At 23, Christone ‘Kingfish’ Ingram ensures the future of the blues is in safe hands
“You could tell I was kind of a destructive child,” Kingfish said with a chuckle. “These guitars ripped. I was tripping over them, hitting them with chopsticks, stuff like that.
Years later, he found an exact match for the Teisco Sunburst and bought it on eBay. He takes better care of this one. For Kingfish, who performs Wednesday at the Berklee Performance Center, the guitar is life itself.
After catching the attention of the blues community (including living legend Buddy Guy) as a teenager, Kingfish released his debut album to a torrent of hits in 2019. He’s now churning out the follow-up, “662,” that he took out last time. year.
Six-six-two is the area code for Clarksdale, Mississippi, where Kingfish was born and raised. (A big kid, he got the nickname from his teachers.) He still lives in the apartment he shared with his late mother, Princess Pride.
“A house is the next step,” he says.
“There’s magic in the music, there’s gotta be something in the dirt,” he sings on the new album. It’s a barrel tune on the crossroads of the blues: “There’s a drugstore around the corner where Robert Johnson used to play.”
“When I was riding, the blues were about 24/7,” says Kingfish, speaking on a Zoom call. “At the time, some of the older guys were still alive and it was jumping every weekend. Imagine this rural atmosphere, this family and warm atmosphere. It all plays into the blues. This definitely makes up Clarksdale.
One of the secrets of Kingfish’s success is their partnership with Tom Hambridge, the Grammy-winning songwriter who produced both of their albums. “662” is nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Blues Album.
Bostonians of a certain age will remember Hambridge as “TH” in TH and the Wreckage, a drive-in bar band that played hundreds of shows across New England from graduating from Berklee in 1983 to when he moved to Nashville in 1999.
By then Hambridge had made a name for himself playing drums with greats like Chuck Berry and helping launch the career of Susan Tedeschi. Since moving to Nashville, he’s established himself as a go-to collaborator, writing songs with Jamey Johnson and Chris Stapleton and performing at the White House with BB King, Buddy Guy and others.
Kingfish, says Hambridge, is unmistakably a product of its environment.
“Church, blues, Delta – he just has it in his veins. He also happens to be an amazing, amazing guitarist and singer.
“He can go on stage and nobody has to know anything about him – he will affect them. They will get it.
While Hambridge worked with Kingfish in the studio, producing, drumming and co-writing songs, the guitarist took his own band on the road. Hambridge spoke to the Globe on the phone from Dallas, where he had just completed a soundcheck with the 85-year-old Guy.
They first met when the Hambridge band were invited to open for Guy around 20 years ago. As a rule, the headliner does not arrive in a room before the end of the first part, but one evening, his driver made a mistake on the fixed times. Guy was sitting in his dressing room, listening to the broadcast on speakers plugged in. Then he summoned Hambridge.
He had recognized songs by Tedeschi, Johnny Winter, George Thorogood and Delbert McClinton.
“What’s your thing, man?” He asked.
Hambridge explained that the common thread running through all of these songs was that he co-wrote them.
“Well, why don’t you write songs for me?” Guy asked.
The blues legend’s first support at Kingfish gave the soft-spoken youngster the confidence to take his music to the world.
“He was one of the first guys I studied when I found YouTube,” Kingfish says. “Playing in front of the crowd, teasing them with the guitar licks and antics. Just having him in my corner was a beautiful thing.
In 2019, Kingfish and his band opened several dates for smart indie pop band Vampire Weekend, including one at BU’s Agganis Arena. The unusual pairing introduced his music to a new audience.
“Every night was trying for me,” he recalls. He had heard stories of Stevie Ray Vaughan struggling to connect with Huey Lewis fans in 1984, when the late guitarist opened for Lewis, then one of world’s biggest pop stars.
But “every night it looked like they dug it up,” Kingfish says. “To this day, I still get messages – ‘Hey, I saw you playing Vampire Weekend. ” ”
Like any other style of music that is supposed to die out, the future of blues is bright as long as it’s in hands like Kingfish. He makes a short list of his fellow “young guns” – Marquise Knox from St. Louis, Jontavious Willis from Atlanta, Annika Chambers from Houston.
“There are a lot of people here doing their thing,” he says.
Perhaps more than any of his peers, however, Kingfish comes across as an old soul. More than one of his songs revolves around the idea of having “been here before”.
When he arrived, he said, the other kids at school were listening to hip-hop.
“That’s when I noticed, yeah, I’m probably a different race.”
CHRISTONE “KINGFISH” INGRAM
At Berklee Performance Center, 136 Massachusetts Ave., March 30 at 7:30 p.m., $28-$48. www.berklee.edu/BPC
James Sullivan can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @sullivanjames.