Growing up in the blues Mecca of Clarksdale, Mississippi, Christone “Kingfish” Ingram was surrounded by music from the start. But his introduction to the blues came from a surprising source.
“When I had first found out about B.B. King, I was watching a Sanford and Son episode he did a cameo on,” says Ingram. “I was really young, watching with my dad.”
A few short years later – Ingram is only 20 years old – and the guitarist and singer, who released his debut album in May, ” is being hailed as “the latest blues savior” by Rolling Stone, working with Buddy Guy, rubbing shoulders with Motley Crue’s Nikki Sixx and preparing to go on tour with indie band Vampire Weekend. He’ll be a headliner at Briggs Farm Blues Festival this Saturday July 13. He’ll also perform at the XPoNential Music Festival on July 26 in Camden, New Jersey.
“In my household, my dad, he was more like [listening to] soul blues stuff and like old-school rap,” he says. “My brother liked new rap. My mom played everything from blues to soul to R&B to gospel. Any type of record came on, so I was exposed to it.”
Ingram’s talent on the guitar was undeniable at an early age, but he says he only started writing songs “maybe like two years ago.”
“When you get older, you have to write songs. You’re not gonna get there playing other people’s stuff,” he says. “I didn’t have faith in my material when I was young.”
Ingram’s self-titled album, on indie blues label Alligator Records, was funded by Guy, who has become the youngster’s friend. Guy plays on the album, as does Keb Mo, another high-profile friend of Ingram’s.
“Man, I was nervous,” Ingram says about recording. “And people kind of looked at me crazy when they found out I was nervous. It was my first record. I had studio experience before, but never for my own thing. I was excited as well as anxious.”
Guy plays on the song “Fresh Out.”
“We did it separately,” he says of recording with the blues legend. “Actually, ‘Fresh Out’ was already recorded. I sang the last verse and played the solo. Buddy picked it out for us to do but when we played him the song, he liked what we heard.
“I was like, ‘Man, one of the last living blues legends.’ He put his money behind this. I still can’t believe it till this day.”
While Ingram is making waves in a traditional genre, his rise has a lot to do with a non-traditional method.
“With my fans, sometimes they take a poll after the shows: How did you find out about Christone? Most of the time the answer’s YouTube,” he says.
In fact, it was another internet channel – Instagram – that led to Ingram’s unlikely connection with Sixx, from the legendarily debauched metal band Motley Crue. Sixx saw a clip of Ingram playing and shared it on the platform. Ingram says he was a fan of the Crue before he met the bass player.
“It was great, because I enjoy all styles of music, so being around him was great,” he says. “To me, it was like being around royalty. But he’s such a nice guy. Not conceited.”
Ingram, who shares that he has “a collaboration going on with Boosty Collins,” will hit the road with Vampire Weekend in mid-August and early September, including a show at the Mann Center in Philadelphia on Sept. 4.
“We did a show back in January in LA at The Troubador, and one of the members, who I think knows my manager, came out,” he says of the Vampire Weekend hookup. “And he went back to his band and told them about the show and they asked me to open for them.”
Ingram – whose favorite concerts include Eric Gales, Foo Fighters and Anthony Hamilton and would like to collaborate with Snoop Dogg or bluesman Carl Weathersby – has come a long way in a short time, but he sounds just as excited about the future as what he’s accomplished so far.
“Of course I want to grow more musically,” he says. “Not the cliche blues guitar thing, I want to get more into other stuff like jazz and fusion, not only blues. I want to learn the business so I can manage my money.”
And as for his rising status in the blues community, he’s not too worried that his diverse interests and desires will push away the traditionalists.
“I love all music,” he says. “It’s also still rooted in tradition, and not disrespecting tradition, but still I see no harm in adding some rock elements and gospel music.”