THREE-TIME Grammy winner Keb' Mo' makes his Savannah debut on Saturday. Though the guitarist and singer's great love of blues masters like Muddy Waters and Taj Mahal is apparent in his impressive discography, he looks equally to folk, soul, jazz, and rock for inspiration.
On 2014’s BLUESAmericana, Mo’ (born Kevin Moore) continues his unique fusion, accompanying classic riffs with timeless themes—losing the job, getting the girl back, waiting anxiously for the moneyman to come knocking. His incredible guitar work is studded with harmonica strains, banjo, and mandolin. He may not call it “straight blues,” but it’s unmistakably American.1. The title BluesAmericana really struck me; what defines "Americana" as a genre, or what does it mean to you as an artist?
Keb' Mo': The Americana genre is a really cool genre. A lot of us out here don't really have a label, a genre. It's like, 'Well, what are you?'—the labels are very blurred. Blues is a big part of Americana, it's just a part of that, and I just rather be that than trying to be a total bluesman. You think of Keb' Mo' as blues, but you know, I'm not bluesy enough to be all blues, folk enough to be all folk, soul enough to be all soul. All of that is based in Americana; I feel okay about calling it "blues Americana."2. How do you keep those classic genres modern?
Keb’ Mo’: It’s not. I don’t keep it modern. I keep it the way the old guys did to really keep it cool. I don’t think I’d ever ben modern enough; you’re never going to catch the trend, you have to get in front of it. I never get in front of it, so when I look at the blues, instead of looking forward, I look back.3. You were a session musician for a long time before you began your solo career. Were you writing your own material all that time, as well?
Keb’ Mo’: I was always writing songs, trying to get them covered. I had a little bit of stuff getting covered—nothing that put a big check in my pocket. That wasn't my calling, so I took all my practice; I'd spent hours and hours writing songs. I'd sit at the piano going over chord changes, over and over. So I put a lot of time in, and when I came to the blues, I took all those skills and rolled it into that genre.
The first song on my first record, “Every Morning”—that was the first blues song I wrote.4. I feel like, though you have such a classic sound, your lyrics are the modern element.
Keb’ Mo’: The subject matter is of the now. Personal subjects, they tend to keep reoccurring. I wish the world would change so no one would have to listen to those songs anymore, but that's probably not going to happen. In the scope of evolution, evolution happens very slowly. Things like war, relationships, politics, economics, labor, these are ongoing subjects that keep reoccurring. Crime, everything.5. Are there particular themes you are drawn to, or a message you want to spread with your lyrics?
Keb' Mo': I like to take a subject, no matter how positive or negative, and shed light.