by Seth Rogovoy
(GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass., January 8, 2003) – By day she works in the admissions office and as the coach of the women’s rugby team at Williams College. But at night, Gina Coleman goes into a phone booth, changes her outfit, and comes out as a blues singer in the tradition of classic blues divas like Big Mama Thornton, Dinah Washington, Georgia White and Rosetta Tharpe.
Coleman didn’t always sing the blues. She performed in the region for the better part of a decade as lead singer of the rock group Cole-Connection. Then about four years ago, she played a gospel singer in a Williamstown Theatre Festival production of “Raisin in the Sun.” The actor Rubin Santiago-Hudson told her he thought her voice was suited to singing classic female blues. “He turned me on to some great female blues music collections,” says Coleman, “and I was hooked.”
For the last three years, Coleman has been the lead singer of Misty Blues, which celebrates the release of its first CD, “Electric Juke Joint,” tonight at Joga in North Adams at 9:30.
The recording features 11 smoking electric blues songs, rockers like “Key to the Highway” and “Who’s Been Talking” and ballads like “3 O’Clock Blues.” The album includes songs written by Lonnie Mack, B.B. King, Howlin’ Wolf and Willie Dixon.
Coleman is an expressive vocalist with a big low end and colorful upper register. She growls her way through “They Call Me Big Mama” and “Blow Top Blues” and purrs through “Men Are Like Streetcars” and “3 O’Clock Blues,” and she has enough sense of humor to pull off ribald numbers like “Hot Nuts” and “Wang Dang Doodle.”
“What drew me to these songs, especially the ones made popular by the female artists, was the strength and humor of the lyrics,” said Coleman. “These women got away with singing some of the bawdiest things ever mentioned in public without totally offending the masses.
“I can identify with these women because I came for a similar background as many of them. I was born into a poor black family in the South Bronx. I didn’t have an easy childhood, but I managed to do well for myself by working hard and having a good sense of humor.”
But this isn’t just a singer’s album. Working with Coleman, a Williams alumna, are some of the Berkshires’ finest musicians, including guitarist/vocalist Jason Webster, bassist/vocalist Bill Patriquin, drummer Mike Basiliere, harmonica player Matthew Swanson and guitarist Jeff Dudziak. Together the sextet, which performs two or three times a month in North County, is a powerful, versatile ensemble, with Webster and Swanson particular standouts – they do a veritable dance on “Hot Nuts,” featuring a very twangy solo by Webster.