Grateful Web Interview with Keb' Mo'

Article Contributed by Philip Emma | Published on Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The blues is a music that is engrained in our musical history whether you think it is or not. After reviewing Buddy Guy’s show a few months ago, and conducting this interview with Keb’ Mo’, I have been humbled to listen to and record a live history of a music genre that although its members are dwindling, its passion, invention, and legacy will never weaken. Keb’ Mo’s approaches blues to me with a modern, yet classic Americana approach. It is not surprising that his new album will be called just that. This blues Americana legend has been a staple in my collection for years, and he is currently on tour promoting his new album, which comes out in April. This is why I was so honored to have a chat with Keb’ Mo’.

GW: Hello Kevin?

KM: Hello Philip, how you doin’?

GW: I’m Philip Emma from the Grateful Web, and I’m here interviewing three time Grammy winner, actor, and blues legend, Keb’ Mo’. Thank you for spending this day of love and compassion with us, at least part of it.

KM: Oh yeah, happy Valentine’s!

GW: I hope you have some special plans with you Valentine today.

KM: Oh yeah, we’re going to have a night out tonight. I showered her with gifts this morning, and she’s a happy girl. She’s got our kids, and they are at a birthday party right now. It’s all good.

GW: Excellent, excellent, well great thanks again. Um so, it’s been two years in the making, and I’m sure that you are as excited as we are about the new album, The Reflection. Can you tell us a little bit about the journey?

KM: Well the journey was ah…I guess to me the journey was the album took about, to record it took about four months of just going into the studio every day and making sure everything was right. I recorded fifteen songs…ah ten are on the album. I put out an EP with five songs, and three which won’t be on the album, but you can find on the EP, so all the things I recorded are out for public consumption. The album’s not out. The album will be out on April 22nd. It’s called Blues Americana.

GW: Ok, well I’m looking forward to that. I’ve heard you described as the “living link to the seminal Delta Blues that travelled up the Mississippi River and across the expanse of America,” and for a man that was raised in LA, how did your path lead you to where you are musically? And where did you get your blues and gospel influences.

KM: Well I think that phrase that you read, “the link of the blues,” that’s something that someone made up to market me without my knowledge.

GW: Oh, (laughs together)

KM: And the way I got my lessons in the blues was Los Angeles, and gospel, I was raised in the church, so that was easy. The Baptist church gave you all you need about it…about gospel. So, if you are raised up in the church, and raised in Los Angeles, and playing in the club scene in south central Los Angles from 1972 all the way to 1992 gave me a pretty much a good course in the blues.

GW: Excellent and through that journey, I’m sure technology has taken its turns, its twist and turns. And how do you view modern technology’s effect on music? Does it enhance it, or is it like a vampire on the soul of real expression? Or what’s your take on it?

KM: Well it shrank the music business as we know it. Maybe it didn’t shrink the music, people making music. It shrank the music business a little bit. It created a more level playing field for everyone to play on, all musicians to make their mark so it’s not so expensive to make a good recording anymore. And, technology has enabled us to get music to people more quickly, but it’s taking away the retail store, which was I think a big part in the music because the music store supplied a place for people to convene in common and just congregate, that you would run into other music lovers in the stores. You would ask them what they were checking out, what they were diggin’ like face to face. I think it still happens, but it happens on line now that’s all. And a lot of things happen on line now. You know that old saying, “The more things change, the more things stay the same?” I think that it stays the same. It’s just the way we do it. We do it in a different medium now.

GW: Mm hm…

KM: Yeah

GW: True, true. And so, there are a lot of collaborations on your new album or that you’ve been part of all throughout your career really. I’ve always envisioned collaboration between John Legend and you, or Alison Krauss and you especially on something like “The Itch” on the album The Suitcase, but I’d be content with a duo with local favorite Otis Taylor at the studio that I work for.

KM: (loud laughter) Ahaaaa!

GW: Coupe Studios

KM: I actually worked with him on the banjo record.

