Whenever someone says that they love the blues, I can’t help the dull smile that creases my face. As far as I can tell, saying you love the blues is kind of like saying that you love light. “I love the blues” actually says something approximating “I have no idea what to say right now. Nod and smile, please.”
Nevertheless, I love the blues. It’s the foundation of just about every classic rock song, and without the classic rock song, well, we wouldn’t have the not-so-classic rock song, like say, “Dancing Queen.” I’m dead serious here; no blues, no Swedish supergroup.
At any rate, Keb’Mo’ is a good chance for you to disregard this convoluted theorem and simply love the blues again. Here’s a guy who’s definitely versed in the old school, the Delta blues to be precise, but he isn’t a torch bearer for the lost songs of the Mississippi. In fact, he didn’t become the bluesman he is now until he was many years into his music career.
Born and raised in the Compton area of Los Angeles, Keb’Mo’ was Kevin Moore, a man who spent his 20s and 30s trying to find his sound, eventually working with Hot Tuna vocalist Papa John Creach. In 1980, he released his first album and promptly watched it bomb. For a while, Moore, then 35, mulled his options, wondering if music was really his calling. He settled on a computer programming course and suited up to join the corporate world, but his heart wasn’t into it. As he once told Billboard magazine, “Well, I’ve never known anyone to die from poverty. ... I figured that God wouldn’t have put me on the planet and not given me the tools to take care of myself. This music must be my tool, so I’m gonna trust it and see where it takes me.”
So far, that tool has taken Keb’Mo’ on tour with the likes of Lyle Lovett, Shawn Colvin and Robert Cray, and has won him a Grammy for his second album “Just Like You.”
Like Lovett, Colvin, Cray and Bonnie Raitt, Keb’Mo’ has a natural knack for writing smooth pop hooks while keeping the song grounded in a classic American formula. In Keb’Mo’s case the Delta blues serves the muse well with its warmth and honesty. But Keb’Mo’ doesn’t write blues songs per se, instead asking himself, “Does it have the same honesty as a blues song, is it just as honest? If it can’t stand up to Muddy Waters singing ... I just toss it.”
Given the phenomenal success of his touring peers, Keb’Mo’ seems to have made the right choice in forgoing a career in computers. But the jury is still out on whether or not it is possible for one to meaningfully “love the blues.” On Saturday, we’ve got a chance to find out.
Keb’Mo’ plays the blues this Saturday, Dec. 11 at University Theatre at 7:30 p.m. Call 1-888-MONTANA.