Not many people can trace their entertaining roots back to the age of 6.
But Castro Coleman – also known now as Cat, Cas, “The Mississippi Blues Child,” and Mr. Sipp – is one of those gifted ones.
Born in the summer of 1976 in the small town of McComb, Mississippi, Coleman began sharing his talents at the age of 6 when his parents first bought him a guitar.
“Music runs in my family,” he said during a recent telephone interview from McComb, where he still resides. “Everybody in my family literally plays, sings, or writes, and that’s on both sides of my family. My dad had music equipment all over the house, and when the gospel group that he was in used to rehearse there, I took an interest in the guitar. My dad was a guitar player first, and it became the love of my life, too – the guitar, the sound of the guitar. I knew I could play before 6; it’s just at the age of 6 is when my auntie made my mom and dad stop and hear me play.”
That’s been about 40 years ago now, and a lot of music has since flowed out of his hands and mouth to create a lifelong career that’s taken Mr. Sipp around the world and will indeed land him at Rocco’s in Jasper for a show on May 18 at 7 p.m.
The talent that began surfacing decades ago in Cat and other members of his family is rising to the top again in the form of his 16-month-old granddaughter. “The first toy that I bought her was a little plastic guitar,” he says, “and she’s already picking out notes the correct way and her strumming pattern is more correct than mine today, you know? I never sat down with her – it’s like a natural thing. I can’t explain it. Music is like a first-nature thing for our family.”
Since he comes from a “very religious-based family,” Cat says his first performances were at his church and “everybody’s church,” where the little fellow would wow the crowds with his precocious talent on the guitar. “I was 10 times better then than I am now,” he says, “because that’s all I had to do back then was play guitar.”
He soon started playing for his Aunt Grace’s gospel group that sang throughout Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama on weekends, then as a junior in high school started a band with his brother. They landed a record deal writing and singing their own gospel music. Another record deal and the first hit song followed that, ‘and it just kept going from there,” Cat recalls.
After more than 20 years as a gospel artist, he took a couple of years off beginning in 2010, then decided to turn his attention to the blues world, earning several awards in 2014, including the International Blues Challenge winner by way of the Vicksburg Blues Society as well as the Gibson Best Guitarist Award winner and Jus’ Blues Bobby Rush Entertainers Award recipient. He followed that as winner of BMA’s Best New Artist Album in 2016.
Why the switch to blues?
“Well, on the gospel side, I had done everything, I had played with everybody, I had produced for everybody, I had played on everybody’s records,” he says. “All my bucket list was complete, so I had to make a choice. I’m grateful that I can play or sing any style of music. But I couldn’t go into R&B ‘cause I was in my 30s and was too old. I have a high respect for jazz, but it is just not my thing. I love the art of rock ‘n’ roll, but I’m quite sure the older I get, the less noise I will want to hear,” he says with a chuckle.
It was only natural then, he says, that he would turn to the blues because, as he puts it, gospel and blues are “like first cousins.” After studying the situation, “come to find out, a lot of the gospel songs sound like the blues songs and a lot of the blues songs sound like the gospel songs,” he says. “One is saying ‘Baby,’ and the other one’s saying ‘Jesus.’ I thought this change would be totally easy and close to what I know, and I was exactly right.”
That’s when Mr. Sipp – the name referencing his being a native Mississippian – was born.
Cat says he’s played all the instruments on many of his records, including his debut album, “It’s My Guitar.” He’s continued that trend on his upcoming soul album as Mr. Sipp.
Asked to name the instruments he can play, Cat laughs and responds with what he cannot play instead.
“I can’t play trumpet,” he admits, then pauses to add, “but I could play it probably. I just hadn’t spent no time on it. Well, I did try it and got some notes out of it, but it hurt my lips.”
That leads into an explanation of the way his talent works when he’s playing any instrument.
