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BLUES PLAYER

"The journey was like I needed to eat, and slide came in and I just kept working to refine it." - Keb Mo

Posted: May 15, 2024
When I look at the ‘70s and the ‘80s, all my successes, well there were successes but mostly failures in those times. But if you're not failing, you're not succeeding. And it seems in the 1990s, things started to come around.

Photo credit: Jeremy Cowart

With five GRAMMYs, 14 Blues Foundation Awards, and a groundbreaking career spanning nearly 50 years under his belt, Keb’ Mo’s got nothing left to prove. Just don’t tell him that.

“I may be turning 70,” Keb’ reflects, “but I’m still breathing and I’m still hungry. I’m still out there going for it every single day.”

Very happy to be back for this month’s installment! Being an avid slide guitar player for the better part of twenty years, I was given one of the best assignments a contributing editor can receive. I was asked if I would be interested in interviewing blues legend Keb’ Mo’. To say I jumped at the opportunity would be an understatement. Getting the opportunity to ask one of my main guitar influences all of the questions I always wanted to be a dream come true. I hope you, our loyal readers, feel the same. Read on, ladies and gentlemen. I present “The Keb’ Mo’ Interview.”

Keb’Mo’(aka Kevin Roosevelt Moore) is a living, breathing, bona fide blues legend. There’s no other way to put it. In his forty plus year career, he has not only amassed a rabidly loyal following, but has also remained a true student turned master of the blues slide guitar. He is a five-time Grammy®-Award winner, and the recipient of 14 Blues Foundation awards. I had the distinct honor of interviewing Keb’ for this month’s issue, and I must say, it was one of the highlights of my career. Read on and see how this young, knowledge hungry kid from the Compton section of Los Angeles, CA became the beacon for modern blues and the tether to its humble beginnings.

Bringing it all back home, Keb’ looked to his own story for inspiration on his captivating new album, Good To Be, artfully linking the grit and groove of his Compton roots with strum and twang of his more recently adopted hometown of Nashville, TN, where he’s lived and worked for the last eleven years. Drawing on country, folk, blues, and soul, the collection transcends genre and geography, weaving together a joyful, heartwarming, and relentlessly optimistic tapestry that manages to encompass the entirety of this once-in-a-generation artist’s larger-than-life career.

INTERVIEW WITH KEB MO AND BRIAN QUINN FROM GUITAR THRILLS MAGAZINE

Brian: To start, after your early stint as a steel drum player in a calypso band, which is pretty removed from where you ended up, what was your path to finding the guitar and becoming a blues guitarist?

Keb Mo: The calypso band got me in a band, and it taught me how to be in a band. So, from the Calypso band, I moved there back to high school band where I played French horn. That taught me how to be in a large band. And through that experience, I learned how to be in a cover band because my other bandmates wanted to form a band, and they knew I played a little bit of guitar, and I knew how to be in a band. So, they called me to be in a band, and then from there that was my journey into being a blues guitarist.

Brian: Your list of accolades and high-profile gigs is lengthy to say the least. Does anything standout in your mind as why you are consider to be a “favorite”? An experience, that moved you not only on a musician and artist level, but a human one.   

Keb Mo: Yes, I've had some high-profile gigs and accolades...I'm so in the moment, I don't even really track the high-accolade gigs and how important they are because every gig I do is a high-accolade gig. But in this moment if I could just point one out, I would say it would be playing on the Rhythm & the Blues in the White House with President Obama.

Brian: I’ve always have been fascinated by any musicians that have served on studio staff as session players / producers / arrangers, etc. It’s a side of the musician experience that not many people get to hear about, especially musicians. Can you talk a little about what a session day at the legendary A&M Records was like, or reminisce about one that stands out?

Keb Mo: Being in the background was what I did mostly. So being the session player or working with the producer or being a producer, being an arranger is a service job. And what I like about it is it taught me how to serve other people - artists - and it also taught me how to serve myself when I became the artist and the kind of support I needed to make myself stand out.

About being at A&M Records, what was interesting to me is that there were session players who, if they weren't doing anything, would come and play demos. So, that was always good because I got to work with some great drummers, bass players, and keyboard players, who were working on top sessions and would sometimes come in and play with the demo guys. So, it was great. That time at A&M Records and Irving Almo music when I was on the demo squad, as we used to call it, that was my college.

Brian: Did the gig at A&M Records lead directly to your solo signing and debut album? Taking all the success and awards into account up until this point of your career, going from band member to being “the guy” had to feel really rewarding after all those years of recording and touring. Can you elaborate on that a bit?

