Kingfish landed the greatest trophy of them all.
Twenty-three year old Christone “Kingfish” Ingram of Clarksdale, Mississippi won the Grammy Award on Monday for Best Contemporary Blues Album for his second studio record, “662.”
“This a ‘wow’ moment. I didn’t expect to hear my name called, so I’m truly grateful that the recording academy honored me and my ‘662’ album,” Ingram said in a statement released by Alligator Records. “I truly appreciate my family, my manager Ric Whitney, my co-writer and producer Tom Hambridge, my label Alligator Records, and a whole host of folks who helped not only make my sophomore album possible, but also made my Grammy Sunday a dream come true. As much as this is for me, it’s also for my late mom, Princess Pride, and for Mississippi.”
Ingram’s first Lake Tahoe area performance in 2019 rocked a famed ski resort, Squaw Valley (now Palisades Tahoe) and shocked Bluesdays fans. Before the show, the then 20-year-old walked around the village before taking the stage. He wore a Levis T-shirt and was virtually unnoticed by blues lovers as the set up their folding chairs. He won over the crowd upon his first note, then he again walked through the village as he played guitar as he was surrounded by new fans.
For serious blues lovers, having the Grammy going to Ingram is especially sweet. The award often goes to an artist from another genre who has made a blues record. It also sometimes is given to someone who does not play a traditional blues style. Ingram is as authentic as anyone. His hometown Clarksdale is just 10 miles from the famed crossroads, the intersection of highways 61 and 49.
“The whole been-here-before thing, that’s what I heard a lot from my grandma,” Ingram said. “Being from Clarksdale, it’s literally my culture and my history. Coming from here, it makes me really appreciate it. I have love for my culture and just want to let people know I am not just one of those kids who is out there playing it. I’m living it, I’m learning about it and come from it.”
Instead of a 2020 summer tour in Europe, Ingram worked on the album. Some call the process of writing songs as woodshedding. In Covid parlance it’s Zoom meetings
“Every Thursday, myself, Tom Hambridge and Richard Fleming just sat there and wrote songs,” Ingram told Tahoe Onstage shortly after the album was released. “Then we all met up at Ocean Way Studios in Nashville and recorded 21 of them.”
Thirteen of those songs made it onto “662” plus a bonus track, “Rock & Roll,” a previously released single honoring Ingram’s mother, Princess Latrell Pride Ingram, who recently passed away.
As with the debut album, “Kingfish,” “662” features dynamic guitar but also more mature vocals and story lines and a wider variety of styles.
“We went hard on the first record but I felt like we could go harder on this one,” Ingram said. “I wanted to go a little more rockier, a little more edgier. On the first record I had a little more restraint. But on this one I wanted come out of left field with some more stuff.
“And we wanted to showcase not only my guitar playing but my singing as well, and the growth of my personal life. We got things smooth. We got things hard. Edgy, soft. Something for everybody to enjoy.”
A prolific producer, Hambridge is famous for pulling songs out of his conversations with Buddy Guy. He has done the same for both of Ingram’s albums. For example, “I’m not gonna lie” is an often-used saying Ingram uses before making a point. It led to a song about Ingram’s promise to the aforementioned Buddy Guy about carrying the blues torch into the future.
Guy and Ingram’s mentors and teachers could see the drive in the young musician.
“There would be times I would come to class and I would be the only student there,” Ingram said. “The teachers saw that I was one of the go-getters and was really dedicated to this style of music. I think most people saw just how passionate I am about it.”
Ingram started on drums in his church and when he began to play blues he turned to the bass.
“Bass and drums are percussive instruments,” he said. “Once you have a foundation with those two instruments it gives you a rhythm and sense of time and space.”
Ingram’s album release coincided with the label Alligator Records’ 50th anniversary.
“I have a lot of faith in the future but also part of my mission and part of my role is to find and develop the people who are going to move this music forward over the next 50 years,” Bruce Iglauer, Alligator’s founder and president, told Tahoe Onstage. “I want to make sure if somebody whose 18 or 19 hears this music that at least rhythmically and lyrically (it is) something that they can relate to.”
Ingram’s soulful, stripped down song, “Another Life Goes By” addresses prejudice.
“A lot of people have a narrow view of the blues,” he said. “Everybody thinks its supposed to be ‘Oh my baby left me and cotton fields,’ when it’s a lot more deeper than that. Everything that’s going on in the world, that’s the blues of today. So I think for young black blues artists, talk about what’s going on today because that’s the real blues that we got going on.”