Christone Ingram's New Generation of Blues

Christone “Kingfish” Ingram headlines Summit on Friday, October 22.
Christone “Kingfish” Ingram headlines Summit on Friday, October 22. Justin Hardiman

In the few years leading up to the pandemic, young blues guitarist Christone “Kingfish” Ingram was busy touring nonstop, both as a headliner and opening for his mentor, Buddy Guy.

A few months after COVID forced venue closures and tour cancellations, Ingram started thinking about a followup to Kingfish, his Grammy-nominated 2019 Alligator Records debut. He wanted to write an album that was personal, particularly since his mother had died just as his career was taking off. He also wanted to showcase his hometown of Clarksdale, Mississippi, an early epicenter of the blues, the place where Robert Johnson was rumored to have made a deal with the devil at the crossroads of Highways 61 and 49.

In May 2020, Ingram started working on what would become 662, named after the area code of the north Mississippi Delta that first came into use in 1999, the year he was born. He initially worked with Grammy winner Tom Hambridge, who'd produced Kingfish, and songwriter Richard Fleming and others over Zoom sessions from May through September.

“It would take me two hours to bust out one or two songs, and one time we got three done at one session,” Ingram recalls.

The thirteen-track 662, which dropped last July, opens with the title cut, a high-octane blues shuffle that features one of many Ingram’s blistering solos. He sings about his hometown, where "lots of people get up early, lots of people get high," and there's a church on every corner.
On the funky “Too Young to Remember,” the 22-year-old sings, “When you see me play guitar, you’re lookin’ back a hundred years.”

“It’s just saying all of those guys like Lightnin’ Hopkins, Robert Johnson, Howlin Wolf, Albert King, Freddie King, B.B King — how I'm able to soak up a lot of things from what I've heard and what I've listened to," Ingram explains. "That's why I say when you hear me play guitar, you’re lookin’ back a hundred years. It’s almost like you’re listening to them, because I looked at what they did and studied what they did and added that to my own [playing].”

Before Kingfish came out, Ingram opened for Guy, and he’d watch the blues legend from the wings of the stage and see how he worked the crowd.

“I was able to borrow little things that he had done on stage,” he says.

While Ingram digs in deep on guitar on some of 662’s upbeat cuts, he gets poignant on the slower “Another Life Goes By,” which he wrote with Trayvon Martin and Sandra Bland in mind, about "two or three years before everything kind of went haywire," he says.

“One of the reasons I wrote that song was because a lot of people think that when it comes to blues these days, it's only one thing,” he continues. “They think it’s only cotton fields and ‘My baby left me,’ and that’s that. But blues music was born out of protests. They say ‘Don’t divide,’ but blues was born out of division. Being a young African-American male of today, it’s mandatory that I sing about that, because that's my blues of today.”

Ingram, who notes that he and his mother were homeless for a little while before his career took off, sings about how music was his way out from poverty and crime on “Not Gonna Lie.” And now that he's where he is, he says he's "got to keep it going" because he "promised Buddy Guy."

Christone "Kingfish" Ingram plays with the Cerny Brothers at 8 p.m. Friday October 22, at Summit, 1902 Blake Street, $25-$27.50,
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Jon Solomon writes about music and nightlife for Westword, where he's been the Clubs Editor since 2006.
Contact: Jon Solomon