After 20 years of struggle, Keb’ Mo’ finds lasting success
It took years before Keb’ Mo’ finally developed a level of trust – both in himself and his prolonged success.
Although his first two albums garnered a W.C. Handy Award and a Grammy, the artist whose given name is Kevin Moore was always waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Even years after he’d relocated from his native Southern California, Moore still tried to hang on to a standing blues gig in Santa Monica. “For the first two years I kept calling them and saying, ‘I’ll be back,’ ” he said. “It took four years for me to realize this might be working. I’ve seen so many flashes in the pan.”
Moore’s most recent album, “BLUESAmericana,” released about a year ago, embodies the 20 years since his career turned the corner when he charmed blues devotees with his self-titled debut. “My last album was a celebration of it lasting,” he said. “I had 20 years of real struggle. Now I’m 21 years into a quasi-successful career in the recording industry. It’s really interesting.”
Moore’s assessment of his success may be modest. In 1995, Keb’ Mo’ took home a Handy for best acoustic blues album. The release positioned Moore as both a revivalist and a talented original writer.
Moore covered a pair of songs by Robert Johnson, which gained attention and praise from blues traditionalists. But Moore-penned tunes like “She Just Wants To Dance” and “Tell Everybody I Know” cut a wider swath, appealing to fans of other genres.
“The public saw me as an acoustic blues musician that was going to be the second coming of Robert Johnson,” Moore said. “That was not my intention.” “Just Like You,” released in 1996, won the Grammy Award the following year for best contemporary blues album. The album continued to show Moore’s versatility with more pop influence and featured guest spots by Jackson Browne and Bonnie Raitt.
Moore was already an accomplished guitarist as a teenager but said he didn’t start playing the blues until much later. “I didn’t gravitate to the blues until I was in my 30s,” he said. “I was playing popular music, what I thought was cool. Later on, I realized I was empty inside. I didn’t have anything to say. I started listening to the blues and I thought they had something to say. It’s deep and powerful. I saw a realism I hadn’t found in anything else.”
Moore continued to record and diversify his role in the music industry. He recorded a children’s album and was a major participant in Martin Scorsese’s film “The Blues.” He also had some minor film roles and has written for both film and TV, most notably on the CBS show “Mike & Molly.”
“I look at it as all one thing,” he said. “I wasn’t going to branch off and have an acting career. I’m not an actor. I get the opportunities based on what I do being Keb’ Mo.’ ”
In 2004, Moore released a pair of albums, taking home his third Grammy for “Keep It Simple,” which was followed by “Peace … Back By Popular Demand.” “I did that album because Sony wanted me to make a record of themes,” he said. “At first it was going to be protest songs. I didn’t want to do protests. I wanted to talk about peace. That’s more important than protesting. I wanted to put my attention on what I wanted to happen, not what I didn’t want to happen.”
Moore’s collaborative partners constitute a who’s who of blues music, including Mavis Staples, Little Milton and the late B.B. King. “I don’t stay in the past that much, but I’ve done some nice things,” he said. “Bonnie Raitt has been a big influence and has given me a lot of opportunities. Just to be in the music business and still doing it (has been great).”
Moore’s next project will pair him with another friend and legend in the blues genre – Taj Mahal.
“We’re doing original material (for an album),” Moore said. “I’ve been working on it since November and it probably won’t be done until fall.”