Left Of The Dial: In praise of the mighty bass of John Inghram

Just over twelve years ago, I started at Marshall University as a music major. Having passed an audition on bass in the spring, I was poised to approach composition from a formal perspective for the first time in my life. Theory and aural skills classes were mixed with lessons on bass guitar, upright bass and piano. While the curriculum focused on the foundations of classical and jazz styles, I was convinced I could apply what I would learn to writing in more modern popular genres.

Among the other bass students was Kanawha Valley native John Inghram. Seeing him and others was a humbling experience, to say the least. It was quickly apparent I was a mediocre musician amongst the others — those who had seemingly come out of the womb with an instrument in their hands.

It didn’t take long to realize I didn’t quite belong. It was unlikely I would ever hack it as a professional musician. An interest in media and writing took over, and I wound up at Marshall’s School of Journalism.

Inghram, for reasons mostly centered on his talents not exactly fitting the program, also dropped out.

Since my time in Charleston, I’ve increasingly crossed paths with Inghram and have no-so-jokingly admitted to him and others that seeing players of his caliber made me wise up enough about my musical aspirations, pack up and pursue other endeavors.

Such a realization might have been devastating to some, but it’s led me down a path that has seemingly (at least to this point) worked out for the best. While Inghram’s motivation for leaving the music program was much different, things have certainly worked out just fine for him too.

With genre-defying talent that’s landed him a spot in acts like The Bob Thompson Unit, Johnny Staats and the Delivery Boys, 600 Lbs of Sin and others, it’s clear Inghram can be called up for seemingly any gig. But it’s the virtuosic similarities to the Jaco Pastorius, Victor Wooten, Stanley Clarke and Marcus Miller-types that’s always been at the heart of his talents.

Tonight, Inghram’s jazz-funk-rock amalgam Slugfest takes to The Empty Glass to celebrate the release of their debut record. The band also takes the show to Huntington’s V Club on Friday.

Self-produced by Inghram himself and recorded and engineered by Aaron Fisher at Fishbowl Recordings, the project’s backing band is a cherry-picked list of some of the area’s finest talent, including Ryan Kennedy (jazz guitarist and member of the Mountain Stage Band), Tajae Mosely (of Hybrid Soul) and Randraiz Wharton (a former local who often gigged with Hybrid Soul and Comparsa).

The album’s opener blasts off with “Skoombutt Strut,” a two-and-a-half minute piece of grooving horns and soaring guitar with Inghram’s bass laying the foundation for dance-fueled momentum.

“The People (Party People)” shows off Inghram’s solo chops, while “Second Time” gives flashes akin to The Black Crowes taking a cue from jazz-rock legends Steely Dan.

The rest of the record shows off not only his talents as a player, but also as a composer and arranger. While the title of “Slugfest” may seem gritty and disgusting to some, the record itself is anything but that. It’s smooth and danceable, sophisticated yet free.

With so much talent around him, there’s no question — when Slugfest finally delivers their regionally all-star laden record this week — I’ll no doubt be reminding Inghram why I dropped out of music school. More importantly, I’ll be sure to let him know his choice to leave Marshall certainly didn’t hurt, either.

Dave Mistich is the digital editor/coordinator for West Virginia Public Broadcasting. He vaguely remembers for auditioning for Marshall’s program. At the time, he had hair past his shoulders (bad choice) and was likely wearing a Clash T-shirt that said “Know Your Rights” (good choice). This probably explains a lot. Dave can be reached by email at dmistich@wvpublic.org or you can follow him on Twitter: @davemistich.

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