California-based blues and soul singer/guitarist Keb’ Mo’ performs in town behind his latest album, Suitcase
Well Suited Soul
Singer/guitarist Keb’ Mo’ sends it from a real place
By T. Ballard Lesemann
Tues. March 6
Charleston Music Hall
37 John St.
“It doesn’t matter whether it’s in the studio or on a stage, it’s all the same deal,” says Keb’ Mo’, acclaimed singer, songwriter, and guitarist, speaking from his home in Los Angeles. “It’s all the same to me and it all has to come from a real place … a real honest place.”
Keb’ Mo’s musical roots run deep into the country and Delta blues of Mississippi and the South the soul and R&B of his childhood years on the West Coast. Born Kevin Moore in 1951 in South Los Angeles, he grew up in Compton listening to his family’s Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Big Joe Turner, and Harmonica Fats records. Inspired by the gospel and pop music — and the major singer-songwriters of the 1960s and ’70s — he eventually developed his smooth, rootsy, storyteller singing style and expressive guitar chops.
As a young teen, he actually started out on trumpet and French horn, jamming a bit with neighborhood friends in steel drum bands and bluesy jam sessions. One of his earliest professional gigs was with Papa John Creach, of Hot Tuna and Jefferson Starship. Still in his early 20s, Mo’ played on the first of three Creach albums and caught the ears of a wide variety of performers — from the Mahavishnu Orchestra, and Jefferson Starship to Loggins & Messina and Monk Higgins.
“I didn’t start playing music … music just seemed to come to me,” he says. “There was nothing intentional about it. It just happened the way it happened.”
In 1980, he recorded an R&B-based solo album titled Rainmaker before joining the backing bands of Monk Higgins, the Rose Brothers, and various L.A. session groups. Not until 1994 did the singer/guitarist release another proper solo effort, a self-titled album with two Robert Johnson covers and 11 originals.
Not easily classified as “blues,” Mo’s sound became more distinctive and blended with every album release through the next 10 years. A polished, mildly funky roots-pop sound over a foundation of multiple eras and genres — Americana-pop, rock, folk, gospel, and jazz. Longtime collaborations with such songwriters and contemporary blues acts as Bonnie Raitt and Jackson Browne helped bring him into the mainstream spotlight.
Mo’ stretches out with some mellow soul, loose-swingin’ blues, and funky rock on his new album, Suitcase — a follow-up to his 2004 double-disc Peace: Back By Popular Demand, and his eighth for the Epic/Okeh label. While Peace featured covers of classic ’60s and ’70s protest songs, Suitcase is a more personal affair.
“I just tell my story and play what comes out,” says the songwriter. “There’s nothing forced about it. It’s all coming from a real place, played with real feel and expression.”
Keb’ Mo’ and his band plan to perform two sets — one acoustic and one electric — at the Charleston Music Hall on Tues. March 6. Doors open at 6:30 and showtime is 8 p.m. Reserved seating is available.
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