May 1, 2019
Christone “Kingfish” Ingram – Kingfish
On August 15 2105 I cycled 80 miles from Memphis, TN to Clarksdale, MS. The route was hot but flat and there was a Dylanesque thrill trundling along Highway 61. Less pleasing were the dogs that chased me as I pedalled along. Entering the Citadel of Dreams was a lifelong ambition. I was here at last.
Today, nostalgia is Clarksdale’s main draw. Hitched to a few Mississippi Blues Trail Signs and some places of sacred interest such as Bessie Smith’s hospital where she died (now a hotel), the Ground Zero Blues Club and the Delta Blues Museum. Other than this there is little that would tell you that this is the epicentre of what spawned a $bn industry and provided the reason why a pale Englishmen would make a pilgrimage to pitch his one man tent at the Showground (whilst local penitentiary inmates, painting lines on the car park, would sidle up to him to bum a light for their smokes now the supervisor had left the site).
Putting to one side the promotion of Christone “Kingfish” Ingram hailing from Clarksdale then his love of the Blues and the nurturing of his divine fretboard skills in this town is something of a surprise. When there if I’d asked a resident about the Blues I’m certain that I’d have drawn a blank other than their recognition that it drew tourists.
Ingram has an enormous talent on electric guitar. Migrating through other instruments he was by his mid teens a proficient axeman. Any video will show him fingering the fret in the vertical against his ample bulk and squeezing out notes with facial expressions redolent of BB King. However his debut release is more Buddy Guy. In fact Ingram has been on stage with this last member of Blues Royalty and Guy also helps out on one track.
Ingram’s release on Alligator provides a dedicated Blues record platform but probably just as telling is their hiring of Tom Hambridge to produce and co-write 11 of the 12 tracks. Hambridge is the current doyen of Blues Rock producers. Not only are his own albums fabulous but everything he touches ends up interesting, loud, consistent and, dare I say it, a little bit commercial.
Ingram, a whippersnapper at 20 years old, still co wrote 8 tracks and says “A lot of folks know me for my covers, that’s why it’s important for me to release original music.” In fairness, playing covers is less of a crime in this genre than any other. The lyrics to the tracks may be his but there are familiar blues themes of infidelity, penury and strife. The songs all hit the spot with bright energetic and authentic arrangements that showcase his fleeting fingers on some spell blinding solos. Buddy Guy takes the vocal and solo on “Fresh Out” but Ingram’s dynamic contribution is exciting. Following on “It Ain’t Right” drives along propelled by Hambridge (drums) and Tommy Macdonald (bass), the latter having played with Guy on 5 albums. This is classic Blues Rock with piercing and incendiary licks.
Ingram can take it down; with a Guy pastiche on “Been Here Before” he plays chords on acoustic guitar and he lets his vocal tell you why he’s doubly blessed. An expressive and weary Blues vocal places you at the heart of his misfortune in a couple of stanzas. To cover all sounds in the genre we need some harmonica driven Blues. Step forward Chicago Blues legend, Billy Branch, to play harp on “If You Love Me”. Coupled to some fluid passages by Ingram you have a mighty potent confection.
My favourite track is where Ingram steps forward with something sounding more like BB on “Love Ain’t My Favorite Word”. Never pretending to have the Master’s tone he does however insert the solos and pathos at the appropriate moments on a slow completely captivating 12 bar blues. This track, above all, confirms his maturity and education; not least why I will be in his audience when I get an opportunity.
Hambridge and Alligator have pushed out the boat with several luminaries and Keb’ Mo also sits in on 5 tracks. He shares the vocal on “Listen”. Mo didn’t write this but it is his usual Blue-lite sound (that may attract a few more radio stations). If that sounds cynical then Ingram is shortly to tour appearing on the Summer festival circuit but also with a couple of appearances with Buddy Guy and then supporting Vampire Weekend (wtf?) on 12 gigs – clearly the pursuit of a larger and hopefully younger audience is the ambition.
There are few young African American Bluesmen getting much publicity or garnering a large following. Maybe the excitement about Ingram is that someone so young is a wonderful find and a worthy bearer of the mantle of the legends before him. There is a world of magnificent Blues guitar players (mainly white) but Ingram seems to have the greats in his lineage. Maybe I should be less begrudging about Clarksdale and it’s indifference to modern day Blues. If the pheonix were to rise then there can be no better place for it to happen.
(Oh yes, and the next day, after visiting the Delta Blues Museum, I cycled to Indianola to the BB King Museum).