Born and raised in Clarksdale, Mississippi – not far from the legendary crossroads where Robert Johnson is said to have sold his soul to the devil in exchange for the gift of wicked guitar chops – Christone ‘Kingfish’ Ingram has widely been hailed as the next true superstar of Delta blues ever since he first hit stages and screens the best part of a decade ago.
Already with two acclaimed studio albums, 10 Blues Music Awards, 11 Living Blues Awards, one Fender signature model and a GRAMMY as testimony to his superlative powers of musical expression, the 24 year-old delighted fans this September with the surprise release of his very first live album, which was recorded on the 6th of June 2023 at iconic London venue, The Garage.
“I felt like me recording my live album somewhere in the South, like Clarksville or Memphis or something like that, probably would have been too cliché,” smiles the young bluesman, speaking from a pit-stop in-between dates on his North American headline tour and a performance at Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival. “I thought, ‘Hey, why not do a live recording in London?’ It’s something different!”
Citing Jimi Hendrix’s incendiary 1970 Isle of Wight performance and BB King’s Live In Cook County Jail as two of his own favourites, Ingram’s Live in London not only captures him at the top of his game as a performer, improviser and bandleader, but it positions him amid a long line of blues trailblazers whose lightning-in-a-bottle live albums are easily as cherished as their studio efforts. Armed with his number one weapon of tone, his Mississippi Night Kingfish Signature Telecaster Deluxe, the former teen prodigy certainly seems to be maturing into an on-stage icon in his own right.
Like BB, he’s able to steep even the simplest of phrases in raw, soul-stirring emotion. Like Jimi, he can step on the gas for the most electrifying flights of eyes-tight-shut improv, just as he does on previously unreleased track, Midnight Heat.
But most of all, Christone ‘Kingfish’ Ingram looks, sounds and plays precisely like himself. As he puts it: “I’ve always been hung up on being unique and trying not to say what everybody else has been saying.”
Zooming in from Nashville, we caught up with the man himself to hear more about the record and his approach to live performance, before picking his brain for five top tips for all aspiring guitarists to keep in mind - from breaking out of those soloing ruts to learning to take criticism like a champ!
How long have you been planning to make a live album, and what made you choose this moment in your career as the right time to do so?
I" had been wanting to do one for a minute, and my fans had been asking for one for a while. I just felt like this was the proper time because I already had two studio albums under my belt that did exceptionally well. It just felt like it was time for one!
"We really planned it very quickly. I came up with the idea early this year and all we needed to do was find a show. That [performance at The Garage in London] was the particular show we found and it came out beautiful!"
Where do you tend to find the greatest freedom of expression, live on stage or in the studio?
"For me, it’s definitely on stage because if you listen and compare it to the studio records, I’m more restrained in the studio. I’m not as wild with my guitar playing. For me, the stage is more like a canvas than the studio is."
Where’s your favourite place in the world to perform, and do you find that audiences react or connect differently to your music in different countries?
"I would say anywhere overseas is definitely a favourite. We just seem to connect better over there because blues – and different variations of blues–- are more accepted and more well-liked on that side of the pond. There are places in the States that we love and know that they love us back and everything, but as far as really deep appreciation for the music, it’s definitely on that side of the pond.
"Over here, they kind of look at it as 'yesteryear music.' You guys [the British] regard it as modern for sure."
What does your thought process tend to be like when you’re crafting a set list and thinking about the journey you want to take the audience on?
"Well, it’s kind of an up and down thing. I want to come out hard, but also not so hard that you give them everything you’ve got. You have to scale it back with some smoothness and then come out the woodwork with more hardness and just keep high energy up until the end."
It sounds almost like a guitar solo in that sense: you have to build a story with a beginning, middle and a knock-em-dead ending…
"Yeah, you can’t make it a straight line. It has to have hills and stuff like that."
On the subject of solos, you really didn’t hold back during this particular show. Is what you do always 100% improvised every night?
|Most definitely. There may be certain parts of certain songs where I feel like certain licks go good there, but most of the time, it’s 100% improv. I can’t play the same solo twice!"
People say that a player’s personality comes across in their vibrato. So, what do you think your vibrato style says about you?
"It’s definitely chilled, for sure! When it comes to a vibrato sound with singers and guitar players, I like a slow, heavy vibrato and that’s what I got from Otis Rush. That’s kind of what my vibrato comes out as: it’s slow, chilled, mellow. You know, it’s not crazy sounding and fast!"
Do you always use your Fender Kingfish Signature Telecaster Deluxe as your main live guitar these days?
"Oh, most definitely! It’s been my main guitar ever since they sent me a proto last year. I used it on the entire Live In London record, so yeah, it’s definitely my main guitar. We toured Europe and the UK for about five weeks and I used it the entire time over there."
Which features of that guitar do you enjoy most?
"It’s definitely the pickups because that’s what gives me the sound. I’m really heavily into Gary Moore when it comes to the hard blues rock sound, so I wanted a guitar that could emulate that sound and Fender delivered on what I wanted. They gave me that sound with those custom pickups for sure."
What other gear couldn’t you live without when you’re heading out on tour?
"I’ve gotten so used to the simplicity of a Fender Twin. Either a Fender Twin or a Fender Deluxe. At one gig we did just recently in the States, the amps were made by Magnatone and I could get with it, but it was different. In a situation where that’s all the backline the guys have, I understand, but definitely a Fender Twin is something I can’t do without.
"Pedals are not really needed, but if a wah-wah is not on stage, I’m going to be uncomfortable! Those are the basics."
What has been your most memorable on-stage moment to date?
"It was one of the first shows we did in London, at the Islington Assembly Hall. We do this thing in the encore where I play a couple of licks while I’m backstage to get the crowd riled up for when we come back out, and I played the riff of ‘Sunshine Of Your Love’. Every time I’d play it, they would repeat it while we were backstage, which was really cool to see.
"I have the video of it. We haven’t posted it yet but it’s really dope! Just the call and response - that’s the point where you know you have the crowd in your hand."
Christone 'Kingfish' Ingram's top 5 tips for guitarists
1. Be prepared
"Make sure you have an extra spare of everything! Cords, picks, strings - even have an extra pedal there if you need it. I always have a spare of something. That’s the number one rule for me."
2. Be unique
"You can learn something from every genre of music that’s out there. It doesn’t matter if it’s as far off as death metal or as simple as country blues
"I’ve always been hung up on being unique and trying not to say what everybody else has been saying. That’s what Keb Mo has always taught me directly and indirectly. Find your own voice and try to bring something to the table that hasn’t been there already. Just be unique and diverse."
3. Learn to take criticism
"Even if the person who’s giving you criticism may not be someone ideal. You know, just take it and move on! You have to apply it any way that you want to."
4. Don't be a gear snob
"Don’t get too hung up on the brand name of a specific piece of gear or piece of equipment because you are the player. You are the one that makes it sound good. Nevertheless, don’t play no junk kit either! You have got to be realistic."
5. Reinspire yourself
"If you get stuck in a rut with improv, I would say just turn on backing tracks and just try to piece together solos and piece together a story.
"Listen to some of your favourite players, take some licks and just build upon them with your own style, and then just practice playing to some tracks. Practice playing some solos that you don’t have to think out or chart or anything like that. Just play!
"I always just have fun. You have to have fun. It’s a job and whatnot, but it’s still got to be fun!"
- Christone 'Kingfish' Ingram’s new album Live In London is out now via Alligator Records, available here: www.alligator.com