Keb Mo: Yes, the gig at A&M and subsequently being signed as a writer to Irving Almo directly did go into my signing, not solely, but it was a factor in getting an album deal. That was not without its challenges because now I had to learn how to be an artist, and my first album flopped miserably. Even though now, those copies of that album that are still around, they’re selling pretty good, and they’re collector’s items. There’s probably only about 2,000 of them floating around. But the rewards came much later, because when you get a record deal that's not the beginning of successful. It starts at getting a record deal, and a lot of people think because they got a record deal, now they’ve made it. No, you haven't. You just got a record deal.

Brian: On the flip side of your career coin, you’ve done quite a bit of acting as well. Can you talk a little bit about your performance approach when you’re performing in front of a crowd gathered for a theater production versus a crowd there for a concert? Is there a difference? Is there a difference in how you prepare yourself mentally and/or physically?

Keb Mo: Well, as far as acting, I haven't really done that much acting and when I was in theater productions, I was mainly called because I was a guitar player. I didn't have to be in front of an audience, I had to be in character. In my TV and film acting, I always did that reluctantly. I'm not an actor, I have had acting lessons and whatnot, but I don't love acting. I love music. I had a lot of opportunities, because I'm a musician, to act, but I don't love it. So, as far as preparation in terms of getting ready for a performance, they're both the same. You must be mentally ready to go.

Brian: Taking all your success in the 70s and 80s into consideration, it seems as though the 1990s and forward became your busiest time. How does Kevin Moore separate from Keb’ Mo’? What would be your advice to have healthy work / life balance?

Keb Mo: When I look at the ‘70s and the ‘80s, all my successes, well there were successes but mostly failures in those times. But if you're not failing, you're not succeeding. And it seems in the 1990s, things started to come around. But without the ‘70s and the ‘80’s, the 1990s would have just been another ‘80s. All those things that happened – everything from my record flopping to my house being foreclosed on, after my record flopped and having no gigs and having to go get a day job – I guess that built character. That all got me ready for the '90s, because by the time 1994 came around and my second record, which was my first Keb’ Mo’ record, was being released, I was mentally prepared to work because I understood that you had to work. So, I was motivated not by my record deal but by my own willingness and desire to connect with people and to play music that I loved. As far as separating myself from Kevin Moore, that's easy because they're both the same guy. So, my advice to have a healthy work-life balance, that's an individual question for everybody, but I think take a couple of days off every week just like if you had a 9-5 job. Take a break for yourself. It's important.

Brian: Being a massive slide guitar enthusiast and player myself, I feel a lot of readers would want to know about your slide journey. Can you tell us a little about your guitar practice or work regimen in going from slide novice to one of the most renown and respected blues purists of a generation?

Keb Mo: It was a gift that I got a job, and they needed a slide guitar player, and I said yes to the gig and went and learned how to play slide guitar. So, the journey was like I needed to eat, and slide came in and I just kept it going and kept on working on it and kept on trying to refine it. Now I don't know if I'm one of the most renowned and respected blues purists of a generation, but my work regiment is about songwriting mostly, and my guitar practice – I still need work on that. It goes along with working out, playing guitar, practicing, and working out. I knew it was necessary, nothing I really loved to do, but I love the guitar and I love music. So, that's what I'm mostly motivated by. If I had known I was going to be such a renowned respected blues purist, I would have practiced a lot more. But I didn't. So, here I am now doing the best I can now, and I’m still working on it. Thanks for asking.

Brian: All success comes from somewhere deep inside. What did your start point to learning how to play slide?

Keb Mo: Funny you should ask. Success comes from somewhere deep inside. I started becoming successful a little bit at a time after I decided to stop playing to earn money, but to play for the love of music. Then I started earning money, as I began to serve instead of looking to be paid all the time. I just wanted to serve and play music and do the best I could. Then the success came.

Brian: People ask me a lot about what I did to become a professional, internationally touring musician and I always lean into an explanation of my work ethic. Every individual’s journey is unique. What has been your work ethic or mantra, if you will?

Keb Mo: The way I became a professional musician is by continually playing music and not giving up. Playing professionally in a sense that that's my profession even when I was making $10,000 a year, that's my profession. Going back to your last question, my work ethic is about doing the best I can, always giving my best, and telling the truth in music. So, it's really a very spiritual and very deep inner journey that you must work on every day to cultivate and nurture it, because when you don't do it, you get signals from the universe very quickly that you're off. So, then you readjust, and you keep going.

Brian: Is there any parting advice you want to give to an up & coming musician?

Keb Mo: Well, advice, you came to the wrong place, haha. But what I can say, I have a mantra that I learned from Florence Scovel Shinn’s book The Game of Life and How to Play It. So, my mantra I took from her is, “I play wonderful music in a wonderful way for wonderful people for wonderful pay.”

Brian: Keb’, thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me today and sharing your knowledge with me and our loyal Guitar Thrills readers.

Be sure to catch Keb’ Mo’ on tour this Summer 2024. He will be out touring in support of his new album Good To Be…Check the schedule here:  https://kebmo.com/.




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