2019 International Blues Challenge finalist, Misty Blues, is led by lead singer/band founder Gina Coleman. The band is based out of Berkshire County, Massachusetts playing original and traditional blues with hints of jazz, soul, funk and tent revival gospel since 1999. The band has recorded with Charles Neville and Joe Louis Walker, and opened for contemporary blues artists like Tab Benoit, James Montgomery, John Primer, Roomful Of Blues, Albert Cummings and Michael Powers. Misty Blues performs extensively throughout New England and has toured the continental U.S. and Canada. The band has been nominated for a few Independent Blues Music Awards and their original recordings have broad international airplay.
In the summer of 1999 Gina Coleman was performing in the Williamstown Theatre Festival production of A Raisin In The Sun. That production featured the acting of Ruben Santiago Hudson, Viola Davis, Kimberly Elise and Gloria Foster. Coleman was cast as a gospel singer. Nearing the end of the show’s run, Ruben Santiago Hudson gave Coleman a cd collection entitled Men Are Like Streetcars. He told her that her voice was well suited for the blues and urged her to take that musical direction. Coleman heeded his advance, and after 20+ years, Misty Blues has stood the test of time.
Artist Interview with Gina Coleman
Tell us the brief history of your band or musical career.
In the summer of 1999 I was asked to perform in the Williamstown Theatre Festival production of A Raisin In The Sun. That production featured the acting of Ruben Santiago Hudson, Viola Davis, Kimberly Elise and Gloria Foster. I was cast as a gospel singer. Nearing the end of the show’s run, Ruben Santiago Hudson gave me a cd collection entitled Men Are Like Streetcars. He told me that my voice was well suited for the blues and urged me to take that musical direction. I heeded his advance, and after nearly 25 years, Misty Blues has stood the test of time.
Who are your musical and non-musical influences?
I am most influenced by the female pioneers of the blues genre, such as Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, Big Mama Thornton, Koko Taylor, and Blue Lu Barker. My non-musical influences are my family and closest friends; their stories and life circumstances have fueled my creative musings.
What album has had the greatest impact on your life as a musician?
The double-disc collection entitled Men Are Like Streetcars has had the greatest impact on my blues career. It contains 22 tracks featuring female blues singers from 1928 to 1969. It is the reason I became a blues artist. Had I not been introduced to that collection, I may still be performing acoustic funk.
Is there a particular song that has resonated with you for a long time?
Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out by Bessie Smith. It’s one of the earliest blues songs I ever performed and one that I never get tired of performing. The music is great, but its lyrical content has always held deep meaning to me.
What’s your favorite accomplishment as a musician thus far?
I would say managing to put out three albums during a global pandemic was a major accomplishment.
Tell me about your favorite performance in your career.
I have been incredibly fortunate to have numerous performances to call upon, but the one that garnered us the most recognition was our performance in the finals of the International Blues Challenge in Memphis in 2019 at the Orpheum Theater.
What's the best piece of advice another musician ever gave you?
Bob Stannard, of Bob Stannard & Those Dangerous Bluesmen, once told me, when I expressed concern about not being more widely recognized in the blues world after grinding it for nearly 25 years: “You know you made a great album and you know that you have the capability to write and sing great songs. You know this. It’s who you are. To heck with the awards engines linked to exclusive airplay stations and anyone else who can’t see what’s before them. That’s their problem. You just keep doing what you’re doing and let your music speak for itself.”
What's new in the recording of your music?
Well our new album was creatively fueled by some hard realizations about the industry, so I really had something poignant to say. I also allowed us to more freely tap into musical influences outside of the blues, while still maintaining a strong reference to our core genre.
How has your music changed over the years?
I’m leaning into the varied musical passions of my bandmates and writing more with my 19 year old son, Diego, who is becoming one of the finest musicians I know. His fresh perspective is thrilling and his penchant for all things usual have created opportunities for us to be more inventive in our approaches.
What inspires you to write the music you write?
