Keb' Mo' on BLUESAmericana, Acting, and Touring with a "Tight Ship"

"Why do interviewers always ask me that question?" wondered Keb' Mo' in response to being asked what audiences can expect at his June 8 concert at B.B. King's Blues Club.

The Southern Californian who currently resides in Nashville has become synonymous with the blues. After years as a musician dabbling in calypso, R&B, rock, and the theater world, the man whose birth name is Kevin Moore finally found success in 1994 after releasing his debut album under his new name "Keb' Mo'."

With two Robert Johnson covers, it was the kind of blues that audiences had been craving and sparked a career that now encompasses 12 albums including this year's BLUESAmericana. New Times spoke with Keb' Mo' about the blues and acting, and he even answered the original question of what audiences can expect at his concert. "Their time and money well spent."

New Times: When did you first discover the blues?

Keb' Mo': It's a process. I don't know when I first discovered it; it's always been around. I became aware of it in the early '80s, and that's probably when I started taking it seriously. I played in a band called the Whodunit Band in Los Angeles with guys that I had the privilege to learn under the wing from.

You've also done some acting, portraying one of your heroes Robert Johnson in the documentary, Can't You Hear the Wind Howl.

That was so long ago I don't even like to talk about that [laughing]. You're asking me about something almost 20 years ago. People will think I haven't done anything recently.

So then maybe I shouldn't ask you about acting in the movie Honeydripper as a blind blues musician.

That's OK. That was more recent [2007]. Honeydripper was with Danny Glover and a young up-and-comer, Gary Clark Jr. I loved playing that part. Possum was the name of the character. I just listened to the director John Sayles, and he gave me the character's historical background and I learned the lines.

Growing up in Los Angeles, was acting something you were into, or were you always just about the music?

I took acting classes, and I was involved in theater in the late '80s, early '90s. I've been around a lot of actors, and I was able to play music in the theater, which helped me to be discovered.

How do you prepare for a tour?

The first question I ask is what's the budget, or how much paint do I have. I look at the budget as paint. When you paint a house, how many gallons of paint are you able to work with? So I need to see how many musicians I can bring, what kind of transportation will we be taking, what kind of set did I play last time I was in that town, so I know we're not repeating ourselves.

What kind of paint do you have for this particular tour?

I've got two guys, and we're a tight ship. We're doing the new album.

What was the inspiration for that new album, BLUESAmericana?

For me it's all about the songs. Working out the songs so hopefully they can be somewhat cohesive when you put them all together. When you say inspiration for the album, I assume you mean a moment or idea where I have an epiphany? That doesn't really happen. I write song by song as things are happening in my. That way I'll be telling the truth.

With the technical aspect of songwriting, do you have a riff in mind and then come up with the lyrics, or do you have the words and then come up with the music?

It comes both ways. Usually it's the subject matter. I like to say, "What do I want to say? What do I want to write about?" Then, from there, I look for what can be the hook that drives the idea home. Then you use the verse and the chorus to explain the idea.

Since you have such a deep catalog, is there a song or an album that you recommend as an introduction to Keb' Mo'?

I'd say BLUESAmericana is the place to start. Then go back to Keb' Mo', the first CD. Then you know where I started and who I am now. That tells you a bigger story.

Keb' Mo' at 7:30 p.m. June 8 at B.B. King's Blues Club, 550 S. Rosemary Ave., West Palm Beach. Call 800-745-3000 for tickets.

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David Rolland is a freelance writer for New Times Broward-Palm Beach and Miami New Times. His novel, The End of the Century, published by Jitney Books, is available at many fine booksellers.
Contact: David Rolland