News and Features

This Week in Texas Music History: Bongo Joe

Art&Seek presents This Week in Texas Music History. Every week, we’ll spotlight a different moment and the musician who made it. This Week in Texas Music History, we’ll meet a man who marched to the beat of a very different drum.

You can also hear This Week in Texas Music History on Sunday at precisely 6:04 p.m. on KERA radio. But subscribe to the podcast so you won’t miss an episode. And our thanks to KUT public radio in Austin for helping us bring this segment to you. And if you’re a music lover, be sure to check out Track by Track, the bi-weekly podcast from Paul Slavens, host of KXT’s The Paul Slavens Show, heard Sunday night’s at 8.

  • Click the player to listen to the podcast:
  • Expanded online version:

George Coleman was born on Nov. 28, 1923, in Haines City, Fla. By the 1940s, Coleman had relocated to Houston and was playing as a percussionist in local jazz bands. Since he didn’t own a drum kit, Coleman fashioned a set from some 55-gallon oil barrels. Over the next four decades, he became a very popular street musician performing at tourist sites throughout the state, including San Antonio’s Hemisfair and Galveston’s Seawall. Nicknamed Bongo Joe by his fans, George Coleman played his oil barrel drums with hammer handles, chair legs and cans filled with buckshot.

With his unique rhythmic style and often humorous song lyrics, Bongo Joe Coleman built a large following. In 1968, Chris Strachwitz of Arhoolie Records recorded Bongo Joe in San Antonio, helping introduce his distinct sound to a national audience.

Next time on This Week in Texas Music History, we’ll go slippin’ around with a honky-tonk legend.