It’s hard to say what inspires me to write as I’ve never really purposefully sat down with the intention to write a song for the band. Songs just flood to me with no rhyme or reason. The pattern of my windshield wiper combined with the resonance of my tires on a wet dirt road have inspired whole songs. I’ve had songs come to me in my sleep (which I do very little of), or when I’m doing the most mundane chores. Thank goodness for smart phones with voice recorders. Back in the day I would have to find a land line telephone and leave a message on my answering machine to capture songs.
What made you want to play the instrument you play?
Well, my primary instrument is my voice, and it's convenient as I carry it with me everywhere. About 7 years ago I was gifted a cigar box guitar by a dear friend and as soon as I tuned it, a song flooded to me that remains one of the band’s most requested songs where we live, Hear My Call. I love the raw beauty of its sound which transports you back in time. The notion that the necessity to create music bred the invention of such a wonderfully primitive instrument.
How are you continuing to grow musically?
We are keeping our minds open to what the blues is and can be without completely abandoning its origins. There is a line I wrote on a track on the latest album that sums it up for me... “I can still honor the past and tell my stories of the present. If I’m true my lines will last, if they're not I'll be repentant.”
Are there any musicians who inspire you that are not famous? What qualities do you admire about them?
Yes, there are honestly too many to name. There is an incredible community for musicians where we live in western Massachusetts, Berkshire County who inspire me on a daily basis. I am truly fortunate to occasionally have opportunities to do some side projects with them. In turn, I bring in my local musical friends into recordings with Misty Blues whenever possible.
Describe your worst performance. What did you learn from this experience?
We had a show where there was confusion as to what song was being played and I pushed through singing the lyrics to one song while the band was playing another. We managed to get through it without too many people recognizing something was off. I should have stopped the song and clarified what song we were playing. Audiences are very forgiving and would have understood. In fact it’s a very humanizing act to admit one's failings and that probably would have engendered even more appreciation from the audience.
Tell me what your first music teacher was like. What lessons did you learn from them that you still use today?
My first music teacher was Mrs. Horowitz. She taught me piano from the age of 5 to about 14. She would crack the back of my hands with a wooden ruler whenever I dropped my wrists. What I learned from her was a great disdain for playing the piano. I still have the piano from my childhood, it serves as a shelf to place my oddities that have no other place. I don’t have it tuned or the dropped keys fixed.
How would your previous band mates describe you and your work ethic?
They would probably describe me as tenacious and hard-working with high expectations for myself and the band.
If you could play anywhere or with anyone in the world, where or with who would it be?
I’d go anywhere on the planet to perform with Mavis Staples. I do have a handful of bucket list venues … Tipitina's, The Cotton Club, Radio City Music Hall, The Hollywood Bowl, Sydney Opera House and Royal Albert Hall.
If you could change anything about the music industry today, what would it be?
I expand the amount of gatekeepers, who are key to getting artists the best revenue generating airplay, festival and venue bookings.
What are your biggest obstacles as a musician?
My biggest obstacle is getting the exposure needed to make it to the next level of national and international recognition in our genre.
What strengths do you have that you believe make you the musician you are?
I refuse to relinquish my need to have our music heard and appreciated by audiences across the globe. Also refuse to pass on an opportunity to mentor talented young musicians and provide them a taste of what’s on the horizon if they stay focused and are willing to work extremely hard.
Do you have any weaknesses that you're actively working to improve on?
I am a painful introvert, so stage banter is my biggest albatross. I would love to keep my eyes shut and sing song after song and not utter a word, but not engaging, especially performing a genre of music that is all about storytelling.
Describe your favorite and least favorite part about being a musician.
My favorite part of being a musician is witnessing the palpable impact of my music on audiences; realizing the emotions I intended to evoke when writing a song were actualized.
Do you have any anxiety about performing live?
I wouldn’t say anxiety, but a healthy dose of butterflies. I feel being void of any nervousness is a signal that something is wrong.
If you had to choose one... live performance or studio work, which do you prefer and why?
Live performance. The energy I garner from a live audience makes our music better. Wish we could bring in an audience to every recording session.
Describe your creative process when you write new music.
