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Kingfish Ingram, Playing for Change

Blues/Rock artist Kingfish Ingram. The innovative music video makers and charitable organization, Playing for Change.

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By adding this new column to ChainLink’s brief, we run the risk of making our publication a bit of a chimera. But we figured everyone could use some diversion and inspiration in these times of pandemics and wars. Those of you who know me well, know my passion for music and eclectic tastes in genres. In this column, I’ll share some musicians that I had never heard of earlier in life, which have enriched my life. These are not meant to be reviews, but rather just suggestions “hey check this out.” I’m hoping you will discover some new sources of delight here and find these gems rewarding too.

Kingfish Ingram—The Future of Blues

When I first heard Christone “Kingfish” Ingram, I was like ‘who is this guy?!? … and why have I never heard of him!’ My first exposure was some poorly recorded YouTube videos in smaller venues. That was a few years before he was signed by Alligator record for his debut album in 2019 (which was #1 on a Billboard Blues Chart and the #1 Bill Board Heatseeker as soon as it was released.). Kingfish provides new life to old-school blues. To my ears, I hear influences of Muddy Waters and Albert King … but also Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughn. And yes, his virtuosity is in the same ballpark as those legends. I did detect a little showboating of that virtuosity in some of his earliest recordings but have been delighted to see how much his musicality matured over just a couple of years. He plays with such conviction, soul, and passion, pouring out his heart, with an amazing tone. On top of all that, he’s quite a good blues singer as well.

I don’t imagine Kingfish will be an innovator, breaking new ground or creating new genres, in the same way that say Miles Davis, Bill Munroe, Jimi Hendrix, Robert Johnson, or Louis Armstrong did. But he is the perfect champion to carry forward the torch of deeply felt live blues music for the next generation. Here are some good places to start listening:

  • Empty PromisesSoaring runs and sizzling licks, this cover of Michael Burks’ song is typical Kingfish.
  • The Thrill is Gone—Some tasty, laid-back chord progressions contrast with the on-fire solos.
  • Hey Joe—A 17-year-old Kingfish killing it on this Hendrix classic.1 Audio quality and camera work is not so great, but the playing is great. Here’s another great performance of Hey Joe in that same year.
  • Catfish Blues—On fire from the start to finish of this blues classic.
  • Tiny Desk concert—In this his second Tiny Desk concert, Kingfish plays some of his original songs, accompanied just by his bass player, Paul Rogers. Recorded during the pandemic, there is no audience, so you don’t get the excitement of the audience reaction, but you can really hear every note.
  • Safeway Waterfront Blues Festival 2015—At the tender age of 16, here’s Kingfish playing with top notch bass, drum, and keys players2 in this 38 minute set.
  • NAMM 2016: Voodoo Chile—Recorded just a few months after the Safeway Waterfront Blues festival, you know he’s up and coming when you see a 16-year-old Kingfish sharing the stage with Robert Randolph and Corey Glover … and impressing the hell out of them. The audio and video are pretty bad on this one (seems to be shot with a phone), but it is fun to watch the world discovering Kingfish.
  • Montréal JAZZ Festival Canada 2018—Over an hour, lots of energy here.
  • 22nd Birthday Celebration—An hour-long set played at Ground Zero Blues club in Clarksdale Mississippi. Also with no audience, but still great stuff.

You can find a lot more if you search for Kingfish Ingram on YouTube. I’ve got to also recognize his fellow band members, Paul Rogers on Bass and Chris Black on Drums, who are excellent blues players in their own right, laying solid grooves. They really listen to, pick up on, respond to, and complement everything Kingfish is doing.

Playing for Change—Stitching Together Videos of Buskers from Around the World … Into a Cause and Movement

A little over 10 years ago, I stumbled across this video of a street musician (Roger Ridley, shown on the left here) playing Stand By Me. It starts off normal enough, like most other videos of buskers plying their craft. Then, about a minute in, you hear a second guitar, some percussion and it cuts to an elderly street singer in New Orleans. From there, the video keeps layering and switching between different street musicians and native musical groups, showing the name and location of each: a passionate dreadlocked singer in Amsterdam, an Italian slide guitarist on the streets of New Orleans, a cellist in the streets of Moscow, an upright bass player in a village in South Africa, a drummer with his drum set barely fitting on his second-floor balcony in the Congo, a Native American drumming group in New Mexico, a conga player in Barcelona, a vocal choir in South Africa … I would guess around 50 different musicians contribute to the piece. They called it a “Song Around the World.”

