On Stage: ‘Kingfish’ roars into show at The Mann

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By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times

Christone “Kingfish” Ingram

Venues around the Delaware Valley have long been favorite places for blues acts to visit when they are on tour.

So, it’s not surprising that three of the top young blues acts in the country are performing on the area over a three-week period.

Last week, Danielle Nicole rattled the rafters at the Ardmore Music Hall with her bass playing and her powerful band.

On January 15, Vanessa Collier, who is a blues triple threat (saxophone, vocals, guitar), will headline a show at Kennett Flash.

This week, the spotlight is on Christone “Kingfish” Ingram, who is opening for Vampire Weekend at the Mann Music Center (Mann Center, 5201 N. Parkside Avenue, Philadelphia, 215-566-7900, http://manncenter.org) on September 4.

Many blues guitarists have been playing for decades. Ingram’s guitar playing gives listeners the impression that he too has been at it for decades. In reality, he is barely two decades old. He was born in Mississippi in January 1999 and has been exposed to the blues since he was a toddler.

“I come from Clarksdale, Mississippi – the Mecca of blues,” said Ingram, during a phone interview last week from a tour stop in Atlanta, Georgia.

“I remember seeing the PBS documentary on Muddy Waters when I was pretty young. And, I lived next door to a blues band. I was exposed to the blues a lot as a young child.

“I actually started as a bass player. My first paid gig playing bass was with the All Night Long Blues Band. I was 11 at the time.”

It didn’t take long for Ingram to switch from bass to lead guitar.

“I was playing bass, but I always wanted to play guitar,” said Ingram. “But, when I was young, my fingers were too big for guitar.

“When I was 14-15, I played guitar for a local band. I just wanted to do something different. I wanted to put my own thing together. I wanted to play guitar. Playing guitar was original.

“I started with a cheap Sears & Roebuck guitar. An Epiphone 335 was my first real guitar.  I got it for Christmas when I was in middle school.”

Ingram explained the origin of his nickname.

“My mentor from the Delta Museum gave kids nicknames,” said Ingram. “He called me Kingfish. He said Kingfish who was a character on the ‘Amos ‘n’Andy Show.’

“My biggest influences were Albert King, Little Milton, B.B. King, Son House, Freddie King and Skip James. I was also influenced by Ernie Isley, Jimi Hendrix, Prince and George Benson.

“Even though I was influenced by Jimi and Prince, I never had an actual intent to merge rock and blues. I just want to experiment and see what I come up with. I just like to create stuff.”

Ingram is known for making his guitar sing.

“Making the guitar sing – that’s when playing with substance comes into play,” said Ingram. “I love playing originals. I’m still writing when I’m on the road.

“On tour, it’s a three-piece – bass, drums and me. Both of the other guys in the band are from Mississippi. Paul is from Tupelo and Chris is from Shelby. I have two electric guitars I use and one acoustic. I play two or three acoustic songs a set.”

Ingram celebrated the release of his Alligator Records debut album, “Kingfish,” with a live performance back in July at the XPoNential Music Festival in Camden. He is introducing the album to new audiences as he tours with Vampire Weekend for a total of 13 shows in August and September.

Video link for Christone “Kingfish” Ingram — https://youtu.be/VQha23zpf5k.

The Vampire Weekend Father of the Bride Tour with Christone “Kingfish” Ingram will start at 7:30 p.m. on September 4 at the Mann Center. Ticket prices start at $25.

JD Simo

While Florida and most of the eastern coast prepares for a storm called Dorian, the Sellersville Theater (24 West Temple Avenue, Sellersville, 215-257-5808, www.st94.com) is getting prepared for a storm of a different nature — a concert by JD Simo and his powerhouse band.

In August 2018, Simo blew the roof off the venue with his blistering set. Then, he returned at the end of January and did it again. On Wednesday night, Simo is returning to the “scene of the crime” to deliver another incendiary show.

Simo grew up in Chicago’s North Side and began playing guitar before he even started elementary school. In 2006, he moved to Nashville, where he established himself as the lead guitarist in the Don Kelley Band. This led to Simo’s employment as an in-demand session musician.

In 2010, he joined bassist Frank Swart and drummer Adam Abrashoff to form the rock band SIMO. The band spent much of 2011 on tour and released its debut album in November 2011. SIMO’s third and final album was “Rise and Shine” in 2017.

“The old band – it had run its course with that particular lineup,” said Simo, during a phone interview. “A year ago, I had my first solo tour opening for Tommy Emmanuel here in America. I had never done that before. It was a very liberating experience. I’d walk onstage and do whatever I wanted to do.”

Since then, Simo has been recording and touring with his own band – including a tour that is headed this way.

“Fortunately, we’re playing the Sellersville Theater again,” said Simo. “It’s one of the nicest venues in the country. We’re coming as a trio.

“It’s pretty much always been a trio. I have always preferred the trio format. When Buddy Guy was touring in the 60s, it was always a trio. When Magic Sam toured, it was always a trio. Playing in a trio is pretty wide open. It’s fun. And, it makes it really easy to improvise. You can really get out there.

“Every night is different. We don’t work with a set list and typically don’t play the same songs every night. And, every song is open to where its going to go. We have 20-30 songs in regular rotation. A few follow similar structures. The rest are really wide open and can be different every night. Every show starts with an improvisation.”

Simo is touring in support of his new album “Off At 11.” Produced by Simo with his co-manager Michael Caplan, the album features eight tracks that are laid out on the record like a musical journey through a land populated by acid rock, traditional blues, folk, soul, free-form jazz.

“I made the album throughout last year at my home studio – old school style,” said Simo. “I wanted to make an old school blues record. And, I wanted to go to Mars. When I was touring in Phil Lesh’s band and told him that, he said – ‘ JD, you can do both.’ The Phil Lesh & Friends band always does a lot of improvisation.”

Video link for JD Simo – https://youtu.be/J1guSRTv-78.

The show at Sellersville, which has The Ardvark Felon as the opener, will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $19.50.

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