Bowman was born on April 22, 1959, in Detroit, Michigan, the ninth of a dozen children born to the late Aaron (a brick mason) and Mattie Bowman, a housewife. The family's life revolved around the International Gospel Center Church in Ecorse, Michigan. Bowman was first inspired to pick up a guitar in 1970, at age 11, by a church guitrist "who just blew me away." By the age of 15, Bowman was seriously hooked, but experiencing growing pains as he taught himself. His guitar influences vacillated between Roy Clark and George Benson.