About 20 years ago, when songwriter and blues musician Kevin Moore reinvented himself as Keb' Mo' with his self-titled debut album, he not only earned awards and widespread praise, but picked up a less tangible honor as well. Blues fans and critics agreed that Moore inherited the mantle of generational spokesman for the blues, passed down to him from Robert Cray. Yet Moore still seems, in some ways, like the new kid on the block.
So it's surprising to realize that he's actually two years older than Cray. It might be Moore's relatively late-blooming solo career that makes him seem like the new guy. Or it might be the fact that he looks, speaks, sings and plays far younger than his 62 years would suggest.
Since 1994, Moore has released nine studio albums as Keb' Mo', as well as several live, compilation and soundtrack albums. His tenth, BLUESAmericana, is set to drop on April 22. But before he started racking up the Grammys — he has three — Moore, like the responsible bluesman that he is, paid his dues. For two decades, he worked as a songwriter and studio and touring musician for such diverse acts as Cuba Gooding Sr., Little Milton and Jefferson Starship — of which violinist Papa John Creach mentored him.
BLUESAmericana is Moore's first album in nearly three years. Like many of his previous releases, it shows that he can't be pigeonholed stylistically. "The Old Me Better" showcases his love of New Orleans-flavored stomp, and the album features as many "happy" blues as downcast ones.
Moore has already been on the road for more than a month in support of BLUESAmericana. In advance of his solo acoustic performance at Burlington's Flynn MainStage on Sunday, March 16, Moore spoke by phone from Colorado with Seven Days about his influences and his new record. And dog poop.
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Courtesy of Shore Fire Media
SEVEN DAYS: I gotta tell ya, I grew up listening to Jefferson Starship's Red Octopus, so when I read that you used to play with Papa John Creach, I pulled out my old vinyl copy. And there you are as one of the cowriters of "Git Fiddler." What did you learn from Papa John?
KEB' MO': That was my first real professional road gig in my youth. I was probably 20. I learned a lot about performing from Papa John. He was so charismatic onstage. It was just amazing what he could do. His presence was huge. I watched him perform with the Airplane and Starship, watched him tear an arena up. I learned how to be onstage, how to perform, how to travel. Papa John was a very important part of my life.
Almost no one knows that, by the way. You pulled out some stuff that almost no one pulls out. You get the gold statue!
SD: Who else have you worked with that your fans might not know about?
KM: Some obscure stuff. Cuba Gooding Sr., I actually wrote a song for him, "Dance Floor Lover." Some disco-age stuff. Probably sold about 16 copies.
I also had the privilege of performing with Bobby "Blue" Bland at the opening of the B.B. King Museum in Indianola, Mississippi. It was fantastic. Him and B.B. just ragging on each other, playing the dozens, talking crap about each other. Bland's album Two Steps From the Blues was part of my childhood. Playing in my house all the time.
SD: BLUESAmericana is your first album in three years. What have you been working on in the interim?
KM: I've been on the road a little bit, spent some time at home, and I worked on [the upcoming] Sweet Pea Atkinson album. I tend to take my time. I'm never in a hurry to record a new record. I like to let each record run its course and do what it's gonna do. I'm also looking for life to give me my material. I gotta have real stuff to record with. I'm inspired, then I start writing, then the record comes out. Every one of my records has been like that.
SD: What does the title BLUESAmericana mean to you?
KM: I coined the phrase. I've always been an artist without a genre, so I decided to declare my own genre. Americana is one of those genres for people who don't have a genre.
SD: What have you been listening to lately?
KM: Right now, when I turn on my iPod, I'm listening to Jonatha Brooke. Also Big Joe Williams, John Mayer. I love Charlie Wilson from the Gap Band. There's a great record by Terence Blanchard, recorded after Katrina, A Tale of God's Will. Herbie Hancock's River: The Joni Letters is a go-to record for me.
Usually an artist has one or two things he'll listen to. When you're a young musician, you're learning, and you usually take one thing to dissect. I'm constantly dissecting music. You find an album you really love and you take it apart and find out what's good about it, and keep listening to it. I want to hear the anatomy of great records.
SD: What are some of those albums for you?
KM: [Miles Davis'] Kind of Blue. Aja by Steely Dan. Steely Dan, man. It doesn't get much better than that.
SD: One thing that really struck me on BLUESAmericana is the reference to the dog taking a shit on the floor in the opening song, "The Worst Is Yet to Come." I loved that it was a blues song that was, in part, about everyday annoyances.
KM: [Laughs] That was inspired by Richard Pryor's routine about going home, finding his woman leaving him, and the dog starts talking. "I'm going with her, Richard. She feeds me three times a day, and you're lax with the food. And I'm gonna leave you a little piss on the floor, too." I just took it a little further!
Keb' Mo' performs on Sunday, March 16, 7 p.m., at the Flynn MainStage in Burlington. $15-45. flynntix.org
The original print version of this article was headlined "Return to Roots"