Christone “Kingfish” Ingram has been heralded as a modern bluesman, an architect keen on the legends that preceded him, and a future champion of all that’s good and right in the genre. It’s a crown he doesn’t wear lightly, and on his new Alligator Records release 662, the 22-year-old from Clarksdale, MS shoulders the yoke of tradition with savvy, class, and fresh perspective. Taking cues from guitarists and styles across the generations, Ingram shares with listeners his own personal tastes in R&B and rock, evoking the hybrid sounds of the 1960s and 1970s while challenging the 21st Century with blues of the here and now.
AI- In the song “Too Young To Remember”, you name drop Jimi Hendrix, BB King, Buddy Guy, Lightnin’ Hopkins… Those are all influences that prominently feature on the record– and then you get a song like “Long Distance Woman” that has a kinda metal influence that I really first noticed when I discovered your music through the show Luke Cage. Tell me where that metal influence comes from.
CKI- The full-ahead rock influence come around, I’d say when I was like 13, 14, and I started to expand my ear a little bit. Then straight-ahead, traditional style blues. Although it’s not straight-ahead rock, I got into Ernie Isley and the Isley Brothers, and that led me into Hendrix. And then then I started to get into Prince, like heavy, heavy, heavy Prince– rock Prince, funk Prince. Gary Moore was a big influence, especially with me lovin’ that humbucker Les Paul-style sound. Earlier than that, I can recall lookin’ in guitar mags at who Dimebag Darrell was and Zakk Wylde and Randy Rhoads and stuff like that. So that’s where the harder rock influences have come from.
There’s always a lot of talk and great admiration for your guitar skills, but on this album, let’s talk about your role as a singer. You’ve really stretched out in that area, stylistically, with your vocals. Was there a greater concentration on that this time around?
I would say, yeah– but also, I knew what I wanted the songs to be. I felt like my voice was… Well, I’ll say this, I had more confidence in the 662 sessions than the first record because, [at that time], I’d had studio experience before, but never for my own project. So I didn’t know [about] pushin’ out my vocal range and phrasin’ words a little better. So I would say yes and no. I came in this time knowing that I could probably get it done with all the stuff that I learned from the first session. I felt like that’s how we was able to make the vocals sound more mature and everything ’cause we could double down.
I’m glad you brought up that recording experience and the way that you’ve done it because puttin’ 662 together had to have been unlike any other recording experience you’ve had before. You had to do a lot of the planning and the nuts and bolts of it from a distance. When it came time to record, was that mostly done remotely? As so many other folks have done this last year and a half?
Oh, no! As far as keepin’ everyone safe and in a little bubble, yeah, that’s probably the only remote part. But other than that, the part that we were all away from each other was when we were writing the album, I wanna say from May all the way to September . Myself, Tom Hambridge, and Richard Fleming all did ZOOM calls, like every week, writin’ the record. Leading on up to September is when we did the session. We got everything done in a week, and we were all together. All of us got tested and everything was pretty cool, man. It was all good!
I know you’re a student of sound and style, but as a fan, what have you been listening to? What’s dominating your playlist during the drives and on your days off?
Man, everything! But primarily, most of the time, I’m not really listening to music that’s all about guitar (laughs)! I’m from Mississippi, so I like a lot of ’90s southern hip hop, stuff like UGK and Memphis-style rappers 8Ball & MJG, and old G-funk gangsta rap from the West Coast. But if I want to take a break from that, I’m always listenin’ to ’90s-style R&B. I love the instrumentation in ’90s R&B! And even new R&B artists like H.E.R., and different rappers like J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar and jazz guys like Robert Glasper, Kamasi Washington, Thundercat… I’m listenin’ to a whole bunch of stuff, man!
That ’90s R&B influence really shows up on songs like “You’re Already Gone”. What’s it feel like to be able to bring that into what you’re doing?
It’s really something special because I’ve always wanted to do that. I’ve always wanted to add some smooth type of R&B vocals over a cool Quiet Storm vibe. That song is definitely that vibe and it’s actually one of my favorite tracks on the record. I have fun every time I play it ’cause it’s different from the norm that I’m known for.
Does it feel like you’re steppin’ into a different role? Steppin’ out of the bluesman role?
I would say musically, no, because the changes can still have that 1-4-5 progression. But yes, vocally, because I get to do like certain riffs and runs, and I’m takin’ out of that blues element. Even playin’ it! ‘Cause we have a bridge in the song that’s like a Quiet Storm, jazz type o’ thing, and although it’s very brief, I have fun playin’ that as well!
