Bongo Joe

George Coleman Bongo Joe LP (Arhoolie, 1969)

As Hurricane Rita races toward Galveston, Texas, I might as well tell you about that island town's most unique and not-so-treasured musician. George Coleman was born in 1923 in Haines, Florida, on the gulf coast. He was a teen when he hit the road, working on the docks or farms. During World War Two he served in the Army Air Corps and was discharged in Houston.

In Houston, Coleman wanted to make the scene so he told a local band leader he wanted to play drums in his band. The band leader asked Georgeif he had a drums set and when he replied "No," he was told to buzz off. George got pissed off but instead of letting the rejection get to him, he scrounged up a bunch of cans and oil drums and stared playing in the street. He was not received kindly so he took off to Galveston, then a tourist Mecca. He made a living playing the beach. He also toured Texas and Louisiana, playing to President John Kennedy in Ft Worth, Texas the night before JFK was assassinated. By the late 60s, Galveston had turned into a retirement town and Bongo Joe, as he was known, was a little to loud for the bluehairs. In '69, he packed up and moved to San Antonio.

He set up near the Alamo and soon became a fixture on the River Walk, where Muhammad Ali paid him a visit. In 1976, President Gerald Ford invited George to perform on a 10-day campaign stint. Coleman was arrested in 1984 when he shot a man he thought was going to rob him as he was performing. He received a suspended sentence and no jail time.

Through his career, Coleman played for presidents, with Sammy Davis, Jr., appeared in a TV commercial promoting the San Antonio Symphony, and had just one record released, this one on Arhoolie in 1969. And why all the fuss? You'll soon hear, but let me just say that there was no one like Bongo Joe. Not only did he play his steel drum like it was a band but his raps are amazing.

We were at the UTSA Texas cultures museum in San Antonio last spring and found the Bongo Joe exhibit. It included several photos and his bicycle with the home made drum kit. Now, here's the spooky part, while we were there this little elderly white lady comes up and starts visiting with us. Turns out she was George's girl friend back in the days that kind of thing was frowned on in Texas. She said when George died he was cremated and she still has his ashes at her home. That's my Bongo Joe story and it is the truth as far as I know.
Marc in Texas.
wow! what a great song! Are the other songs on the album available online?
Sorry, I dont know. Try slsk
I think you can listen to most songs (or fragments) on the Arhoolie website. The cd reissue has a great bonus track called Science Fiction, which beats most songs on the LP.
A true eccentric and one-of-a-kind.

Anyone know if there's any video of him performing?

I Wish I Could Sing
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