The video was created by Playing for Change, a production company with an associated non-profit foundation dedicated to developing music education programs around the world.3 Since that first recording, they have made 75 Songs Around the World, featuring 388 artists from 56 nations. More recently, big name artists have been showing up on these recordings, such as Ringo Starr, Yo-Yo Ma, Carlos Santana, Peter Gabriel, Keith Richards, John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin), Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Cat Stevens, Taj Mahal, Robbie Robertson (The Band), and many others. In addition, they have eight other categories of music videos they have been producing:

  • Live Outside—outdoor recordings of individual artists or groups (124 videos)
  • PFC Band—live performances of the Playing for Change Band4 (65 videos)
  • Mark’s Park—a newer series of ~20-minute mini-concerts performed in a backyard setting (16 videos)
  • Behind the Songs—interviews with the artists that played in Songs Around the World (12 videos)
  • Documentaries—the stories behind the artists (23 videos)
  • Peace Through Music—songs and commentary from PFC’s annual Peace Through Music Global Event (23 videos)
  • PFC Foundation—documenting their music schools and programs (32 videos)
  • PFC Exclusive—videos and documentaries exclusively for PFC supporters (103 videos)

If you want to get exposed to a whole bunch of talented street artists, that you almost surely have not heard yet (unless you’re already a PFC listener), then I recommend starting with Songs Around the World. Some of the best include:

  • When the Levee Breaks—Recently posted, I think this is one of their best yet. An evocative cover of Led Zeppelin’s version of this nearly 100-year-old blues song, featuring none other than Led Zeppelin’s bass player John Paul Jones, as well as Derek Trucks, Susan Tedeschi, and amazing piercing vocals by Mihirangi (A Maorian singer-songwriter) and haunting vocals by Elle Márjá Eira (a Norwegian Sami musician, composer, and filmmaker).
  • Higher Ground—A rockin’ cover of this iconic Stevie Wonder song. Quite a few famous musicians join the buskers in this one.
  • Iko Iko—This New Orleans classic clearly shows off that song’s African rhythm roots, and includes appearances by none other than the late great Dr. John, as well as Mickey Hart (Grateful Dead), and Tito Puente Jr.
  • Biko—An inspired version of this Peter Gabriel song that became an anthem for protesting apartheid in South Africa. Amazing cello playing (as always) by Yo-Yo Ma, as well as vocals by Peter Gabriel himself and the ever-intense Angélique Kidjo.
  • Gimme Shelter—Tasty yet hard-driving use of hand drums and traditional African and Asian stringed instruments augments excellent vocals. Some great vocals by Roselyn Williams and Taj Mahal.

There are countless other gems in their collection worth hearing, such as The Weight, All Along the Watchtower, Redemption Song, Words of Wonder/Get Up, Stand Up, Bring It On Home to Me, and many more. You can also find plenty of Playing for Change videos on You Tube.

Songs Around the World from PFC offer a way to experience songs that you most likely have already heard, but in a quite different, globe-spanning, heartwarming way, while introducing you to new musicians from around the world.


1 Jimi Hendrix made the song Hey Joe famous but did not write it. The original authorship is contested, having been variously credited to Billy Roberts or Dino Valenti or a traditional song. -- Return to article text above

2 Per the comments on YouTube, “Jim Pugh, on keys, played with Cray for years, before that with Etta James and Elvin Bishop, Chris Isaak and others. John Mazzocco on bass played with John Lee Hooker's Coast to Coast band, later with Curtis Salgado and Paul deLay. And Tony Coleman, on drums, played with BB for a couple of decades, and before that with everyone from Albert Collins and Little Milton to Albert King and Bobby Bland.” -- Return to article text above

3 The Playing for Change Foundation currently runs about 15 music schools and programs around the world, primarily in developing countries. -- Return to article text above

4 The PFC band is a revolving group of a couple dozen street musicians that appeared in many of the early Songs Around the Worlds. -- Return to article text above

To view other articles from this issue of the brief, click here.

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