Slappin' Da Bass with Charleston's John Inghram
Since the show began almost two years ago, A Change of Tune has highlighted some of the best up-and-coming artists out of these West Virginia hills with podcast-y chats ranging from Ona to Qiet, Sean Richardson to Jordan Andrew Jefferson and beyond.
But those interviews have been a bit infrequent, and since West Virginia Day was this month (and with A Change of Tune’s second birthday on the horizon), we thought we’d do something special: 30 days, 30 brand new #WVmusic interviews that range from Morgantown alt-rockers and Parkersburg singer-songwriters to West Virginia music venues and regional artist management and beyond, all of which contribute to this state’s wild and wonderful music scene.
And today, we are chatting with John Inghram, a producer, composer, and bassist who was born and raised in Kanawha County. John's #WVmusic history is impressive, as he’s played with The Bob Thompson Band, 600 lbs of Sin, and Johnny Staats and the Delivery Boys, toured with Fletcher’s Grove, and now leads his own jam band band called John Inghram's Slugfest. Now signed to Ian Thornton's Whizzbang Booking & Management, John is ready for the next step in his career, not to mention the next step for Charleston's budding music scene.
John Inghram's Slugfest’s newest single is Kickin' Slippers. Get ready for a new full-length from the band in the near future. Hear more #WVmusic on A Change of Tune, airing Saturday nights at 10 on West Virginia Public Broadcasting. And for more #WVmusic chats, make sure to go to wvpublic.org/wvmusic and subscribe to our RSS / podcast feeds!
On getting into music at a young age:
My mom’s side of the family is musical, so I got a lot of stuff through them through osmosis. They were church musicians, so they played Southern gospel and some country stuff. My grandfather played pedal steel. I had some bluegrass musicians in the family. At the age of 12, I started playing trumpet, which segued into guitar and then bass when I was 13 or 14 because the trumpet wasn’t rocking very hard [laughing].
Up until sixth grade (when I joined the band in middle school), I was in Kanawha County, but then I went to Winfield Middle and High Schools in Putnam County. It wasn’t ideal. [I’m sure] a lot of folks in Appalachia can relate to growing up in an area that is less than diverse. It definitely has its own culture, but I wouldn’t call it diverse. There were a couple of [music] folks that all latched on to one another, and we had a great music teacher whose name was Scott Woodard. He’s actually at West Virginia State now, and he’s doing really great things.
My two best friends at that time… one was playing guitar, one was playing drums. And I said, “I think I’m going to get a guitar. Forget this brass stuff.” They said, “That’s cool, but why don’t you get a bass? We already have the band.” “Okay, yeah, that’s a great idea.” So I got a bass out of necessity. And that’s kind of like how every bassist starts: no one chooses the bass, the bass chooses them.
On his passion for playing the bass:
It is who I am. It’s interesting because you find these certain personalities in these subsets of instrumentalists. For example, drummers kind of have these similar personalities. I love the bass. To make people groove, to look out into the crowd and see people dance, that’s the ultimate compliment. To see people having a great time and just moving their bodies, living their lives, and not being too heady or overthinking. Once the groove takes over, whether they know it or not, everybody loses themselves and enters that dream. That’s what I feel like I’m here to do with the bass: to make people feel good or feel something.
On the sound of John Inghram's Slugfest:
It’s eclectic. I know that word gets used a lot, especially here at West Virginia Public Broadcasting, what’s up Jim [Lange, host of Eclectopia]? We try to keep things kind of weird [with Slugfest], but it all stays pretty funky. That’s the common thread, even when we do stuff that’s country-tinged or Latin-ish, it’s all rooted in the jazz tradition. Because we’re all jazz musicians. Everyone in the band has a jazz background, so there’s an element of improvisation.
But the main thing is it is all about the groove. We really don’t like to get into an area where it’s inaccessible. It’s easy to scratch that a little too much with jazz at times. You have to be geared for that. I love the jam band scene, and I love the Grateful Dead and Phish because there’s a community there that’s bigger than the music. It’s great to see communities of people. To me, that’s what music is all about: living life, feeling good, and people enjoying that together.