One of the songs on the record, “Another Life Goes By”, if I’m not mistaken, I think I read that you’ve had that song for a little while, a couple of years. Somehow, you’ve managed to release it at a time where it sounds and feels even more relevant than ever. I think blues music has always been a conduit for the pain and the violence or depression that happens around it. I don’t know that there’s ever a definitive answer, but for you, do you feel like there is an answer in that song? Later on in another track, you mention looking back a hundred years– and here you are in 2021, a young African-American man staring down the same kind of racism and injustice and violence a hundred years later. So how do you fight that in song? Do you talk to the legends about this?
To be honest? Like simple? Simple answer would say that we’ve come a long way, but we got a long way to go. A lot of people have this narrow mind about blues, thinkin’ that it’s supposed to be all about cotton fields and ‘my baby left me,’ but it’s mandatory for me and my young brothers that’s playin’ blues today for us to sing about [more than that] because that’s our blues. To answer one of your questions, I’ve never really talked about this to the legends because most of the legends I know are gone on. But I do talk about this to my peers, all of the young black blues players like Marquise Knox and Jontavious Willis and Annika Chambers.
We all have discussions about this. We’ve come to the conclusion, like I was sayin’ earlier, that this is mandatory. This is our blues. This is somethin’ that we should be talkin’ [about]. That song was written two or three years before, even in the midst of Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Sandra Bland. Even though that song was written two years before, the fact that it still resonates today, that’s really not a good thing! That’s bad! So, yeah, that’s my thoughts on that.
You say it’s something that you talk about with your peers. Do you feel like at the point in time that you’re at right now, with technology, with streaming, the ability to reach more listeners than any other generation of artists before, do you think that better positions you to make those kinds of statements?
Most definitely! Most definitely because I’m blessed to have a large social media following. I would say the first step of change is to be speakin’ out about it, and if you have a large followin’, people listen to what you say. People can be very impressionable, and the best thing for you to do is just use your platform for good things. For me, some people can’t look past the guitar, but at the end of the day, I’m still a young black male in the South. Guitar or not, this could happen walkin’ down the street! So I have to talk about that!
You mentioned how people have notions about what the blues is or about. I think most of us will agree that American music, in any form, starts with blues and gospel, comes from the field and the church, and in the evolution of that over years, there’s a misconception maybe among blues purists that it has to sound a certain way. I had a conversation with Luther Dickinson one time, and he said to me that Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, all of those guys back in the ’50s and even before, they weren’t tryin’ to sound vintage. They were trying to be modern, to sound fresh. Do you feel that you were put in a position where you have to find that balance, or are you constantly striving to find that new, fresh sound?
I would say really both because I always say that I find myself in that gray area. It’s been known that I can get low down with traditional when I want to and when I hang with the rockers, I can. So I would say that I’m in that gray area. I look at it this way, if you can mix somethin’ into where you can still see the blues in it and you’re not disrespecting the genre, I see no problem. Because for me, that’s how I’ve been able to attract young people. I feel like if you just can mix some of the outside things in just a little, bring ’em in that way, then you can sit down and teach ’em about the real raw thing. It’s worked fine for me!
“Rock & Roll”. Man, that song… I didn’t know if it was gonna be included on 662. I guess it appears as a bonus track? I actually spoke to Ashley Ray just about a year ago when her album Pauline came out, and she told me the story of when she first heard your version of “Rock & Roll”. She told me she wept. Tell me about being open to and on the hunt for songs that you feel you can make your own.
It’s all about my taste in music. I’ve always loved to do other things besides the blues but still havin’ a foundation in blues. We’re always on the hunt for different producers in different genres. It’s kinda like leadin’ back to the question that you just asked. I’m always on the hunt for a new sound, somethin’ that I can add my blues to. We’re always on the hunt for somebody to bring us something that we know is legit and something that I can relate to and I can feel too.
You’re gonna be out for there for quite a while. It doesn’t look like, with maybe the exception of a day or two, you have a break until Thanksgiving. There’s been a lot of discussion this last two weeks about bands getting back out on tour, about venues, vaccines, anti-mask… All of that stuff is getting wrapped up into the simple pleasure of playing music. Do you have concerns about gettin’ out and embarkin’ on such a large tour?
(Laughs) There’s a small piece of me that’s a little concerned. I’ll be honest, I didn’t really start thinkin’ about it until we got through this first leg through Ohio. I didn’t think nothin’ of it [until] I was bein’ told that I couldn’t meet any of the fans after the shows. ‘Cause we don’t want to risk it and end the tour. It made me really realize what’s goin’ on. I just say to everybody, be smart. Don’t buy into misinformation. Don’t get information about this pandemic and other things off of social media. Be smart and listen to the people with the right credentials, so we can kick this thing. Wear your mask, and do what you gotta do big time!