BACK TO LIVE: At only 22 years old, Christone “Kingfish” Ingram has had plenty of opportunity to learn about the long-tour blues. Gigging since his early teens in his hometown of Clarksdale, Mississippi, he built up a reputation as one of America’s hottest blues guitarists and singers, which soon led to treks across the country.
Those heady days included sets in front of then-First Lady Michelle Obama and thousands of other fans. Ingram remembers those early days on the road as an exciting time.
“My first tour, I was exposed to different cultures,” he says. “It was a great experience to finally play dates back to back and go from one city to another and see different things and meet new people and such.”
But there’s “feeling the blues” and there’s going insane on a seemingly never-ending tour. Now more than half a decade into his career, Ingram has developed a routine that keeps him from losing it somewhere in between Mississippi and Michigan. Part of that routine involves homework, making sure he’s learning from his own past shows and those of other artists.
“I pretty much listen to music most of the time when we’re all on the road. I try to watch different shows and different movies to stay sane,” he says. “I even study. I look at videos of different guitar players. I’m just trying to expand my ear and learn more modes from more complex players like Charlie Christian and George Benson. I even look at early B.B. [King]. I’m just trying to break down what they’re playing and how I can add to it.”
The proper musical diet is especially important when it comes to getting into the right headspace before hitting the stage. “What I do is, man, I listen to some hard music, like hard blues or rock and I just get my focus going. I’ll be nervous by the time I get on stage, but that goes away and I’m at a sweet spot, I’m at a comfortable point.”
Ingram doesn’t just use the past masters as musical inspiration. Over the course of his career, he’s gigged with a number of big names, including numerous tour dates with Buddy Guy, who offered some practical guidance on how to survive.
“Mr. Guy has always given me advice on the things to do and how to stay safe and what you need to do to have yourself straight,” Ingram says. “Plus, before I started touring, some of the local old-timers would give me advice on how to get my head straight.”
Now that he’s gotten his feet wet on tour, Ingram says he and his team have found some techniques to ensure each show goes off smoothly. Proper road gear is a must, but while blues history is marked by stars engaging in excess, moderation can be key when it comes to keeping the amps running.
“We always soundcheck. Not only that, but we always check just a little bit beforehand, just before the show starts,” he says.
“We keep our gear packed up nicely in the road cases and most of the time we use a wheel-in backline. When it comes to it, we try to keep it packed up nice and not go too loud so we don’t blow out any tubes in a town that’s in the middle of nowhere. We try to keep everything controlled and cooled so nothing conks out on us.”
Even with that preparation, there are still downsides to the life of a touring bluesman. “Even though I’m not the one doing the driving, I’d say the drive is the bad part. You may check into a hotel and you might be there for an hour because you gotta get up, drive somewhere else.
“You might have to check in because it’s the only one that’s available, and if you don’t check in, you might not make it to the gig. It’s rippin’ and running and maybe not catch enough sleep or [not] eat what you want to eat.”
- Christone "Kingfish" Ingram tours the U.S. in August. See his official website for dates.