On his Slugfest band members:
The core of the group is Randraiz Wharton on keyboard. He’s a fantastic player from the Elkins area originally, living in Pittsburgh now. He plays all over the state, the region, and the East Coast.
Our guitarist is the amazing Ryan Kennedy. Anybody who knows Ryan knows that he needs no introduction. I don’t know if I can do him justice. Ryan and I are dear friends and go back a long way. We’ve played in Bob Thompson’s band together for longer than I’d care to admit.
We also have Chris Hudson on the drum set. He’s a fantastic drummer who’s played all over. Like me, if it pays, we play. There’s nothing he can’t do on the drum set.
We have two horn players, which is what sets us apart from some of the other bands in our wheelhouse in the area. People really love the horns. That’s Chris Tanzey on the trumpet and Chris Clark on the tenor sax.
On what it takes to be a band leader:
I’ve been lucky to have gotten to work with great bandleaders, particularly really respectful, intelligent bandleaders like Bob Thompson. I’ve seen them and taken things from them. For Slugfest, what I’m learning in real time is that it’s less about the music and more about coordinating schedules and dealing with personalities and being tactful. Sometimes you just have to pick your spots. Some things you say. Some things you don’t say. Because there may be good ideas in my mind, but you have to ask yourself: will they really benefit the rehearsal or the music at the end of the day? Or will they make things more convoluted and create more anxiety for the players?
On working with Bob Thompson over the years:
I’ve never known a man who is more gracious and more giving and has as much to give as he does. This state, this city: his circle goes so far across the world. He’s just world-class, and I’m so, so proud we have him here and that we’ve gotten to learn from him and be around him.
I was 15 or 16 when I first met him at a Wine and All That Jazz Festival at the University of Charleston. A mutual friend introduced us, and we became instant friends. He said, “Why don’t you come up to the house sometime,” Just like he’s done with countless people. He was like, “Come by! Let’s play some music.” So here I am at 16, playing with this legend, and I didn’t realize to what extent his legend was about. After the end of the first session, we were hanging out in the studio, and I said, “How much do I owe you for this lesson?” He said, “Man, don’t worry about that. If you want to play again, just come back and we’ll play.”
It was never about a teacher/student relationship per se. I read a quote that Herbie Hancock said about Miles Davis, and I’m paraphrasing, but he said, “The magic of Miles Davis was his ability to teach someone by letting them figure out the answer.” That’s what Bob does. He lets you find it because he realizes the power in that. It goes back to being a bandleader, and it requires such patience. It’s a powerful thing.
On ranking his roles as performer, composer, and bassist:
No question: playing bass for other people and being a sideman [has played the biggest role]. It teaches you such humility, and it’s an opportunity to play with other people and playing other people’s music. I love that process when it’s up to me to be creative and create something that serves the song and that’s not serving me or any one person. I really enjoy that process.
I’ve always been writing music since I started. I like creating new things. But in the last several years, I’ve been trying to write with intent and to have ideas, clear concepts, of what I want to do with the tunes and to execute them. I think I’m getting better at it. It’s informed my other areas of music.
On Slugfest being a part of Whizzbang Booking & Management’s #WVmusic line-up:
We’re super excited to be working with Ian Thornton. That stable of artists is off the hook. It’s diverse, and it’s only going to grow because Ian’s such a hard worker. Also it’s exciting to not have to book all the gigs myself, which is a nightmare (and anyone who has done it will agree). It’s arguably the most difficult job to do in the music industry because you’re dealing with schedules, personalities, money, negotiating, and clubs who don’t want to give you much money. Some people are so cut out for it; most musicians are not.
I still do some stuff on that end of things, but I want to focus on the music and the best product I can provide, and this is only going to benefit us.
Music featured in this #WVmusic chat:
John Inghram's Slugfest- "Skoombutt Strutt"
John Inghram's Slugfest- "Kickin' Slippers"