“I hear the notes … I feel the notes,” he says. “If I can get a sound out of anything, I can find the notes. I mean, my memory is real good. So if I’m fishing for a note, once I fish for it and find it, I don’t forget where that note is on an instrument. That was a gift that I had when I was kid. Whatever I hear, if I hear it, I can play it one time and I can memorize it. If I hear it, I can pick the guitar up and do it and transfer that knowledge to every instrument.”
Today, with more than 125 recording credits to his name, Cat has played on more than 50 national recordings with several Grammy-nominated projects and even appeared in the recently released James Brown movie, “Get on Up.” He was also cast as the young B.B. King in the 2017 television series, “Sun Records,” and landed a role in the movie “Texas Red” in 2019, starring Grammy Award-winning Cedric Burnside.
He’s also parlayed his bountiful artistic talents into a successful business career – including dabbling in real estate and forming his own trucking company – moves that allow him the financial freedom to pursue his music as he likes, on his own terms.
“The music is more important to me than a dollar,” Cat says. “I have to create (other sources of income) so that I can afford to do places like Rocco’s, that I’m so excited about doing. So then it’s not about the money, it’s not about the trip, it’s not about the gas, it’s about me getting into a new place that I want to play in, like Rocco’s, you know, and giving the people the best show that can come from me and not have to worry that I just spent $650 on gas getting here. That won’t be on my brain; what will be on my brain is how many people I can see dancing and clapping and having a good time, you know what I mean?”
Fans at Rocco’s shouldn’t expect a cookie-cutter show from Mr. Sipp, by the way.
“Sometimes promoters ask me for a set list,” he says, “but I just tell them I don’t have one. Nobody never knows what I’m gonna sing. I got five records to choose from. I tell my band members, if you’re gonna play for me, you need to know all five of my albums because I don’t never know what I’m going to sing next. And the reason why is because I read the audience and see how they’re feeling. You know, if you have a set list and it’s not going over well and you’re confined to that list, that makes for a long night.”
In fact, he says he never performs a song the same way twice. “The hardest thing for me to do is to go back and learn my guitar solos that I did on an album because I played it in the moment,” he explains. “That’s what I was feeling then, and each night I probably feel something different. What I’ve been trying to do lately is do enough of the solo that I recorded, that people are familiar with, and then I can still do whatever I’m feeling in the moment.”
Mr. Sipp is all about his family as he frequently mentions them during this 30-minute interview. Last year, he even tried – unsuccessfully, as it turned out – to have a film crew at the family Thanksgiving gathering to capture all the talent of his relatives on display there when each branch of the family tree is called upon to perform.
“I talk about my family so much in interviews, magazines, television,” he says, “and I tell people I’m the least talented one in the bunch. But you gotta see ‘em, you gotta hear ‘em; it will blow your mind. I own a studio and I’ve got access to cameras and all this stuff, but my family is a little camera shy. They’re so genuine with it – it’s like, we don’t want it for sale – but I still believe the world needs to hear my family. They need to see where I come from.”
Ironically, Cat is the only family member who’s a professional entertainer, but he credits them with helping creating his presence on the stage.
“I’m a showman. You know, I put on a show. I sing and play. But I have some sho nuff singers and musicians in my family – man, it’s unreal. They’re just working everyday jobs, live everyday lives, but they can pick up a microphone and sing you into tears. And that’s what I get it from. People ask, who did I study for my shows? I studied my family, that’s who. They’re freakin’ amazing.”
As for the upcoming Rocco’s show, Mr. Sipp offers this advice to the crowd: “Tell ‘em to get some rest the night before because we’re gonna party all night! I’m bringing all of my energy from Mississippi to Georgia, man, and I’m coming to just love on the people, man, and give a high-energy show, you know, just connect with them on a different level than most artists. I’m reachable, I’m touchable. You can walk up and talk to me. I’m not hanging out on the bus or in the dressing room. I’m out there with everybody, so I’m coming to make new family members. I want to encourage everybody to come on out and get tickets and meet this country boy from Mississippi.”