Published August 2019
by Joseph Jordan
Blues Music Magazine
Christone “Kingfish” Ingram’s been a lot of places, physically and emotionally the last several years. A young man with a remarkably unfeigned demeanor, Ingram is instantly likable, ultimately wise & most especially, extremely skilled beyond that which his age might portend.
He’s been called by fans and industry professionals, “the savior,” the “next big thing,” “the prodigy,” the “the next explosion” and other superlatives. And no less than the legendary Buddy Guy has said he’s the finest young talent to come along in years. Ultimately though, Ingram just feels “at home” with the blues
“I really appreciate all of that, and I know I am a part of the future, like a whole lot of others are. I’m just trying my best to keep it going. I grew up around the blues, so I can’t really get rid of it.”
His nickname, “Kingfish” came from one of his musical mentors, Bill Howl-N-Madd Perry, after the ultimate scheming character in the old-time radio, and the 50’s television show, the hilarious but ultimately racist “Amos and Andy.” “All of us in (The Delta Blues Museum Arts and Education) program were given nicknames by Mr. Perry as a stage name. He stuck me with ‘Kingfish.’ Yeah, I love it. Didn’t like it at first, but I love it now.”
He’s already well-liked in the industry, as superstars, such as Guy have taken him under their wing, rock acts such as Vampire Weekend have asked him to be their opening act, and wherever he plays and sings, live audiences just eat up his presence and playing.
His stunning new album, “Kingfish,” and its introductory national showcase, wonderfully entitled, “Kingfish. Fish Grease: A Juke Joint Tour” will finish by year’s end. The twenty-year old will have by then played the better part of the U.S., introducing his new LP live to tens of thousands
Kingfish was born and raised in blues-famed Clarksdale, Mississippi, but has been living in Friar’s Point, Coahoma County now for eight years.
He once surmised that every young performer in Clarksdale only wants to rap, but he’s never really felt comfortable or at home with it. Laughing heartily, he states, “When I was in third grade, that was the time when I felt my generation had a real cool era. I thought about rapping, but most definitely, it wasn’t for me.” Even knowing rap’s tremendous power and influence, he’s stuck with the blues, and a bit of the rock scene.
“I feel like doing so because of the household I grew up in, and where my Mom took me around when I was younger. A lot of people I’ve met was because of her. She was always taking me to church and playing Gospel music around the house. I listened to various radio programs too. Hangin’ around her side of the family, I learned from them, and many of them played instruments. I was always around people who played music and she would also play soul and R&B in the house. I think everything had something to do with it.”
As a very young child he was exposed to the variety and roots of the music he now champions.
“When I was young and it’s still kind of like that now, I had very few friends. No one would call me on the phone and talk, so I would just listen to music… Son House, Lightnin’ Hopkins, and a whole lot of others. I listened to many folks… Robert Johnson, Guitar Slim, Albert King, Eric Gales, Jimi Hendrix and a whole lot more. I had a lot of time on my hands, so I just used my time wisely. Those artists were my first introduction to that blues-rock stuff, and I listened also to Prince, although he played a different style of music. I have a little education in music. I played the upright bass in my school orchestra, so I know a little bit, and I can read notes on the line and everything.”
Born in January of 1999, Ingram first got turned on to the blues at the tender age of five, watching a Muddy Waters Public Broadcasting special with his dad on the Mississippi and Chicago great, Muddy Waters. “That program changed my life.” Then he saw an episode of the television comedy, Sanford and Son guest starring B.B. King and forever after, he was a goner for the blues.
When asked how in the world did a five-year old connect with the music that strongly, he says, “It just happened. Aunts, uncles and especially my Mom were big influences in what I was listening to.”
Kingfish found his vocal ability early on, and is blessed with accomplished, raw-to-sensitive lyrical vocals. He sang as a youth, but ultimately, it was practice that made him great.
