Contractors like to work on roofs. Don Ohman likes to sing about it.
Pegged “The Singing Roofer,” Ohman, who has such hits as, “Please Pass the Asphalt” and “Oh We Like to Roof a House,” said he is living a dream after suffering a stroke and having to learn how to play the guitar and sing again.
“I didn’t think I’d play again,” said Ohman of Burbank, Wash. “It’s been a dream.”
From the back of his work truck, May Belle, Ohman conducts his roofing business as usual - or unusual, depending on if you like to hear songs like “Keg of Tar.”
“People ask, ‘You’re the singing roofer?’” Ohman told Roofing Contractor. “I say, ‘That’s me.’”
To put his hobby into context, Ohman, 61, was a winner at this year’s World Championship of Performing Arts in Hollywood, where he won a silver medal for a gospel song and a gold medal for his “Roofing Song.”
“I am the luckiest man on earth,” Ohman said. “I’ve been blessed.”
How it All Started
Don Ohman started roofing in 1958 with his uncle, Jerry Ohman, who owned an Anaconda, Mont., tin shop. Don Ohman was just 12 years old at the time, but he learned how to run the “tar pot,” an old kerosene rig.
In 1960, Ohman moved to Washington state with his uncle to start the GLOhman Co. “My job stayed the same,” Ohman recalled. “The only thing different: a lot better asphalt melting kettle run by propane, and thank the good lord a pumper on the rig.”
The old-timers called Ohman “Donnie” as he kept the workers busy with plenty of hot tar, and also supplied them with the right amount of pea gravel.
“Plus, I still had time to write down a few songs now and then,” Ohman said. “Songs like, ‘Here I sit I’m watching the kettle, wondering why my brother took up sheet metal. Don’t he worry nothing about his kin; all he thinks about is his tin. One day I was running the pot and out come some hot stuff, a bib bib blot. When I told him what happened to his brother Don, he just laughed and said, ‘Could’ve you used some gravel stop,’ do de do de doodle do, ha ha.”
“That was my first try to pen a song,” said Ohman, who noted that 46 years later he received a letter from the Smithsonian Institute of Arts in Washington, D.C., asking for a copy of his song “Please Pass the Asphalt” on a cassette tape.
After graduating from high school in Kennewick, Wash., in 1965, Ohman started his own roofing company, Sureway Roofing Co. By 1973, Ohman had changed the name to Ohman’s Royal Roofing Co. with his wife, Pam, also joining the team.
“We did hot BUR systems,” Ohman said. “Lots of shakes and shingles and single-ply.”
A Miraculous Recovery
In 1999, Don Ohman suffered a stroke that “took out my left side.”
“My wife, Pam, took over the company and I stayed at home trying to relearn how to play the guitar and relearn all of my old songs that I had recorded and had played at several of the big Washington State Fairs,” Ohman said. “I started playing at nursing homes, and the sounds of the clapping brought me back.”
This past summer, Ohman won a gold medal at the World Championship of Performing Arts for team U.S.A.
“At 61 years old, an old fart to be on worldwide TV singing, ‘Oh We Like to Roof a House,’” Ohman said. “We like to roof a house, me and my crew, we like to roof a house.”
But the biggest song for Ohman is probably “Please Pass the Asphalt,” which is now available on an 80 minute CD along with several other original roofing songs.
“We added my son, Donnie, also a roofer, who was the No. 1 country and western singer in the state of Washington at the Dodge True Value Country Showdown contest nationwide in 1990,” Ohman said. “And my grandson, Trae, who as a two-year-old was singing one of my roofing songs on stage at the Washington State Fair in Yakima.”
Don Ohman said he discovered that all his roofing songs were “too heavy of material,” so he added other tunes that he brought to life.
“Some songs about drinking too much beer, Indian gaming casinos, an O.J. Simpson trial song, and a few others (cussing songs) that should be fun for the roofer ears,” Ohman said. “I also added one of my gospel songs - the one that I won a silver medal for.”
Today, Ohman’s CD, “Keg of Tar,” is being sold on e-Bay, but Ohman has some advice to roofers of the world. “Work safe,” he said, “and sing.”