Christone “Kingfish” Ingram hails from Clarksdale, Miss., and, yes, has been to the infamous crossroads. He’s never met the devil there, but he did catch the music buzz and is about to release his debut album, Kingfish, whose “It Ain’t Right” is premiering exclusively below.
To hear the 20-year-old Ingram tell it, music was nothing less than a destiny. Nearly every relative on his mother’s side sings and/or plays an instrument. His father, meanwhile, is a music fan who showed a young Ingram a Muddy Waters documentary on PBS. And Ingram’s family lived next door to a blues musician who helped to show the fledgling player the ropes, mostly by osmosis.
“One day (the neighbor) saw me with my guitar and said, ‘Hey man, come over here’,” Ingram tells Billboard. “I don’t know if my parents knew I was going, but I still went. He always had people over there, playing. They didn’t really teach me anything, they just let me hang out and listen to them play at house parties and stuff. I think one time one of them showed me how to make a chord, but I didn’t know anything about it at the time. I just used to see them sit around and drink and play house parties and stuff like that.”
Despite those sources, however, Ingram acknowledges that “there were times in my life when I was young where I did venture off and wanted to do other things. But I think I was eight or nine when I came back around and was like, ‘Yeah, music is what I need to be doing’.” He built a local following and secured early supporters such as Bootsy Collins and The Game before signing a deal with Alligator Records.
As demonstrated by the Kingfish album — out May 17 and produced by Grammy Award winner Tom Hambridge, with Buddy Guy and Keb’ Mo’ guesting — Ingram holds firm to his roots. “When I was younger I was known for doing a traditional blues sound, so I wanted my first record to have that great traditional feel,” says Ingram. “But I also wanted to have at least some out-of-the-grid stuff as well. Hopefully you can hear all of that in there.”
In keeping with that, “It Ain’t Right” is “just me trying to write blues,” according to Ingram. “That was a song I was working on when I was younger, when I first started leading (bands). It just felt like a blues standard I wanted to write. I’ve always liked that hard-hitting shuffle sound, so I wanted something just like that, and this is what I came up with.”
Ingram has toured this spring with Buddy Guy, and during August and September he’ll be opening for Vampire Weekend. The Kingfish album, meanwhile, comes out in the wake of Ingram’s first major acting gig, as part of the second and, as of now, final season of the Netflix superhero drama Luke Cage.
“It was a great experience,” says Ingram, who also cut two cover songs for the show’s soundtrack. “I was on my way to a show in Jacksonville, Fla., and my mom was talking about (Luke Cage) and was telling me, ‘I think you would like it, ’cause it has all these artists on there that you listen to.’ I made some joke about getting a spot on there and everybody in the car laughed, and two nights later I get this message saying, ‘Hey, I’m so-and-so, the producer of Luke Cage, and we want to have you be a part of the show…’ And a few months later there I was. That’s one of those things you just never expect to have happen to you.”