The blues are not dead. Far from it.
Every year Bluesfest at Byron Bay hosts a huge music festival which reflects the elasticity of the blues, stretching the definition, with artists who push the boundaries of tradition and modern interpretation.
Asked last year if he would be playing a blues set at Bluesfest, American star Jason Isbell said, “Everything I play is the blues.”
Indeed, the blues are more a way of looking at life, certainly in music.
For Keb Mo, the blues have been a passport to success. Connecting the dots is not so obvious, but the trail certainly points to a wild ride.
Growing up in Los Angeles he first tasted success under his own name, Kevin Moore, as a co-writer of Git Fiddler, a song starring violinist Papa John Creach on Jefferson Starship’s hugely successful Red Octopus album in 1975.
While making a living as a songwriter and musician through the 1980s, his major breakthrough was taking on the role of Guitar Man in the musical Spunk in the early 1990s. The role led to the creation of the persona Keb Mo, and he found himself playing Robert Johnson, widely revered as the father of blues, on stage and on screen (Can’t You Hear The Wind Howl?) in the 1990s.
Keb Mo played the White House during President Barack Obama’s tenure, and has been a guest on Sesame Street and picked up three Grammys. His version of America The Beautiful played in the final episode of West Wing.
His latest album recording was TajMo in 2017, a partnership with Taj Mahal, which includes covers and originals.
His latest single, Put A Woman in Charge, with Roseanna Cash contributing vocals, was released in September 2018.
“It had to happen,” Mo says of the blatant commentary on the current state of American politics. “It’s a metaphor . . . it’s about putting a sensible person in charge, really embracing all the tendencies of who we are. Everyone should be represented.
“It’s about the compassion of a woman.”
His long career has seen him push into folk and jazz, jumping fences and defying expectations frequently, bouncing between originals and covers.
While he loves his hometown of Los Angeles, Nashville is home, now. It clearly suits him, keeping his finger on the pulse of music trends and players. But make no mistake; at 67 years old, he is his own man.
“I can’t know what fans want, where they are going. What I do know, if I show up authentically and honestly, there is a good chance they might stay with me. It’s all you have.
“When I first started, when I got recognised nationally and internationally, it was music I was honest about. I just stick with that.”
But don’t put a label on him: “Living in the blues and living in part of alt folk paradigm, I’m comfortable,” he says, “I’m not comfortable only playing the blues. I love writing songs. That’s my story and i’m sticking with it.”