The blues. Delta blues. Twelve-bar blues. Got the blues. The crossroads. The deal. Full dance floors and sweaty walls in the smallest of rooms, bars and dives in the Deep South. These are all parts of the legend that come to mind when the truest of art forms is brought up.
Christone “Kingfish” Ingram hails from the birthplace of those blues, the Mississippi Delta. He grew up a stone’s throw away from the crossroads where Robert Johnson sold his soul in the most infamous deal in American folklore. Kingfish operates in the tightest of boxes where virtuoso guitar playing and plaintive vocals are not only the norm but required to stand with blues giants.
The rise of Kingfish has been swift and unexpected. He is only 20 years old, and seems to be everywhere at once. His songs are where past legends such as Muddy Waters and Stevie Ray Vaughan live, but are still uniquely his own.
It’s actually quite the trick to write songs that already sound classic without being dated. Simple songcraft can be the steepest of valleys. Twelve notes isn’t a deep well from which to pull instant vintage.
Ingram’s new album, “Kingfish,” just came out a couple of weeks ago. The first single and accompanying video, “Outside of this Town,” is a new twist on an established promotional tool. Shot just on iPhones, the clip uses incredibly lifelike figures made from chewing gum wrappers and stop motion video to move along the narrative of Kingfish coming alive inside of a guitar. The analogy is rich. Simple tools being used to create new and vibrant art. Welcome to the world of Kingfish.
Q: How does it feel to finally have an album out?
A: Man, it feels great. I’m glad to know that what was going on in my head, I was able to get that out artistically. So far, the reviews have been great, man, and I’m just super happy about that.
Q: Let’s talk about “Outside of this Town.” That song and that video was really creative stuff.
A: Thank you, man. I wrote that song in my living room during late 2013-14. That was the way I was feeling at the time, because there’s people in that town and nobody wants to take that leap of faith and move. I was saying my own point of view; like, I didn’t want to step on anybody’s toes, but at the same time I didn’t want to be stuck here all of my life. I was talking about what I could’ve done and what I did, of course.
Q: I’ve listened to this album now for a couple of weeks, and “If You Love Me” is the definition of the blues. Can you tell me how that came about?
A: I wrote that song with my friend. I’ve known him for a few years now and I’ve really enjoyed it. I asked him to write this song, and I kind of arranged it to sound like this. It is a great tune.
Q: To me, that was my definition of the blues. What’s your definition of the blues?
A: Blues is something that you can’t go the wrong way no matter how hard you try. Blues is always going to be there, whether you’re feeling bad or good.
Q: As a young man, what drew you to that kind of music?
A: I was around it in the Mississippi Delta, because blues is kind of the nectar there. I would listen to other music, but it was the cultural standpoint that made me love it so much. There’s stories that they tell about life and it was just real. So, that’s what drew me to it; the cultural aspect and the realness. There was nothing artificial about it.
Q: You’re a phenomenal guitar player. When did you start playing? Were you an obsessed little kid running around with his guitar?
A: Oh yeah man, it was every day. That was all I did from around age 3 to age 5. My family would ask me to get up to sing, and when my mother would get up and sing I would have my guitar dragging in there behind her. If we had company come over, I would walk in there and put on a concert for them. I started learning guitar at age 8, and I was obsessed with it from when I first got interested in music to when I actually started learning, around 13 or 14.
Q: The song that I keep going back to is “Listen” with Keb’ Mo’. That’s a beautiful song. Can you tell me how that collaboration came about?
A: I had first met Keb’ back in 2015, and in 2017 we did the Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise together. That was maybe a week before we had to record the record. Originally, we were supposed to sit down and talk, brainstorm and write a song together, but he came in and he played on four or five different tracks. Him singing on that song was a last-minute idea. I asked him maybe a week after we recorded, and then he recorded at his house. It was great because I knew for a fact that song was in his style, so I already knew that he would be perfect for it.
Q: I think that’s a song that can transcend the blues genre and cross over to multiple formats.
A: That was the whole gist of the idea that we had. It also has that “jump out” feel in it as well.
Q: In August, you’ll be touring with Vampire Weekend (including at the Fox Theater in Atlanta on Aug. 27). That’s a really great opportunity for cross-over appeal for both audiences. How did that come about?
A: One of them had come to a show I did back in Los Angeles. After that my manager sent me an email saying that they wanted to work with me. I was all up for it and ready to get on it. That would be the first time I actually had the experience of touring and being on the road. It’s going to be interesting to see how it plays out, but I can’t wait.
Q: You’ve been out playing dates with Buddy Guy. How cool is that? What’s he like when he’s not playing guitar?
A: He’s so full of wisdom and has so much to offer. He gave me a lot of tips and information about the record business. I was watching him on stage every night, and was watching how he performed and just carried himself.
Q: I know you’ve done some TV stuff. You were a featured performer on Netflix’s “Luke Cage.” Do you have plans to do anything else like that?
A: Hopefully in the future. We actually haven’t gotten in too much of a conversation about it. Who knows what will come out of the woodwork?
Larry May is the owner of CD Cellar record store on Noble Street in downtown Anniston.