time with my Aunt Grace in McComb. Her husband was a guitar player and one day he gave me the guitar and I started playing some familiar tunes and my Auntie said, ‘Stop! Do your mom and dad know you can play?’ I said no ma’am. She said, ‘Let’s go!'” (laughing) “She packed me in the car and took me back to my parent’s house and she told my dad and mom to ‘sit down, shut up and listen!'” (laughing) “And I just began to play and my mom and my dad’s mouths just dropped and the rest is just…history.”
You release your first Mr. Sipp album ‘It’s My Guitar’ and you played all the instruments on it? “I played every instrument, sang every vocal part, did the mixing, production…everything. At that time I didn’t really know any true blues players. I knew what I heard and knew what I wanted to hear, so I went in the studio and just hashed it all out.”
When you create music, create a song; do you have a process or a plan, how do you approach it? “It kind of starts a little something like this.” (Castro breaks into song) “Nah, nah nah Naah! I really don’t have any lyrics, but I have a melody and most of the time now, with the new technology I turn on the recorder on my phone and record what I just did. When I come back to it, I put it together like a puzzle. For me every sound is a melody and every conversation is a song, so it comes almost second nature for me.”
Your music has now become a global experience, from Europe, the Middle East and South America. Do you see any differences in the audiences or has the music become the universal language? “I really don’t see a big difference because once the music starts then the movement starts. And once the movement starts, the smiles start and when the smiles start the love and the joy starts and it’s passed back and forth from the audience to the stage and the stage to the audience. And it becomes a great and wonderful experience.”
It’s not like you don’t have enough on your plate with the music, but now you’ve become an actor. You were in the James Brown film, ‘Get on Up.’ You played the role of a young, B.B. King in the series, ‘Sun Records.’ And you were in the feature film, ‘Texas Red.’ How did the acting come about? “It kind of fell into my lap. The James Brown movie was filming in Mississippi and I heard about the auditions and nobody really thought it was real but I was going to check it out. Turns out it was really real.” (laughing) “So they actually got me to recruit some Mississippi musicians and the hardest thing was to convince them they were shooting a real movie in Mississippi.” (laughing) “Our bass player, Jeffrey Flanagan was in that movie as well. The Sun Record thing kind of piggy-backed off the James Brown movie and Texas Red, my great friend, Cedric Burnside starred in that and I got to be in that with him and was able to do one of my original songs, ‘Dirty Mississippi Blues.’
Mr. Sipp – ‘Dirty Mississippi Blues’
What inspires you as an artist? “What inspires Castro Coleman? I don’t know…I’m a sucker for Peace, Love and Happiness!”
If and when you have downtime, how does Castro Coleman kick back? “If you ever come down to McComb, Mississippi find a guy with the overalls on, driving a 1992 Chevy pickup truck. I’m just a country guy and I love working in my yard. I’ve have 23 acres but I do have a serious problem, I love cars and guitars and I’ve got a bunch of them. I spend most of my off time in my yard working on my tractor, or working on my old cars, and I have some beautiful old cars.”