Twenty-two-year-old Grammy-nominated artist Christone “Kingfish” Ingram, known as the defining blues voice of her generation, is on a roll. Kingfish rose to prominence in 2019 when they released their self-titled debut 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 artists such as Buddy Guy. He was interviewed by Sir Elton John on rocket time, released a duet with Bootsy Collins and recently opened for the Rolling Stones in London. He was nominated for a total of nine Blues Music Awards and won them all.
I first heard Kingfish in 2013 at Red’s Juke Joint in Clarksdale, Mississippi, one of the last authentic juke joints in the south. Kingfish was only 14 years old and already brimming with talent. In 2019, I interviewed him about his debut album, kingfish, for which he toured 13 months until COVID shut down all live performances. Forced off the road, Kingfish returned to Clarksdale and wrote songs for his next album, 662. (662 is the Clarksdale area code). Now this young blues giant is back on the road for his “662 Juke Joint Live Tour”. I met him in London.
Who are your guitar heroes of yesterday and today?
From 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.
They say you become the face of the next generation of blues. How does this sound differ from those of the ancient giants?
Well, for one, I was influenced by their music. Their work was innovative. All those guys I mentioned brought something new to the blues, and I feel like that’s what I do somehow. I bring a new sound to it like kind of an R&B flavor, a little rock flavor of, you know, from my side, I feel like I got this new sound for sure.
When did you start singing and writing songs? Songwriting started around the age of 13. I was writing songs before that, but it was at 13 that I finally wrote songs that I had confidence in. It was at this age that I really started to get into it. And when I started working with different songwriters like Tom Hambridge and Keb Mo, that’s when I finally started to learn the technicalities of building a song.
Who are your singer-songwriter heroes?
There are R&B legends like Baby Face, James Taylor, Curtis Mayfield, Prince. They’re some of my favorite writers, even Hendrix.
How do you manage to play the blues the way it always has and yet incorporate a sound that Gen Xers prefer?
I’m from Clarksdale, Mississippi so just having this foundation is a plus, being young I can connect the two worlds in my own way,
This tour takes you from the UK to the Netherlands across 16 states to Germany, back to the UK before joining the Legendary Rhythm and Blues Cruise in San Diego in October. Are all these tours exhausting you?
it can be sometimes, but at the same time it’s worth it when you play the shows and you see everyone; but certainly every time you go from city to city and from state to state or from region to region, it’s going to get difficult and hectic.
Have you ever had the chance to spend time as a tourist and in these different places?
Certainly. It depends on how much time we have. Recently, we were in Rome, and before the show, we spent the whole day seeing the city: the Colosseum, the Vatican, everything. It was amazing.
So touring these other cultures has changed your life in some way.
Certainly. It’s really cool to see things in their authentic selves. 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?
Certainly. Some of the crowds here in the UK really let you know that they’re very attached to something, that they’ve really enjoyed it. Some places they are more reserved and show you their appreciation after the song is over.
So you don’t take it personally, you wonder when they’re really quiet instead of reacting?
No, the younger I would have been, but I realize that people react differently, plus there are language barriers.
And you’re on tour in London at the moment. Is it strange moving from your small-town roots of Clarksdale to this bustling metropolis of London?
It’s a big change, a big change, even if I still get a bit of that southern hospitality. People are nice for sure.
What do you think of the crowds at your concerts?
The crowds are wonderful. Some European crowds are more reserved, but here in the UK they pretty much let you know throughout the show that they love it.
Are people shocked to see such a young musician with an old soul playing the blues?
I would say someone who is authentic with that, probably yes, because there have been so many kids who have come before me, but they question some of the authenticity. So I think people are finally seeing it in its true form and are intrigued.
I understand now that you have a new signature guitar with Fender coming out today. Congratulations. It’s called the Kingfish Telecaster ® Luxury. Why Fender?
Fender has a lot of history with bluesmen. Even BB King played at the Fenders early in his career. And a lot of people like Hendrix and Prince played at Fenders.
Does the guitar have a color?
Yes, the color is called Mississippi Night.
What is the difference between your Fender and the Fenders currently on the market?
My Fender has a louder, booming sound because of the way I had them wire the pickups, as opposed to the ones that come out of the rack and have that stock albeit normal fingered sound. Mine has different specs that make it unique.
And what separates this guitar from a classic American Stratocaster or a Fender Telecaster?
Mine has a rockier and more incisive sound. It’s more bestial, I like to say. Even the pickups play a big part in getting that big sound So custom pickups,
It is priced at $1,999.99. Where will it be sold?
Everywhere. All 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 shooting your second album right now. But are you working on new song ideas for your next album?
Still, the plan is, when I’m done with this tour, we’ll go home and go to the studio with different writers and more people to create more music with. It’s funny, after the recording 662 we went back to the studio and recorded more. I always have music in the works.
So, are you recording in Clarksdale?
No, we’re going back to Nashville or maybe Atlanta. We never know.
Do you have a theme for your next album?
Honestly no, but I have a different strategy and plan for music. More soul and R&B stuff for the blues. I need to highlight the voice.
Would you rather go back to the old standard classic blues or add your elements of R&B and soul and rock – what do you prefer to play?
All. Because I’m from Clarksdale Mississippi, that’s the basis of the old standard, but also that I’m young and I understand things and youth, and I add some of that to my music. I feel like it’s good to have one foot forward and one foot in the past.
Where do you think you will be in 10 years?
I hope to make more music and create more memories.
What do you want your legacy to be?
I always had to hear this myth that the kids who liked me only liked rap and hip hop. I just want to show that’s not true. I want to show that more kids in my demographic who come from the neighborhood when a co-worker likes the blues and likes to move – I just want to show it.