J.P. Williams, Bill Coleman bring music, camaraderie to blues community
Seasoned blues artists J.P. Williams and Bill Coleman are helping keep the blues alive in Northeastern Pennsylvania any way they can.
Both musicians gig regularly, have recently been recorded, and champion the arts community where they play and network.
Williams, of Tunkhannock, is fresh off a well-received album, marking his return to playing after a hiatus, and plans to release new original music this year. Coleman, in addition to organizing the Winter Blues Guitarmageddon shows held at the Scranton Cultural Center, owns a distribution company for blues and roots music and is rekindling interest in an NEPA blues society.
Williams began playing blues guitar while at Wilkes University before moving to New York City and performing there for nearly three years. Upon returning to NEPA, he formed various bands and opened a music store, Music Workshop, in Tunkhannock.
“As my family and business grew, I decided to devote my time there until a few years ago when I started to play again,” Williams said of his return from hiatus in 2014.
His comeback record, “Mixed Bag” is a volume of new arrangements of classic blues songs also featuring one of Williams’ originals, “Sleepin’ With The Devil.”
“I really felt, with this CD, I needed to express my roots, where my blues was coming from,” Williams said.
The record features local musicians like Eddie “The Harp” Czarkowski, and it’s gotten a good response, getting airplay in the Indianapolis, Ind. region and earning the J.P. Williams Blues Band the award for Blues Act of the Year at the 2016 Steamtown Music Awards.
The album was distributed by Coleman’s company, Blues Broker Records in Clarks Green.
Coleman, of Vandling, began playing bass in the late ’60s. He has been part of New Orleans Funk outfits Funk & Gumbo, Mojomo and the Mojomo Horns, and has shared stages with local blues guitarists Joe Kopicki and Lee Delray, the latter at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tenn.
The bassist is currently a member of Soul Shakers — a blues, funk and R&B rhythm section — along with West Pittston drummer Sharon O’Connell and keyboard player Eric Brody.
Last year, Soul Shakers organized the inaugural Winter Blues Guitarmageddon, which was held in February and featured blues powerhouses like Teddy Young, Clarence Spady and Phyllis Hopkins.
The live recording was mixed and mastered by Clyde Rosencrance at Republic Audio Studio in Dalton and became the motivation for Blues Broker Records.
“I thought it was too good not to put out a recording,” Coleman said of the live show. “Then we had to find a way to distribute them.”
Blues Broker records now distributes albums by Dana Gaynor Band, Phyllis Hopkins Electric Trio and the Dalton 45’s in addition to recordings by Williams and Soul Shakers.
The second Guitarmageddon is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Feb. 17 and features Gaynor, Paul Lyon & Joe Doherty, Chris London, Dave Maciak and a tribute to late Mojomo and the Mojomo Horns keyboard player Rick Belza.
“We’ve got some more good players this year,” Coleman said. “We’re trying to do a little bit of a different show.”
Williams, who will begin working on a new album of original music in the spring, said he sees something special when local musicians congregate.
“Since my return, I’m overwhelmed by the support and friendship local musicians provide to each other,” Williams said. “It’s a real community we have here.”
Coleman is trying to take that camaraderie a step further by generating interest in a blues society that would bring people together and educate people about blues music.
“Per capita, I think we have more good musicians in this area than anywhere,” Coleman said.
The first meeting of the NEPA Blues Society takes place at 7 p.m. Jan. 11 in room 320 of the main building, across from the Library, at Lackawanna College.
All are welcome to attend.
Reach Matt Mattei at 570-991-6651
IF YOU GO:
What: NEPA Blues Society Meeting
Where: Lackawanna College, 501 Vine St., Scranton, main building, room 302
When: 7 p.m. Feb. 11