Release date: July 23, 2021
By Robin Zimmerman
Photo: Jennifer Noble
While the city of Chicago runs hot and cold on its blues heritage, the town of Clarksdale has been making the most of its rich musical history for many years running. Located at the “Crossroads” where Robert Johnson supposedly sold his soul, Clarksdale is home to the world-famous Juke Joint Festival, Morgan Freeman’s Ground Zero Blues Club, Red’s authentic juke joint and the culturally rich Cat Head Delta Blues and Music Store.
But the beating heart behind Clarksdale’s rich blues legacy is in a 1918 era train depot smack dab in the center of town. Founded in 1979 with funding from the Carnegie Library Foundation, the Delta Blues Museum was the very first museum devoted exclusively to the genre.
In 1999, the Delta Blues Museum was re-imagined as a stand-alone museum and made the move to the old depot where it continued its mission to advance awareness of the blues by zeroing in on its history as well as focusing on the future. Its Arts and Education program provides in-depth blues instruction to future musicians.
1999 turned out to be a pivotal year for Clarksdale. Besides making the Delta Blues Museum its own, Clarksdale and Northern Mississippi received a new 662 area code and Christone Ingram was born into a musical family in the new 662. His DNA was impeccable as his mother, Princess Pride Ingram, was country star Charley Pride’s first cousin. So, it came as no surprise to see young Christone taking drum and bass lessons at the museum before moving on to playing a mean guitar.
His trajectory was quick, and he was soon gracing the stage at the Ground Zero Blues club where he acquired the nickname “Kingfish” from another local musician, Bill “Howl N Madd” Perry. Kingfish became a staple at the Juke Joint Festival where fans from all over the world queued up to see his incendiary performances in and around town.
Another pinnacle in the musical prodigy’s young career was playing “Sweet Home Chicago” for Michelle Obama at the White House after the Delta Blues Museum received the 2014 National Arts and Humanities Award.
The Mississippi to Chicago connection was further solidified when Ingram was signed with Bruce Iglauer’s Alligator Records in 2019. The then 18-year old’s debut album “Kingfish” was nominated for a Grammy and garnered a bevy of blues music awards. A dizzying round of world tours, special appearances, and collaborations with the likes of Buddy Guy, Blues Traveler and many others followed.
His whirlwind 2019 came to a tragic end in December when his mother and “biggest cheerleader” passed away. Ever the performer, Ingram continued to tour relentlessly until Covid hit and he returned home to Clarksdale. Here, near the crossroads of Highway 61 and 49, Ingram was able to think about the many directions his life had taken him.
While he was on lockdown in his hometown, he was also churning out songs that reflected the life lessons he had learned during his meteoric rise in the music world. The result is a stellar sophomore release entitled 662. This CD also marks the second collaboration with Grammy-winning producer and songwriter, Tom Hambridge. 662 was recorded in just five days in Nashville last December.
Like its name implies, 662 is heavy on Clarksdale references and Ingram’s reflections on topics ranging from affairs of the heart to the business of keeping the blues alive. But 662 isn’t strictly a blues album. It also contains a smattering of Southern soul grooves, beautiful ballads and some hard-charging, toe-tapping rockers. Whatever the genre, Ingram delivers the guitar licks and the vocal chops to match each song’s style.
Ingram comes out blazing on the title track, “662” as he channels a Chuck Berry groove that’s also reminiscent of the early style of another Clarksdale native, Ike Turner. Ingram’s imagery will resonate with anyone who has visited the iconic Delta town as he covers everything from his dad’s gig at Cooper tires to the omnipresent “skeeters” by the Sunflower River.
Ingram’s propensity for driving rhythms is evident on “Long Distance Woman” where the former drummer comes out with a heavy back beat replete with lamentations about his inability to connect with a “freaking frequent flyer.”
Buddy Guy has been high on Ingram for quite some time and even called him “the next explosion of the blues.” Guy’s stamp is evident on “Another Life Goes By.” Here, Ingram ruminates on the racism and violence that has been “going on for decades” set to Guy-style guitar groove and vocal delivery.
Ingram’s self-awareness of his musical and personal maturation is apparent on the next track. “Not Gonna Lie” opens with a power-rock riff and the realization his lyrics are now coming from real life lessons. In a nod to the benefits of musical education, he includes the line “music was my way out from poverty and crime.”
“Kingfish” also possesses a keen awareness of his role as a blues torchbearer. On “Not Gonna Lie” he notes of the need to “keep it going” because he “promised Buddy Guy.” This leads nicely into “Too Young to Remember” which touches on tales of jumpin’ juke joints filled with old school blues. While Ingram wasn’t there at the time, he recognizes that “I’m old enough to know.”
“Too Young to Remember” is highlighted by a nice Isley Brothers groove along with smooth seventies-style vocal phrasings, which ends with a nod to “Jimi, BB, and Buddy… and Lightnin’ Hopkins, too!”
The hard charging “That’s What You Do” also focuses on his drive to keep the blues alive including the rigors of road travel because “it’s what you do for the blues.”
“Something in the Dirt” is another tune that’s rife with Ingram’s memories and the outsize role that Clarksdale has played in blues history. He concludes that there must be something in that rich, Delta dirt that he’s trying to dig out. This track also features some piano wizardry by Chicago based keyboardist, Marty Sammon.
662 concludes with a paean to Ingram’s late mother, Princess. On “Rock and Roll,” he digs deep into her legacy as well as the sacrifices she made. “Rock and Roll” was written by Ingram, Ashley Ray, and Sean McConnell while the rest of the songs on 662 were penned by Ingram and Hambridge with contributions by Richard Fleming on some tracks.
662 also features an impressive array of musicians who have played with Hambridge and Buddy Guy. The roster includes Hambridge on drums, Sammon on keys, guitarist Bob Britt, and Tommy McDonald on bass. Guitarist Kenny Green, bass player Glen Worf, saxophonist Max Abrams and Julio Diaz also contribute their talents on various tracks.
While Kingfish put Ingram on the map, 662 firmly establishes him as a force to be reckoned with well into the future. As his star continues to rise, there will be many fans “remembering when” they saw him play in small venues as he travels the world to blues glory and back to the 662.
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