by Josef Woodard
Just the facts: The artist known as Keb’ Mo’ was born Kevin Moore in Compton, California in 1951, and has carved out a unique career persona in the shadow of Taj Mahal. Acoustic country blues may be a basic part of his musical DNA, which he has championed on public radio and in Martin Scorsese’s acclaimed Blues project on PBS. But Mo’ freely wanders into other neighborhoods of idiom and medium, including theater. On his latest album Peace … Back by Popular Demand, he revisited activist songs from the ’60s and the ’70s. On Thursday, Mo’ returns to Campbell Hall, where he courted an SRO house in 2002.
Your album Peace … Back by Popular Demand is a collection of protest songs, but is the protest song something of a lost art now? We’re not hearing many, although the time is ripe for it, wouldn’t you say? I don’t think we’re in a very protest-oriented time. We’re more in a time of watching what you’re saying. In the protesting spirit during Vietnam, in the ’60s, people weren’t afraid to speak out. There were the three major assassinations of that era—Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., and Robert Kennedy. There was a feeling of “What the hell is going on out here?” Now, we’ve got these war people in the White House. We’ve heard protest songs and they seem to bounce off people’s consciousness.
Things are different economically now, too, because people are spending much more time trying to make ends meet. They have way less time for protesting. In the ’60s, the price of living and what your check was, was a lot closer than it is now for a lot of people. There weren’t as many two-salary homes. People are just trying to pay the rent.
You’ve found nice ways to mix rootsy styles with contemporary ideas. Was that always a goal? That’s just kind of who I am. It was never something I tried to do. All those elements make up what I am, so they’re very easy to blend. I think I understand what the rules are, what genres are supposed to do, and how they’re all held together. I’m not doing anything really deep. All of music really does that. It’s a pretty easy thing to do. What’s hard to do is probably to market that blend, because music is pretty compartmentalized. When you mix compartments, it causes problems. I fly under the radar anyway, so no one really cares if I mix genres. KIIS-FM isn’t going to worry about what to do with me.
Is there a comfort knowing that much of the best music now flies under the radar? Yeah. I remember when I sold cars, a long time ago, I learned a trick: They put the cars that are hard to sell in the showroom. I look at the radio as the showroom.
[4 · 1 · 1] Keb’ Mo’ performs at UCSB’s Campbell Hall on Thursday, October 27. Call 893-3535.