Twenty-two-year old Grammy-nominated artist, Christone “Kingfish” Ingram, known as the defining blues voice of his generation, is on a roll. Kingfish came into prominence in 2019 when he brought out his first eponymous album Kingfish on Alligator Records. He was 19 years old. Since then, from his hometown of Clarksdale, Mississippi to stages around the world, Kingfish has headlined two national tours and performed with such artists as Buddy Guy. He was interviewed by Sir Elton John on Rocket Hour, released a duet with Bootsy Collins, and recently opened for the Rolling Stones in London. He has been nominated for a total of nine Blues Music Awards and has won them all.
I first heard Kingfish live in 2013 at Red’s Juke Joint in Clarksdale, Mississippi, one of the last authentic juke joints in the south. Kingfish was just 14 years old, already spilling over with talent. In 2019, I interviewed him about his first album, Kingfish, for which he toured 13 months until COVID halted all live performances. Forced to leave the road, Kingfish returned to Clarksdale and wrote songs for his next album, 662. (662 is the area code for Clarksdale). Now, this young blues giant is back on the road for his “662 Juke Joint Live Tour.” I caught up with him in London.
Who are your guitar heroes past and present?
From the acoustic blues guys like Son House, Robert Johnson, Johnny Shines, Robert Nighthawk, Albert King, Freddie King, BB King, Muddy Waters to guys like Prince Gary Moore, Hendrix, some of the unsung guys like Eddie Hazel — pretty much a plethora of different hearts.
It is said that you are becoming the face of the next generation of blues. How does that sound differ from those of the former giants?
Well, for one, I was influenced by their music. Their works were innovative. All of those guys I mentioned brought something new to the blues, and I feel like that’s what I’m doing in a way. I’m bringing a new sound to it like some of like some R&B flavor, a little bit of a rock flavor from, you know, from my end I feel like I have that new sound for sure.
When did you start singing and writing songs? The songwriting started at around age 13 I would write songs before that, but age 13 was when I finally wrote songs in which I had confidence. That was the age I really started getting into it. And when I started to work with different songwriters like Tom Hambridge and Keb Mo, that’s when I finally started to learn the technicality of building a song.
Who are your singer songwriter heroes?
There’s the R&B legends like Baby Face, James Taylor, Curtis Mayfield, Prince. Those are some of my favorite writers, even Hendrix.
How do you manage to play the blues the way they’ve always been played and yet you incorporate a sound that the Gen Xers prefer?
I come from Clarksdale, Mississippi, so just to have that foundation is a plus, being young, I get to mesh both worlds together in my own way,
This tour is taking you from the UK to the Netherlands to 16 states to Germany, back to the UK before joining the Legendary Rhythm and Blues Cruise in San Diego this October. Is all this touring exhausting for you?
it can be at times, but at the same time it’s all worth it when you play the shows and you see all the people; but definitely anytime you go from city to city and state to state or region to region it’s going to get tough and hectic.
Do you ever get a chance to spend any time as a tourist and these various venues?
Most definitely. It depends on how much time we have. Recently, we were in Rome, and before the show we spent the whole day touring the city: the Coliseum, the Vatican everything. It was amazing.
So has touring these other cultures changed your life in any way.
Most definitely. It’s really cool to see thing in their authentic self. Like enjoying authentic Italian food and seeing all the great architecture and just wondering how they build things, and meeting new people.
Do you find that different cultures react differently to your songs?
Most definitely. Some of the crowds here in the UK really let you know they’re heavily into something, that they really enjoyed it. Some places, they’re more reserved and show you their appreciation after the song is done.
So you don’t take it personally, wondering when they’re really quiet instead of reacting?
Nah, the younger me would have been, but I realize people react differently, plus there are language barriers.
And you’re touring in London right now. Is it strange coming from your small-town Clarksdale roots to this bustling London metropolis?
It’s a big change, a big shift, though I still get a piece of that southern hospitality. Folks are nice for sure.
How do you feel about the crowds at your shows?
The crowds are wonderful. Some European crowds are more reserved, but here in the UK they pretty much let you know through the whole show that they love it.
Are people shocked to see such a young musician with an old soul playing the blues?
I’d say someone that’s authentic with it, probably yes, because there’s been so many kids who came before me, but they question some of the authenticity. So I think people finally see it in its true form and get intrigued by it.
I understand now you have a new signature guitar with Fender, which comes out today. Congratulations. It’s called the Kingfish Telecaster ® Deluxe. Why Fender?
Fender’s has a great deal of history with bluesmen. Even BB King played Fenders early in his career. And a lot of people like Hendrix and Prince played Fenders.
Does the guitar have a color?
Yes, the color is named Mississippi Night.
What’s the difference between your Fender and the Fenders presently on the market?
My Fender has a more loud, booming sound because of the way I had them wire the pickups, as opposed to the ones that come off the rack and have that stock though normal fingery sound. Mine has different specs that makes it unique.
And what separates this guitar from a classic American Stratocaster or Telecaster Fender?
Mine has a more rockier and edgier sound. It’s more beastly, I like to say. Even the pickups play a big part in me getting that big sound So, customized pickups,
It’s priced at $1,999.99. Where will it be sold?
Everywhere. All the musician outlets.
[As I don’t play guitar, I requested a demo of the Kingfish Telecaster ® Deluxe and asked the house band of Big Ed’s World Famous Blues Jam at NYC’s Red Lion to try it out. Bandleader Big Ed Sullivan and guitarist V.D King said “it plays great,” “it’s powerful, versatile, easy to bend, and plays easy,” and “love the frets, and great color.” Arthur Neilson, who plays bass for the house band but guitar for blues singer, Shemekia Copeland, said, “The V-shaped neck is very comfortable. The pickups, although humbuckers, have a ‘single coil’ type tone, but they really fatten up when you add distortion, without losing clarity; and the separate volume and tone pots for each pickup allows for a wide variety of tones when both pickups are engaged.”]
I know you’re touring your second album right now. But are you working on any new song ideas for your next album?
Always, The plan is, when I’m through with this tour, we go back home and hit the studio with different writers and more people to create more musical with. It’s funny, after recording 662 we got into studio again and recorded more. I always have music in the works.
So, are you recording in Clarksdale?
No, we’re heading back to Nashville or maybe Atlanta. You never know.
Do you have a theme for your next album?
Honestly, I don’t, but I do have a different strategy and plan for the music. More soul-based and R&B stuff for the blues. I need to showcase the voice.
Do you prefer going back to the old standard classic blues or adding your elements of R&B and soul and rock — what do you prefer to play?
All of it. Because I come from Clarksdale Mississippi, that’s the foundation for the old standard stuff, but also with me being young and understanding stuff and youth, and adding some of that into my music. I feel like it’s good to have one foot forward and one foot in the past.
Where do you think you’re going to be in 10 years from now?
Hopefully making more music and making more memories.
What do you want your legacy to be?
I always had to hear that myth that kids that look liked me were only into rap and hip hop. I just want to show that that’s not true. I want to show that more kids from my demographic who come from the hood when one colleague likes the blues and loves to move — I just want to show that.