Keb' Mo' finds power, pride in blues
Donna Isbell Walker, [email protected]:17 p.m. EDT October 3, 2016
After playing the blues for three decades, singer Keb’ Mo’ has a different perspective on the blues than he did in the early years.
“I used to see the music business as a way to make money, as a career, so to speak,” Mo’ said in a recent phone interview. “When I got into the blues, it became a statement of history, of black history, American history. It became a connecting point of culture that was much deeper than just looking for a career, trying to make your way through life. In order to play the blues, you have to understand where it came from, why it’s so powerful. You understand the gospel roots and the field hollers and where the music came from. It instills a sense of depth and pride in me that otherwise would not be there if I were just trying to be, for lack of a better word, a pop star.”
Mo’, who performs at the Peace Center Oct. 13, feels the blues deep in his soul. His influences span the decades and styles of the blues, but one of the most important influences for Mo’ was the late, legendary B.B. King.
And while King’s musical talents were formidable, it was more than just the way King played the guitar or the soulful tone of his voice that had an impact on Mo’.
It was also “his commitment to the blues, the way he brought it when he sang, and also his grace as a person,” Mo’ said of King. “He was a very classy gentleman, which I think probably did more for the blues than anything. He was an eloquent, classy human being. … The music (was an influence), yes, absolutely, but the way he walked through the world with such grace was the added bonus of B.B. King.”
Like King, Mo' is renowned for his live shows. His latest album, “Keb’ Mo’ Live: That Hot Pink Blues Album,” recorded on his most recent tour, offers a snapshot of the concert experience.
Choosing which songs, and which performances of those songs, to include on the album wasn’t always easy. With a chuckle, Mo’ said he “chose the ones that came out the best.”
But, he added, going back and listening to all those live shows was sometimes “painful, listening to the ones that suck. … In the moment, there’s a lot going on; there’s visual, there’s people talking to each other. And stuff gets by. And when you listen back to the recording, just the audio, you’re going, ‘ooooh.’”
When he’s not on tour, Mo’ is involved in several organizations that promote music and arts education, including the Playing for Change Foundation. He also serves on the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities’ Turnaround Program. As part of the program, Mo’ works as a mentor to students and teachers at the Johnson School of Excellence in Chicago.
He jokes that his main role is to “show up, talk to the kids, and don’t say anything stupid.”
But turning serious, Mo’ adds that showing up is the most crucial part of the equation.
“Being there is one of the most powerful things you can do,” he said.
Mo’s current tour goes on through early December, and next year, fans can look forward to the singer’s collaboration with jazz musician Taj Mahal.
The two are working on an album, due out next year, with a tour to follow.
Asked what kind of vibe the disc will have, Mo’ answers, “I’m hoping that Taj will be the prevailing vibe. He’s got the most vibes, so I’m gonna go with that. I think of us as Sam and Dave, and I’m Dave.”
YOU CAN GO
What: An Evening With Keb’ Mo Band
When: 7:30 p.m. Oct. 13
Where: Peace Center
How much: $25-$45
For more: www.peacecenter.org