The name may sound a bit unorthodox to the uninitiated, but Keb’ Mo’ (born Kevin Moore) is a household name in the modern blues scene. Though he was born well after the heyday of many great Delta blues musicians, the roots of Keb’ Mo’s sound dates back to a simpler time in American blues history, while incorporating other, more modern genres seamlessly into his music. A late bloomer of sorts, Keb’ Mo’ got his big break in the mid-‘90s, when he was in his early 40s, proving that it’s never too late to become a success in the music industry.
The musician who would later be known as Keb’ Mo’ was born in Los Angeles, California, on October 3, 1951. Despite being quite skillful on the guitar as a young man, Kevin Moore, as he was then known, got his start as a calypso bassist and steel drummer. After a few collaborations with violinist Papa John Creach of Jefferson Airplane fame, Moore released a heavily pop and R&B-flavored debut album, Rainmaker, in 1980, using his birth name. It would be fourteen years before the world would hear of Kevin Moore again – in 1994, he had a new, snappy stage name and a self-titled release Keb’ Mo’ . Unlike his 1980 debut, this had a distinct Delta blues flavor and even included two remakes of Robert Johnson originals, “Kindhearted Woman Blues” and “Come on in My Kitchen.” His next album under the new moniker, Just like You, was released in 1996 and won a Grammy for Best Contemporary Blues Album. Despite being 45 at the time, Keb’ Mo’s midlife was anything but a crisis. He was the blues scene’s newest superstar, and the best would be yet to come.
The critically-acclaimed Slow Down in 1998 and Keep it Simple in 2004 would also win Best Contemporary Blues Album Grammys for Keb’ Mo’ the year after their release. In between those two releases, Keb’ Mo’ starred as the legend himself, Robert Johnson, in a 1998 documentary called Can’t You Hear the Wind Now? He made several recurring appearances on Touched by an Angel. There were no awards in 2000, but Keb’ Mo’ recorded two albums that year – The Door and Big Wide Grin. The latter, which was released in 2001, was mostly a covers album, featuring new renditions of several ‘70s rock and R&B classics such as Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely” and Sly and the Family Stone’s “Family Affair.”
After 2006’s Suitcase, a five-year lull followed with no new studio albums recorded. A semi-live, semi-studio album, Live and Mo’ was released in 2009. But the real follow-up to Suitcase came last year via The Reflection, which many feel is a poppier departure from Keb’ Mo’s usual sound. Nonetheless, The Reflection got a Grammy nomination for Best Blues Album this year, losing out to the Tedeschi Trucks Band’s Revelator.
To this day, Keb’ Mo’ remains a force to be reckoned with as a modern-day bluesman. His sound has certainly evolved through the years to the point it’s debatable to call him a pure blues musician. Still, the blues foundation is there, as it has always been since that inauspicious 1980 debut.