"...confident in his abilities as a singer, harmonica player and songwriter. [Omar] is steeped in the classic blues sounds of his home city yet unafraid to take them in a more contemporary direction."
- - Living Blues Magazine
It’s the core philosophy of astute curiosity that’s established Omar Coleman as a rising star with iron-clad longevity in the national blues scene. Hailing from the West Side of Chicago, Coleman grew up entrenched in soul music and black music that defined the era in the mid-90s. Working as a barber by trade, Coleman recalls being bored at his shop on Michigan & Adams in Downtown Chicago and sauntering to the music shop down the street to pick up an instrument to pass the time. He landed on the harmonica thinking it would be easy to learn quickly and would fiddle around on it between cutting hair and usurping the shoeshine guy’s chair when he went to shine shoes in the back. With many clients being musicians, Coleman would learn about Chicago being heralded as ‘Home of the Blues’ and was tipped off to legends such as Buddy Guy, Howlin’ Wolf, and more. Another world opened up.
Trudging further down the path of curiosity, Coleman went to the library to check out music theory books and CDs of legends like Sugar Blue and Junior Wells. He noticed two common threads in every genius he’d discover down the rabbit hole—they each had their own style and they each sang in addition to playing harmonica. Coleman began to frequent Eddy Clearwater’s Sunday jam and would meet more people and pick up more gigs. In the mid-00s, he’d start his own project, Troubled Minds and continue to hone in on what his personal stamp in blues music would look like.
Delving into spicing up the authenticity of the blues with modern sounds of the funk and soul revival, Coleman would become a full-fledged professional musician on the touring circuit in the early 2010s. He’d embark on month-long tours in Brazil twice a year, make frequent appearances in Japan, and perform over 30 dates in Europe both solo and with as the lead vocalist/harmonica player in the award-winning Sean Carney Band, a group that has won the International Blues Challenge. He’s had notable plays as the headliner for “Blues for a Cure” benefit in Columbus Ohio for 3 years straight; Spain Blues Fest; San Francisco Blues Festival, and more and has been featured on the all-star compilation Diamonds in the Rough: Chicago Harmonica Project.
Coleman would often collaborate with fellow Chicago musician, Neal O’Hara, better known by his stage name Neal Francis, who is exponentially gaining acclaim in the modern soul scene. The two would frequently do blues gigs in Westmount, Illinois, the city where Muddy Waters died. It was through O’Hara where he would meet David Vandenberg, who produced Coleman’s 2017 album Westside Soul. With the tight-knit band, broad influences, and a cohesive sound, Westside Soul easily fits into the blues and soul revival category with artists like Charles Bradley, Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, Gary Clark Jr. and more. Of that same lineage, Vandenberg was the man responsible for bringing the acclaimed international funk group, The New Mastersounds to the US for the fist time securing them an opening slot at House of Blues Chicago opening for Greyboy All-stars. Vandenberg connected the dots and introduced Coleman to the band’s bandleader, guitarist, and producer, Eddie Roberts, who founded a record label and music platform Color Red in 2018
In 2020, Coleman flew to Denver, CO, headquarters of Color Red, to work on an album produced by Roberts. Roberts enlisted fellow Color Red collaborators Eric Halborg (Dragondeer), Cole Rudy (Dragondeer), Carl Sorensen (Dragondeer) and Dan Africano (Ghost Light, Death by Dub) to play on the session. With Roberts at the helm as a master of analog recording techniques and capturing vintage tones, much of the composition work was done in the studio that allowed Coleman the space to expand his style into danceable, soulful groove music and craft lyrics to float over them. “Every good song starts with a riff,” Coleman cites, “All I need is a groove and I’ll write a song on it. The lyrics start flowing.” The sessions encompassed both organic songwriting and full circle energy as reflected in Roberts’ first night spent in Chicago. Vandenberg had taken him to Rosas, a legendary blues club on the West Side of town, a club that Coleman had been playing for decades. While laying down his original tune “Old Man Teaser,” Coleman explained it was a story about the lady behind the bar at Rosas teasing all the older blues musicians. An instance like that goes beyond coincidence and demonstrates the ripple effect of Color Red’s collaborative spirit and the minuscule degrees of separation in their musical network.
The upcoming record’s lead single and title track “Strange Times” was spurred out of a conversation Coleman and Roberts had at Color Red Studios. Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and reflecting on the state of America and his neighborhood and Chicago, the exchange kept running back to the strange times they were living in. He took that stanza and ran with it immediately compiling lyrics he scribbled out on pieces of paper and knocked it out from start to finish.
Coleman’s larger-than-life curiosity is demonstrated in the Roberts-produced album as he refuses to be confined to a singular scene and new grab audiences who simply like funky, danceable music. It circles back to that initial curiosity of procuring that first harmonica, deep-diving into studying blues greats, and even picking up a 10-year side hustle as an accomplished leathersmith that has proven time and time again to rise above complacency and keep reaching for new heights. Eddie Roberts Presents Omar Coleman: Strange Times will come out on Color Red summer 2021. Stay tuned and the best is yet to come.