By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Keb' Mo's hottest set in Texas was a performance on KNON-FM 89.3 in March '93, during a spontaneous appearance on Marc Tuton's "Hot Licks" show. The skeptical DJ let Moore sing an original called "Dirty, Lowdown and Bad." Moore's voice was sublimely groggy at 9 a.m., and Tuton wouldn't let him stop singing for 90 minutes. "It's so refreshing to see a guy who isn't white playing this stuff!" exclaimed Tuton.
"All the history that I learned from the blues lets me know how far my people have come," says Moore. "I don't think young blacks are so much ashamed of blues as much as they don't yet understand it. It hasn't been presented to them the way it should be. Because when they hear a white guy sing blues, the history's not there."
According to Moore, executives at Sony in New York one day decided to start a blues label, OKeh/Epic. "Mine was the first tape they liked," he says. Moore must have worn his baseball cap when the bigwigs called him in. If they knew he was 40, he suggests, he'd probably not have been signed. But then, the blues--by nature--has challenged the corporate obsession with youth, as companies see validity in older blues artists.
Before he was signed, Moore had the notion of recording a duet with a Compton rapper or integrating hip-hop technology with Delta blues--something perhaps only he could pull off. "Come On In My Kitchen," off of Rainmaker, comes breathtakingly close. But signing with a Sony subsidiary required his backing off a little.
"I wanted to go all the way. I'm still on a quest to do that, go different places with the blues. When you talk about breaking ground in the blues, there's a lot of tradition to break. But in the making of a record, you have a producer, a bunch of musicians all with their ideas. If you hold on too tightly, you begin to anger them."
Moore's British producer, John Porter, is in his 50s, a traditional blues producer of albums by Taj Mahal, Buddy Guy, and Otis Rush. Moore's current release, Just Like You, is as mainstream as Eric Clapton's latest album. For "Standing at the Station," one of the best cuts, he tried to experiment. "I took the National Steel guitar, used a little dirt, a little clean, put a synth on it. But to blues people, a synth is sacrilegious because it's not a Hammond or a Dobro. I'm trying to make that OK. I call it 'The Good Fight.'"
The synth ended up off the track. "I love my producer," says Moore, "but when we do records, we fight 'The Good Fight.'"
Keb' Mo' plays the Caravan of Dreams in Fort Worth Friday, September 27.