Blues guitarist and singer/songwriter Deborah Coleman -- like Ruth Brown and Gary U.S. Bonds, who also hail from the same part of coastal Virginia -- brings a certain old-school sense of dignity to all of her live shows. No matter where she is, no matter the size of the audience, she presents the blues with her varying backup bands in a thoroughly dignified, proud way. And well she should, as she's just following in the footsteps, in many ways, of her late great town-mate Ruth Brown, who always exuded confidence and a sense of respect for the stage and her audiences at live shows. Interestingly, in her youth, Coleman was not inspired to sing or play guitar by such heroines of the blues as Brown, but rather, from seeing the old Monkees television show. She was raised in a musical and music-loving family and lived as a Navy kid, in San Diego, San Francisco, Bremerton, Washington, and the Chicago area as a child. She began playing guitar at age eight, and began performing professionally on bass at 15, with a series of Portsmouth, Virginia-area blues and R&B bands. She switched to guitar a short time later after hearing Jimi Hendrix, but also found inspiration in the recordings of Cream and Led Zeppelin.
Coleman's revelatory moment in terms of embracing the idea of playing blues for a living came when she was 21. She saw a concert with Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, and John Lee Hooker on the same bill. She reveals in a biography accompanying one of her Blind Pig releases: "I will never forget that show. It started me on my path to my roots." At 25, she got married and focused on raising her daughter while working day jobs as a nurse and electrician. In 1985, she began working with an all-woman group Moxxie, but when that group split up in 1988, she decided to form her own blues-rock trio. Coleman cites a wide array of inspirations and influences for her guitar playing and singing. For guitar, she credits Hendrix, Jeff Beck, Buddy Guy, Freddie King, Albert Collins, and Larry Carlton as being inspirational; for singing, she cites Chrissie Hynde (of the Pretenders) and Patti Smith, as well as the recordings of Bessie Smith, Janis Joplin, Memphis Minnie, and Alberta Hunter.
She caught a break in 1993 by entering the National Blues Talent Search of South Carolina's Charleston Blues Festival. Leading her own band, Coleman took first place, and she immediately put together a group entitled the Thrillseekers and continued to tour around the South. She used her contest-winning prize of studio time to secure a deal with New Moon Records of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and her debut, Takin' a Stand, was released in 1995 on New Moon. She followed it up in 1997 with I Can't Lose, her first release for the Blind Pig label. Her other recordings for Blind Pig include Where Blue Begins and Soft Place to Fall in 1998 and 2000. Her fifth album for Blind Pig, Livin' on Love, was released in 2001, and furthered her reputation as one of the top touring blues women on the scene. Soul Be It, recorded live at the Sierra Nevada Brewery, a venue she chose because of its state-of-the-art performance theater, was released in 2002.
Coleman won an Orville Gibson Award for Best Blues Guitarist in 2001, and by that point in time, her career as a touring act in the U.S., Canada, and Europe was well established, as she also had six W.C. Handy Award nominations, with more to come in the following years. Coleman's more 2000s releases include What About Love? in 2004 for the Cleveland-based Telarc label and Stop the Game in 2007 for JSP Records, a London-based label run by impresario John Stedman. Coleman's skilled guitar stylings and vocals can also be heard on Time Bomb, an album for Ruf Records with Sue Foley and Roxanne Potvin.