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Sep 11, 2014

Positive Blues - Keb' Mo' blends his own musical recipe

September 11, 2014

Vincent Harris, Greenville Journal September 11, 2014

Singer/songwriter/guitarist Keb’ Mo’ (a.k.a. Kevin Moore) is usually classified as a blues musician, but his music has always been more expansive than that. Since his self-titled 1994 debut album, Keb’ Mo’ has mixed traditional acoustic blues into his own musical recipe, which includes elements of gospel, pop, rock and country, blending all those styles into his own unique sound.

He’s a three-time Grammy Award winner who’s played with everyone from Bonnie Raitt to Marcus Miller; he’s scored pop hits like “That’s Not Love,” from his 1996 album “Just Like You,” and he’s heard regularly on television as the co-writer and singer of the theme for the CBS sitcom “Mike & Molly.”

He’s become a universal enough figure to appear on both “Sesame Street” and “The West Wing,” and his taste in cover tunes is adventurous enough to take on Robert Johnson AND The Eagles. Keb’ Mo’ is playing at the Peace Center on Tuesday, Sept. 16, and I spoke to him recently about his trailblazing career.

You’re most commonly associated with blues music. Do you consider yourself a blues musician primarily?
I don’t really think of myself as a blues musician. If someone asked me what I do best, I’d say, “I play the guitar, I’m a little bit of songwriter, a little bit blues guy, a little bit of singer, and a little bit of a comedian. It’s a little bit of everything that all comes together to make me whatever I am and give people access to find out who I am.”

You’ve covered a variety of artists over the course of your career, but the song that interested me the most was your version of the Eagles’ “One of These Nights.” How did that come about?
Well, how the Eagles cover happened was that I was a performer at a MusicCares concert that was a tribute to Don Henley, and I listened to the lyrics of that song and really studied the words. And the lyrics were very sensual, and it was just really cool. You don’t really think of Don Henley as a sensual lyricist. So I did a slow version of it. 
I like to pick songs from lots of different genres. I like to explore and play what I feel.

When you’re recording an album, do you typically go into the studio with a concept of how you want the album to sound, or does that happen during the recording process?
It reveals itself as it goes. I might start with a basic sound and build around the vocals. I might start with my guitar, or a beat, and put the vocal on later, or I’ll start with an electronic drumbeat and add the real drums later. Whatever I need to do to get to it, that’s what I do.

You’ve written songs by yourself and with co-writers. How do you choose who to write with?
It’s mostly people that I feel a certain kinship with. There’s an intimate kind of rapport that lets us get down to the nitty-gritty. I already know where I want to go [with the song], though. The other writers come in and we do it together, but I always know where I want to go. I know the story I want to tell. I want to tell a story that I can really sink my teeth into.

Your music has a lot of realism in it, but it’s also very positive. Are you conscious of putting positive messages in your songs?
Yeah, I’m very conscious of that, absolutely. I don’t want to be whining and moaning all the time [laughs]. A lot of people say, “Oh, I don’t like the blues, it’s depressing.” It’s one of the most common things I hear. But when people listen to what I do, a lot of them are surprised. I love the blues, but I don’t like to be depressing.

Who: Keb’ Mo
Where: The Peace Center, 101 W. Broad St.
When: Tuesday, Sept. 16, 7:30 p.m.
Tickets: $35-$45
Info: 864-467-3000 or