Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’ Share the Stage in Chico
● By Phil Reser
Talent Times Two
By Phil Reser
Photos courtesy of TajMo.com
Singer, guitarist and songwriter Keb’ Mo’ was born Kevin Moore in 1951, and has carved out a unique career persona in the shadow of Taj Mahal.
“My earliest musical experience was playing steel drum and upright bass in a calypso band when I was 10 years old,” he says. “I moved from there to playing the French horn in my high school orchestra, and during that same time, I was doing gigs with a local cover band.”
And there was the chance encounter with a little-known singer named Taj Mahal. “I’ll always remember my drafting teacher in my senior year of high school because he had the foresight and wisdom to let me attend a school assembly featuring this musician named Taj Mahal twice that day. He singled me out because he knew that I liked music. No one, including me, had ever heard of him, but I totally got his songs and it introduced me to the sounds of country blues.”
Of course, at the time, nobody knew who Kevin Moore was, either. He moved to Los Angeles after graduation and played in clubs, community theater and film projects. He started recording in the early 1970s with Jefferson Airplane violinist Papa John Creach, who hired Keb’ Mo’ when he was just 21. Keb Mo's first gold record was received for "Git Fiddler," which he co-wrote with Papa John on Jefferson Starship's “Red Octopus.”
After leaving Creach, he began honing his songwriting skills, spending five years in what he calls “songwriting college,” working with other writers for A&M Records.
Now, a three-time Grammy winner, he feels blessed to have been included in so many artistic projects. His songs have been featured in numerous TV shows, he has performed in movies like John Sayles “Honeydripper” and portrayed Robert Johnson in in a docudrama. He also acted in “The Rabbit Foot,” a play adapted from Zora Neal Hurston’s short stories, and wrote the original music for Keith Glover’s play, “Thunder Knocking On the Door.”
“I try to do my own things, musically speaking, without referencing or being particularly inspired by anything or anyone. It is me being with me, wanted to say what I have got to say and sounding in the way I want to sound like. It's like seeing somebody with a fabulous pair of shoes and rather than asking, ‘Hey, you have got a great pair of shoes, can I borrow them?’, I rather prefer making my own shoes in my own way.”
He has performed at Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival and narrated Martin Scorsese’s 13-episode radio series, “The Blues.” He contributed songs to tribute albums for Jackson Browne and Greg Allman.
For his shows, Keb’ Mo’ employs the dobro, national steel, electric and acoustic guitars, but it’s his signature slide on each that is most identifiable.
“I think that the slide guitar is so important to the blues and the roots of what I’m doing,” he says. “So branching out musically like I do, using a steel guitar and slide is a reminder to me and the audience of where I come from in my music.”
In 2015, his album, “BLUESAmericana,” won Contemporary Blues Album at the Blues Music Awards. He followed that up with his 15th record release, “Keb’ Mo’ Live - That Hot Pink Blues Album.”
Keb’ Mo’ and Taj Mahal are currently on tour in support of their newly released collaborative album,“TajMo.” The collection contains 11 songs, including six original compositions and covers from the likes of John Mayer and The Who. The record also features guest appearances from Bonnie Raitt, Joe Walsh, and Sheila E., among others.
“I used to see the music business as a way to make money, as a career, so to speak,” he says. “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, or trying to make your way through life. 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.”
And what does Keb’ Mo’ say about his encounter with Taj Mahal nearly 50 years ago? “If there was no Taj Mahal, there wouldn’t be a Keb’ Mo’. He has been infinitely inspiring to who I am as a person and my entire musical journey.”
Keb’ Mo’ and Taj Mahal
June 22, Laxson Auditorium, Chico State University