Twenty year old blues guitar prodigy Christone ‘Kingfish’ Ingram is heading to Australia next year to perform at Bluesfest. AM editor Greg Phillips recently caught up with Kingfish on the phone to chat about his career, gear and his trip downunder for Bluesfest.
Although most of the major blues legends like as Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters, Elmore James, Albert King, BB King, Howlin Wolf and Robert Johnson have well and truly left the building, the blues is still very much alive and well and living in Mississippi courtesy of young torchbearers such as 20 year old guitarist, singer, songwriter Christone ‘Kingfish’ Ingram. Kingfish was hitting drums at age six, plucking bass when he was 8 and by the time he reached 11, he was playing guitar at Clarksdale’s famous Ground Zero Club backing his mentor Bill “Howl-N-Madd” Perry. He even played at the White House in 2014 as part of a delegation of young blues musicians from the Delta Blues Museum. Once the great Bootsy Collins began to share Christone’s fabulous YouTube videos, the world then caught on to this blues prodigy and there’s been no turning back since. He has gone on to share the stage with Buddy Guy, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Robert Randolph, Guitar Shorty, Eric Gales and many others and in May 2019 he released his acclaimed debut album ‘Kingfish’ on respected blues label Alligator Records.
In fact, blues is so embedded in Kingfish’s DNA that he resides only a few kilometres from the infamous crossroads on the corner of Highway 61 and Highway 49 in Clarksdale, the location where the legend says blues musician Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil. While many global music fans make the pilgrimage to America’s south to pay homage to the pioneering towns that gave birth to the blues, Christone laments a declining interest from many of locals in their own music history. “To be truthful not like they used to but there are still a lot of locals who understand the history of the blues and the town but most people really don’t appreciate it,” he tells me.
A spark that really lit Kingfish’s fire for the blues was seeing BB King perform on the American TV show Sanford and Son. “I remember he was doin’ How Blue Can You Get and man, the sound of his voice and the way he was hittin’ the strings, the vibrato, it was amazing,” he recalls. Christone is grateful that he once got to meet his guitar hero albeit briefly. “I got to meet him one time when I was in 7th grade. I never got a chance to meet him the way I wanted to ‘cos it wasn’t a one on one, it was with a whole bunch of other kids but I was definitely grateful to meet him one time.”
After all of the promise, the kudos and a few more stage miles, Christone finally released his debut album “Kingfish’ this year to much acclaim. The album presents all the facets of Christone’s love of the blues from firebrand electric tunes to heartfelt acoustic ballads. It also features guest appearances from blues icons Buddy Guy and Keb Mo. While the album was an exciting writing and recording opportunity for the young bluesman, it was also a great learning experience.
“It was my first stab at original tunes and they were all about what was going on in my head and my mind at the time. All of them definitely are from my heart,” he says. “I did learn a lot about rushing things. When you have time to prepare something you have to take advantage of that time. We made that record in like 3 days and it turned out great but I felt like it might have been better on my part if I took my time with certain things.”
It hasn’t taken long at all for the guitar world to embrace Kingfish either. Earlier this year Fender guitars featured Christone as an ambassador for their new Vintera range, a line of vintage-inspired electric guitar and bass models that embody a period-specific vibe. Kingfish was chosen as the musician to perfectly represent the spirit of their 50s model Vintera Strat. On stage however, it’s currently a Player series Strat that he uses as one of his main instruments, along with his custom Michael Chertoff LP-style guitar. Amp-wise, he’s still exploring his tone. “I am alternating between amps, Peavey and Fender,” he explains. “Right now I am using a Peavey Delta Blues, that’s a little 2×10 or maybe the one with 18 inch speaker or a Fender Twin or a Fender DeVille. Mesa Boogie have me trying something out now too. I only use like 3 pedals, the Conspiracy Theory overdrive, wah wah and tuner.”
There are a couple of wonderful acoustic tracks on the album too, ‘Been Here Before’ and ‘Hard Times’, which he used whatever guitars were available to him in the studio including a J-Series Gibson. Occasionally at home Christone will gravitate to an acoustic guitar when inspiration strikes. “Yeah I do that,” he tells me. “I do it when I don’t feel like pluggin’ in. I do like to play acoustic because it does improve your control and it’s good to have around the house. Also when the album came out I started adding some acoustic stuff to my show.”
The great news for Australian blues fans is that Kingfish will be heading our way next Easter to perform at Bluesfest, a festival he has heard much about. “I’ve heard a lot man,” he says enthusiastically. “It’s actually one of the festivals I’ve been wanting to be on for a long while. I’m really looking forward to it. And what else is he looking forward to about his trip downunder? “Kangaroos man! Kangaroos and meeting new people and playing some music, that’s what’s on my agenda.”
Bluesfest 2020 is being held from 9 – 13 April 2020. Tickets are on sale now via Moshtix.