He grew up with Gospel music in church, and later on, blues records of the masters. “A co-worker of my Dad’s said, ‘I’ve got these records you should hear.’ He loaned me 25-records or so. And among them was my first introduction to among others, Howlin’ Wolf. I didn’t have actual records growing up, but my Mom, who is old-school R&B would always be playing Tyrone Davis and other soul stars. I was listening to them all from the ages of five to eight.
His new Alligator Records release, “Kingfish” is an awesome display of a twenty-year old in full command of his precocious power. He met Alligator Records head, Bruce Iglauer as a mid-teen in Memphis, and it was propitious. “He said to me that if I ever wanted to record an album, that I should make it for them.”
“We recorded it in three days in Tennessee. Keb’ Mo’ was a session player on it as well as a featured artist.” (It also features Buddy Guy and Billy Branch on a song apiece.) “Keb’ came in and it was great. Yeah man, I had a lot of fun with him.
Ingram had opened for Buddy Guy in 2014 in Virginia, and in 2015, he got a chance to sit in with him at Portland’s Waterfront Blues Festival. Shortly after that, he heard from a business friend of his who said to him, “Hey man, Buddy wants to help you out with a record, which I didn’t have at that time. I said ‘great.’” Guy had so much confidence in Kingfish that he even helped fund the album.
Christone then hooked-up with 58-year old producer, songwriter, drummer and two-time Grammy Award winner Tom Hambridge, who has frequently worked with Guy. “I had a lot of fun with Tom, and it was through Mr. Guy that it happened.”
Hambridge “most definitely” made him as comfortable in the studio (Ocean Way Studios in Nashville) as was possible and the results shine on every one of the stellar tracks. “I was never caught up in nerves in the studio, although a lot of things were new to me. I tried to learn as quickly as I could, and I now just love recording.”
Christone co-wrote eight out of the 12 songs on the LP, and he wants to write more originals. “The music comes easier than the lyrics do for me.”
Recording was an eye-opening experience for Kingfish but also the next step forward in his musical growth and remarkable career. For a first effort, it is unbridled, unafraid and ultimately compelling.
Keb’ Mo’ and Kingfish obviously had a blast in the studio, so much so that
Ingram’s been getting nothing less than extremely positive reviews of his debut effort Asked if he was pleased with the outcome, he states, “Yes, but I feel that my vocals are stronger now than when we recorded and I feel that my playing has gotten a little bit better as well. But overall, I’ve been happy the way it came out. And we’re definitely thinking about the next one. I’ve already had good writing sessions. We’re definitely going to work with Tom as producer again, but I think some other folks too.”
Ingram started out playing drums, then bass guitar, then, and for only eight years now, the six-string guitar. Is he stopping there? “I want to learn other instruments as well, like lap-steel, which I used to mess around with and I want to learn organ, sax and trumpet.”
Kingfish’s live shows are an enveloping world, involving raptly attentive audiences who listen to every word of singing and every guitar lick played. He seems to be in another place at that time.
“When I’m on stage, every worry, every thought is gone. I’m in my safe place. When my eyes are closed, I’m in a whole ‘nother area. Sometimes when I play and I close my eyes, I see things. Certain songs, to me, have colors that represent that song.”
Ingram never needed to sneak into over-21 jukes or nightclubs as folks just knew him and why he was there. There was enough music in and around Clarksdale to give him a very well-rounded experience in the blues
“The only problem I had was one time in a club, they had to put me back in the car ‘cause they had a wet t-shirt contest going on.”
The direction his mangers and family have given him in regard to what he wishes to do with his music and career has been solid, and well-thought out.
“We talk frequently about my future, financially and otherwise, and my Mom is very involved in those proceedings. We have a plan.”
He’s also committed to attending college and studying music production among other things. “I want to learn about the business side of things. I’m learning production slowly as I record. I’ll just have to make the time to go, along with continuing to be on the road.”
Christone “Kingfish” Ingram is a young man on a mission toward the journey within himself, and that ought to be plenty for the rest of us.
He’s been quoted as saying, “I want to be known as being among the best of the best.’
“I probably said that when I was much younger. I feel a whole lot differently now. Honestly, I have a more carefree attitude now. I don’t have to be the best, just be me.”