GW: Right, right, and you know, I live in Boulder. You’re going to be here on March 1st, and I’m looking forward to that. And you know, recording at Coupe Studio with Otis Taylor, I would really like that. But, my question is who is someone you’ve always wanted to collaborate with, but maybe never had a chance to, maybe someone from the past and maybe someone from the future, (laughter) or I mean not from the future, but contemporary times.

KM: Well, someone I’d like to collaborate with, I can’t say they’d feel the same, but probably Gladys Knight.

GW: Alright. That would be interesting.

KM: Right. Gladys Knight, yeah. I think John Legend is great, funny you should mention is name. Because John Legend you know, has a timeless voice, a timeless gift. He’s in the hip hop world, but he’s like, he’s a classic singer like Sinatra, or like uh, you know, like that. His tone and his timbre and his ability to reach. He has a very friendly and broad tone.

GW: Yeah, and I would classify him more in R&B, and you know I was listening to “The Itch,” and your voices sounded similar to me when I was listening to that the other day. That’s how I got that image, and someone like Alison Krauss I always thought because, you know, people say that rock n’ roll started when the blues and country western came together.

KM: That’s true.

GW: And that’s why I always thought that would be a cool pairing as well.

KM: Alison Krauss would be a fantastic, I’m gonna have to do something with her. I actually have song that she’d be great on. (laughter) She’d be a great duet on that. Maybe I’ll reach out and go call her and ask her.

GW: Yeah, that would be great.

KM: Yeah.

GW: So, you know I’m a school teacher, and I actually wanted to conduct this interview in front of the journalism class. But, your publicist said it probably wasn’t a good idea, but it was my fault because I waited till the last minute to ask permission to do that.

KM: No, I think it is a great idea.

GW: Aw see, I should’ve asked you first.

KM: I think it is a GREAT idea! See, you know what me and wife were talking about that the other day. Just how like sometimes publicists in their quest to kind of publicize you, but yet protect you from awkward situation or whatever. That was an assumption that was made. And no disrespect to Shore Fire.

GW: Right, right, sure.

KM: But that was an assumption that was made, and when it comes to me, I would be like oh fuck, that would be, I mean, oops (laughter) I wouldn’t say that in front of the kids, but that would’ve been just great!

GW: Right, I thought so too, and I had a feeling you would’ve thought that and my daughter loves…

KM: If you wanna call them back and arrange that, I would be into it you could tell them.

GW: Alright that would be great! You know they are ninth graders, and they are deciding whether to go the journalism route or the technical route or you know, and so I set it up all yesterday and then…it was my fault for not setting it up earlier, but I just had that vision earlier that day.

KM: No, no it’s alright. It’s okay. Why don’t you take my manager’s number down because that sounds good? Take my manager’s number down. His name is… and his phone number is…

GW: Well thank you, maybe we can…

KM: We can make that happen.

GW: Thanks, I appreciate that. And I know that they would love that too. We will definitely work on that. I had a feeling that you’d be into that.

KM: Yeah

GW: So would what you say, you are an experience and accomplished musician, actor, what advice would you have for aspiring musician in today’s world?

KM: Well, I give the same advice to whether you’re a musician, or whatever you are, if you’re an accountant or my always advice for people is do what you love to do…

GW: Mm hm

KM: And don’t worry about the money.

GW: Yeah, that’s good advice for sure. Even for me, my passion is in teaching, but it’s also in music, so I try to spread myself throughout to help, you know, to influence the future and also do what I love, so I agree with that philosophy for sure.

KM: I think what we are looking for in life is joy, joy, happiness, and satisfaction. And sometimes along the way, at some point we maybe might put too much weight on the money side. I mean money plays into it. I’m not gonna act like it doesn’t exist. But, you know when you put your, invest in like how much money you’re gonna make or how you’re gonna do it, you miss the point of life. Life is about being happy, and money, if you love money, if you want to make a bunch of money and that makes you happy, go after the money. But it should be something that truly makes you happy, and I know people who just love to make money you know? And they’re happy. (laughter) You know?

