The Prodigal Bluesman Christone 'Kingfish' Ingram Returns With '662' Clarksdale, Miss., where blues guitarist-singer Christone "Kingfish" Ingram hails from, is "pretty much the mecca of the blues," Ingram says in an interview with NPR's A Martinez on Morning Edition.

Christone 'Kingfish' Ingram Reflects On Leaving – And Sharing – '662'

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The Mississippi Delta - it's where the blues was born. Legendary musicians such as B.B. King, Charley Patton and Muddy Waters lived there. Fast-forward decades later. On the scene now is a 22-year-old guitarist and singer Christone "Kingfish" Ingram. And he's clearly soaked up all that history. His first album a couple of years ago blew people away with its maturity. Kingfish's latest comes out today. It's called "662." And that refers to the area code of his hometown, Clarksdale, Miss.


CHRISTONE INGRAM: (Singing) I come from a river town, talking about nothing to do. Gators come out when the sun goes down. Gator's awful sticky, too. The Mississippi Delta, the birthplace of the blues. I was born right here in the 662.

Clarksdale's pretty much the mecca of the blues, pretty much the birthplace.

MARTINEZ: OK. You've been on tour all over the country at this point, really all over the world. When you're away from Clarksdale, what's the one thing you miss the most?

INGRAM: One thing that I miss the most - I would say the authenticity 'cause Clarksdale here carries a certain, I think, vibe when it comes to blues culture. And then we go everywhere else, we kind of don't see that. It would be like certain places like, say, Chicago and, like, Georgia. They, like, they know blues, for sure. But, like, say we go to like a place, like, you know, Wisconsin or something like, you know, they really...

MARTINEZ: (Laughter).

INGRAM: Yeah, you know. You know, like Montana, you know, you're so like - no, we would have to explain it to them, for sure. We'd have to take it in baby steps. You're trying to get me in trouble (laughter).

MARTINEZ: No one's going to fault you for defending blues from the South. No one's going to fault you for that. What do you explain to them? When you have to explain the blues, what do you explain? How do you do it?

INGRAM: Well, for the blues, it's like one simple word, just life because that's pretty much what the blues all is. It's nothing but life. It's the ups and downs. It's how you feeling. It's the things you go through. And come to Clarksdale, Clarksdale oozes that in, like, more ways than one for sure.


INGRAM: (Singing) There's a drugstore on the corner where Robert Johnson used to play, must be something in dirt made Mr. Johnson moan that way.

MARTINEZ: A couple of your songs have reference to Clarksdale, "Something In The Dirt"...


INGRAM: (Singing) Well, I played my first gig at a place called Red's.

MARTINEZ: You sing, I played my first gig at a place called Red's, 11 years old, sneaking out of bed. I'm wondering - 11 years old, sneaking out of bed. Is that really what happened?

INGRAM: Well, I wasn't sneaking out of bed to go to Red's. But I was sneaking out of bed to play my guitar when I should have been sleep and doing homework, something like that. I'll say that. I had played before in juke joints. But that was, like, my first official paying gig. And it was a new experience for me, man, just being - because back then, you know, you could smoke in the clubs. They had, like, thick smoke everywhere. And it was definitely an experience.

MARTINEZ: Well, let me ask you this, then, because you're 11 years old. You know, you're 11 years old. Did they know you were 11 years old?

INGRAM: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.

MARTINEZ: They did. OK.

INGRAM: I didn't look my age.

MARTINEZ: I knew it. I knew you were going to say that.

INGRAM: So, you know, then they would see my mom sitting right beside me, and she would make herself known, for sure. So yeah, that's when they would know.


MARTINEZ: Now, another song seems kind of autobiographical, too - "I'm Not Gonna Lie" (ph).


INGRAM: (Singing) Music was my way out from poverty and crime. I didn't want to be like that. There's more I had to find.

MARTINEZ: Music was my way out from this poverty and crime, didn't want to be like that. There's more I had to find. For those who don't know, what things happened that shaped you?

INGRAM: My parents went through, like, a bad breakup. They always fought pretty much. And not only that, when they got divorced, me and my mom had became homeless for, like, a short period of time. You know, we stayed in a dirty hotel. But, you know, at the end of the day, you ain't got nowhere else to go to. At that point, I was bigger in size. So, you know, folks at school, you know, got to get on you about that. So I had all this stuff, like, clowning up on me. And my guitar and the blues were pretty much the only way that I would vent my frustration. So that's how all that pretty much came together.


INGRAM: Some people say kids can't feel the blues. I feel like kids can. You ain't necessarily got leave your woman or nothing like that, man. Like, folks got traumatic stuff that happen in they life all the time. So - and that just happened to me.

MARTINEZ: I remember having a crush when I was a kid and not having that crush fulfilled. That's losing something.

INGRAM: Yeah. Well, I ain't going to lie - I got rejected, too, a lot when I was in school. But when you get used to it, it don't become the blues no more. (Laughter)


MARTINEZ: What sort of obstacles do you think have you had as a blues artist in 2021?

INGRAM: Of course, you know, you got COVID.

MARTINEZ: Yeah, big one.

INGRAM: And not only that, I'm also a young Black person from the South. And, you know, the song that we got called "Another Life Goes By" talks about the things that we have going on in the world today as far as racism and such because with me, no matter how good I play guitar, any day, that could be me. You know, some people seem to just like the talent, but they don't really like you.


INGRAM: (Singing) Nobody's born with hate. Hate is taught to them. How can you judge someone by the color of their skin?

MARTINEZ: Do you feel a responsibility to mention these things in your music now?

INGRAM: Oh - oh, most definitely. A lot of folks have this way of thinking that blues is all my-baby-left-me, cotton fields and, you know, and guitar solos when it's not. Blues pretty much, like, originally it was protest music. Those guys, when they was really singing about dealing with Mr. Charlie now, that that was originally protest music. So it's mandatory for us to put this in our song for sure.


INGRAM: (Singing) We got to stop the madness before another life goes by.

MARTINEZ: Where do you think blues fits in today? So I'm in LA. If I go out to my car and flip on the radio, I wouldn't know where to find blues music. I mean, I'd have to get someone to tell me where to find it. So where do you think blues fits in today in terms of like - where? - like pop music, hip-hop?

INGRAM: Oh, it's the foundation. It's the foundation. So like, people think that it's dead. Blues is definitely alive because you can actually hear it in all those genres of music you just named. That's the roots, and the roots are always going to be there. I feel like there's blues someway, somehow you're going to hear it. It's always there.


INGRAM: (Singing) When you see me play the guitar, you're looking back a hundred years.

MARTINEZ: That's Christone "Kingfish" Ingram. His new album is called "662."

Christone, thank you very much.

INGRAM: Thank you, man. I appreciate you.

MARTINEZ: And you can join Kingfish later today for a live listening party. That's at NPR Music's YouTube channel, 2 p.m. Eastern.

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