The blues is a genre deeply and inextricably rooted in American history and Southern legend. Its twelve-bar structure and common lyrical mechanisms add an air of familiarity to just about any blues song, and the best blues musicians pay homage to the greats who invented and sculpted the musical elements that gave the blues its unmistakable and approachable sound. Keb’ Mo’ is one of a few truly unique musicians who have found a way to not only honor the proud tradition, but also to blend the blues with modern genres like rock and pop. This has the effect of bringing that classic American sound into the context of the present day, many miles and years away from the old Mississippi Delta.
Many might be surprised to know that Keb’ Mo’ grew up in Los Angeles, a city not particularly well known for blues music. Even so, the young Kevin Moore was drawn to blues and gospel recordings, albeit amidst the mix of the growing popularity of rock and roll and R&B. Before being lovingly branded with his shortened moniker, he showcased his skills as a naturally gifted guitarist and earned himself a recording contract after working several years as a writer for A&M Records. He immediately drew attention from critics and even the filmmaker Martin Scorsese with his modernized take on two Robert Johnson songs, “Come On In My Kitchen” and “Kind Hearted Woman Blues.” His original works were cut from the same cloth and established Keb’ Mo’ as one of the most acclaimed contemporary blues musicians of the past two decades. Over his illustrious career he has performed alongside icons from every musical genre, including Bonnie Raitt, Buddy Guy, Jackson Browne, Tracy Chapman, and Eric Clapton, to name a few. He has won three Grammy Awards, has performed all over the globe, and continues to be one of the most prolific faces of modern blues music.
Keb’ Mo’’s many successes as a recording artist and performer are matched with his works in political activism and acting. He seized an opportunity to portray his idol, Robert Johnson, in the film Can’t You Hear the Wind Howl? – The Life & Music of Robert Johnson. He has also appeared in the film Honeydripper, the television show The West Wing, and several other projects. He was a fervent supporter and one of the headlining acts of the Vote for Change tour, a concert series featuring a diverse range of musicians including Pearl Jam, R.E.M., James Taylor, John Mellencamp, Bruce Springsteen, and many others in an effort to raise voter turnout in the 2004 presidential election. Keb’ Mo’ is also actively involved with the Musicians United for Safe Energy (MUSE) organization, which was established to bring attention to environmental and disarmament issues relating to the use of nuclear power. Lastly, Keb’ Mo’ is dedicated to shepherding the evolution of the blues even further into the future with his involvement with the Playing for Change organization. This group has made a significant impact in dozens of places all over the world by establishing music and arts education programs for underserved youth. Some of the future’s most inspiring talents will no doubt be direct beneficiaries of this invaluable organization.
The blues is a universal language that continues to bring hope and inspiration to people down on their luck. Keb’ Mo’ has been carrying the torch for over two decades and has made it clear that his work is far from over. He is a firm believer in the power of music as a connective force, as a spark to ignite a community of likeminded people against today’s important issues on a global scale. Keb’ Mo’’s music teaches us to learn from the past, to relish in the present, and to always be working for the future.