He became a performer in his early teens, playing 5-string banjo, guitar and other instruments. In 1954 and 1955 he traveled in Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Kentucky, meeting traditional singers and collecting songs. In 1959 Bob traveled in the US west, southwest, and Mexico with skier-climber-singer Bill Briggs, influencing a number of singers who would take part in the folk song revival of the 1960s.
While in Baltimore in 1962, Coltman accompanied country, blues and jazz singer, guitarist and mandolinist Joe Bussard. He recorded 78 rpm releases under his own name and a variety of pseudonyms (Danville Dan, Georgia Jokers, Bald Knob Chicken Snatchers, etc.) for Bussard’s Fonotone Records label.