Mr. Sipp finds success, happiness and peace singing the blues

Published 4:46 pm Monday, August 17, 2015

Watch Mr. Sipp perform for just five minutes and it’s evident he feels the rhythm of the blues welling up from deep inside his soul.

On stage at Ameristar Casino’s Bottleneck Blues Bar, where he performs once a month, Mr. Sipp, whose real name is Castro Coleman, wastes no time getting into his trademark juking and jiving.

“It’s not just a show. I feel it. I really get into this thing,” Coleman said.

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The 37-year-old Coleman bobs, weaves and duckwalks across the stage a la Chuck Berry as his B.B. King and Buddy Guy-style blues moves through him, pulsing in gyrating waves from the rhythmic tapping of his feet, to his head bobbing like a dashboard hula girl on a rough stretch of road.

“The music is the energy. It’s my push,” Coleman said. “The longer I play, the better I feel.”

His music swells up in him and explodes into a perfect crescendo until the stage is no longer big enough to hold him, and he spills out into the crowd with the same fervent passion.

“What I’m doing on the stage with the blues is nothing new for me,” Coleman said. “I’ve always had a high energy show.”

The blues genre, however, is new for Coleman as a performer, though he has been a professional gospel musician since he was 17.

Toward the end of 2012, Coleman decided he wanted to expand his musical repertoire beyond gospel. Members of his band tossed out some ideas — hip hop, soul, R&B — but Coleman felt he had to go back to the music he loved early in life.

“Whatever that sound is, I want to make it,” Coleman remembers telling his mother while listening to a B.B. King record as a child.

He saw that the Vicksburg Blues Society was holding a competition at Ameristar and signed up the band. It was their first public performance.

“At that time, we were about a month old and only knew four songs,” Coleman said.

When the band won the local competition in 2013, Shirley Waring, president of the Vicksburg Blues Society, asked them to play an encore.

“He said they didn’t have any more songs,” Waring said.

The band’s catalogue has grown significantly, as has their fame.

In 2013, Mr. Sipp made the finals of the International Blues Competition in Memphis where they “were the people’s champion,” Coleman said. In 2014, the band consisting of Coleman, Jeffrey Flannagan on bass, Timothy Henderson on drums and Dameon Stauter on keyboards won it all. Coleman’s brother, Phillip, also plays with the band occasionally.

Mr. Sipp beat out 255 acts from 14 states and 15 countries to be named the top blues act in the world for 2014.

Coleman’s plan? Stay the course.

“I’m going to keep it blues. I don’t want to water it down. I want to make a mark that the blues is still alive and standing tall,” Coleman said.

Coleman grew up in Magnolia. About 15 years ago, he moved up Mississippi 51 to McComb, but he was billed at the IBC as representing Vicksburg, the birthplace of his blues career.

“Vicksburg is my home base. Because I started here, I will claim Vicksburg as my home place,” he said.

Now that he and the band have gained more notoriety, their calendar is filling up with performance dates, but he plans to keep his once-a-month gig at the Bottleneck.

“I will not forget Vicksburg. This is one that I want to keep,” Coleman said. “Vicksburg has really embraced me as an artist.”

Part of what makes Coleman such a unique blues performer is his look on stage. His body doesn’t match his voice.

“He sounds like an old soul, but he’s so fresh with it as well,” Waring said of Coleman’s vocal style.

Audiences who have listened to Mr. Sipp songs expect to see the booming vocals being belted out by a big, burly character.

Instead they get a diminutive man in black plastic-framed glasses with white tape on the bridge — essentially the blues equivalent of Steve Urkel in a three-piece suit.

“Nobody could look at me and say ‘this is a blues guy,’” Coleman said.

The image plays to his advantage and frequently shocks audiences.

“It’s a misconception at first, which is great because it creates more talk after the show,” Coleman said.

Stage presence was something Coleman learned early. He was 9 years old when he took a large stage the first time with a gospel group, and he’s been performing ever since.

“It was something that made me smile when I should have been crying and gave me energy when I was supposed to be sleeping,” Coleman said of music’s role in his life.

Both sides of his family are full of musicians and “pretty much everyone in my family — I mean everybody — either plays, sings or writes,” he said.

When he told his parents he planned to become a professional musician, they balked at the idea.

“They didn’t want me to be a musician, my dad especially, because he was having a hard time breaking into the industry,” Coleman said.

Breaking into the blues recording industry is exactly what Coleman did with his win at the IBC, Waring said.

“It’s so passionate and so real,” Waring said of Coleman’s performances. “But he’s so humble and extremely focused. I’m proud of being friends with him and watching him build his career.”

And the win helped bring attention to Vicksburg’s growing blues scene.

“We’ve upped our presence. For us to go out there and win this year is really significant. It puts the international spotlight on Vicksburg because of the world-class entertainment that we offer,” Waring said.

The Vicksburg Blues Society started a small concert series several years ago at the Coral Room in The Vicksburg, and it has grown into a weekly event at the Bottleneck Blues Bar.

“We have what is a very nice, true demand generator for Vicksburg,” Waring said. “This is really great first-class entertainment and real blues.”

Other blues venues in town include Walnut Hills, which features Dr. Who? and Mark Doyle each Friday and Saturday, and LD’s Lounge, which hosts live music each Tuesday.

“We’re hoping to develop even more,” Waring said.