I never sit down to write a song, a melody and lyrics generally flood to me at the same time. When that happens, I bring the skeletal melody and lyrics to the band and we flush out the arrangement collaboratively.
Other than being a musician, what was your dream job growing up?
Growing up I wanted to be a psychiatrist; I wanted to be a medical doctor without having to have to deal with blood.
Give us some advice for new musicians just starting out in the industry.
They should surround themselves with a trusted and brutally honest team of people, and to get out of their creative spaces and get out in front of an audience.
What is your favorite piece of gear and why?
That’s my Mavis by Mule Resophonic Guitars. It’s a custom made resonator guitar that my son was instrumental in raising community funds to get for me. It is the most beautiful looking and sounding instrument I have ever owned.
How do you prepare for your performances and recording work?
I write out very detailed notes for major performances and recording sessions, so I have all pertinent information at my fingertips.
What does your practice routine consist of?
We have one formal rehearsal a month to work through new songs we’d like to add to our shows. We perform a substantial amount of shows in our local area, so we are able work through a lot of songs on the fly to very forgiving audiences; they enjoy going on the creative journey with us.
What do you like most about your new album?
As a whole, it tells a story of our perseverance in the wake of unexpected adversity, and it's done in a way that honors our blues roots, but celebrates our other varied musical tastes.
What artists do you enjoy listening to nowadays?
Mavis Staples, Joe Louis Walker, Eric Gales, Tedeschi Trucks, JD Simo, Rat Riggins, The Black Keys, Bonnie Raitt, Kingfish, Tank and the Bangas and Larkin Poe to name a few.
How do you promote your band and shows?
I promote the band and our shows by any and every means possible. I take a leave no stone unturned approach.
What is the best way to stay updated on current news; gigs, releases, etc.
Our website and ReverbNation account fuel most of the content on our Instagram, Facebook and Twitter social media pages.
Anything you would like to share, from new merch to upcoming shows/tours or songs/albums?
We have a few tours in 2023. We have a southern tour to Montgomery, AL, Birmingham, AL, Muscle Shoals, AL, Oxford, MS, Tupelo, MS and Knoxville, TN February 18-24. We are embarking on our first UK Tour June 26-July5, and we have a short run out to Chicago in early August.
What's next for your band?
We even intend to record our first live tribute album this year. It will be a tribute to the great Odetta.
What are your interests outside of music?
I really enjoyed carving wood and creating pieces of sculpture, but that was really before having kids and writing original music in earnest.
Tell us a fun fact about yourself.
For the past 27 years, I’ve been the head women’s rugby coach at Williams College in Williamstown, MA.
Are there any artists outside of your genre that have not had much influence on your music that you enjoy?
Snarky Puppy, Tuck & Patti, Celia Cruz, Tito Puentes and Hector Berlioz
Anything Else You Would Like to Include?
Here are the core members of Misty Blues ‘23:
Gina Coleman - Lead Singer/Cigar Box Guitar
Bill Patriquin - Bass/Trumpet
Seth Fleischmann - Lead Guitar
Rob Tatten - Drums/Trumpet/Trombone
Aaron Dean - Sax
Benny Kohn - Keys
Misty Blues Farm Team (Musician who sub in for core members on a regular basis. The Farm Team members listed have all contributed to our 12th album):
Diego Mongue - Bass/Drums/Guitar/Vocals (My 19 yr old son who is essentially a core member)
Dave Vittone - Organ
Dave Brown - Bass
Ed Moran - Vocals
Guest Artists on the 12th album: (Don’t rule out more guest artist surprises)
Petri Bryd - vocals (Officer Byrd from Judge Judy)
Matt Cusson - keys/vocals (Grammy nominated artist for Best Arrangement Instrumental or A Cappella)
Wanda Houston - vocals
Chantell McFarland - vocals
Beth Maturevich - vocals
Kathy Ryan - vocals
Rebecca Mattson - vocals
Wendy Lipp - vocals
Michael Mongue (my husband) is the official cd cover artist for all 12 of Misty Blues’ albums.