GW: Yep, but like you said, livin’ in the moment

KM: At the end of the day, it’s something that you gotta to do every day of your life. You gotta wake up in the morning and go do what you do. And it’d be a good idea to make sure you love it because you never spend a day working.

GW: Exactly, great advice. Speaking of which, what are some of your hobbies or interests that you enjoy when you’re not playing music.

KM: I don’t have any hobbies.

GW: No?

KM: I don’t need any hobbies.

GW: Right? (long pause)

GW: Family? Or?

KM: Family’s not a hobby man. I love my family.

GW: True. Good point, good point.

KM: (laughter) Family’s not a hobby man. That’s just what I…I love my family. So…I ah, yeah you know I do have a Cadillac. A 1981 Cadillac El Dorado that belonged to my mom that she gave to me. And I like to start it up and drive around town sometimes. That’s probably the closest thing that I have to a hobby. (chuckle)

GW: Well that must feel good.

KM: It’s an old Cadillac. It’s worthless. It’s worth about $2,500. It’s yellow. It’s in really great shape. It’s low mileage, and I love getting’ in it and just drive around town.

GW: Mm hm. This is maybe the last question before maybe we’ll set up and arrange for the kids to hear because you know I really wanted them to see journalism in action. You know?

KM: Yeah.

GW: And what better way to learn then to experience it?

KM: I don’t understand why the company wouldn’t just…clearly that was just someone who was assigned who didn’t see the opportunity there.

GW: Yeah, it was the safe side. They probably errored on the side of caution. I can understand that. But, last question before maybe one day we can arrange that. I’ll call. But, what are you currently listening to. What would we find on your playlists now?

KM: A record I listen to a lot, and there are very few of them. There’s one record that I have been listening to for about 18 years is a record by Bob James called Trio. And there’s another record I’ve been listening to a lot is Terrance Blanchard’s A Tale of God’s Will, which he did after Katrina, which he recorded after Karina. It’s a beautiful record. And another record that I listen to on a regular basis is Jonatha Brooke, Plumb. And another record I go between all of John Mayer’s records.

GW: I’m interested to check those out now.

KM: I think John Mayer is one of the most brilliant songwriters in a long time. Yep, and um

GW: Right

KM: People like, I mean I don’t know, if people really get how prolific he is as a songwriter.

GW: Right, yeah, I think there are a lot of different viewpoints, but most musicians and people that really know music well, I think would say similar things as you did (regarding Mayer). Well, I want to thank you for your time. I really appreciate talking to you, and I look forward to maybe keeping it short for the kids next time.

KM: Yeah, that would be great. I would do that in a heartbeat.

GW: Well thank you. I will try to arrange that and I’m sure it will be an experience that they won’t forget so, I appreciate that.

KM: I remember one time Robben Ford told me a story that someone called and asked if he wanted to play on an Otis Rush record. And his manager said, “No.” (both laughed) And Robben Ford was like, “Are you kidding me? What? I would’ve walked through the snow and carried the amp on my back to play with Otis Rush.” (laughter again)

GW: Exactly, you gotta seize those opportunities. (more laughter)

KM: He didn’t recognize the name so he just said no. You know it’s like…

GW: Right (even more laughter) well again I appreciate and look forward to making that happen with them. I really appreciate your enthusiasm for wanting to do that. And you what to be honest with you, I knew inside that you would say that and react that way, but you know, I don’t want to offend anyone, or anything like that so, let’s do it.

KM: Ok

GW: And we’ll keep it short just so that they can see what it’s like to do something live because what better learning or what better way to learn then to do right?

KM: Yeah, great!

GW: Thank you. Thanks again, and happy Valentine’s day to you and your family.

KM: Thank you, Philip, you too.

GW: Thank you, bye-bye.