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Keb Mo: The Grinning Team.

1 April 2002 | 12:00 am | K Wilson
Originally Appeared In

Mo Better Blues.

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Keb Mo plays the East Coast Blues & Roots Music Festival in Byron Bay on Saturday and Sunday.

Ten minutes isn't long to get to know somebody. Well, it is if that's your scene but otherwise - and especially in interviews - 10 minutes is usually where the going gets good. Foreplay is over and we're into the juicy gut of the communication shuffle. But, no excuses, 10 minutes is all that's allocated with Keb Mo, noted bluesman, who's at home in a windy Los Angeles where it's about 4.15pm, an appropriately civil time for doing interviews.

Mo, for the unfamiliar, has been busy the last few years. Two albums, Big Wide Grin (2001) and The Door (2000) following up on Slow Down (1998), its similarly Grammy-winning predecessor, Just Like You (1996) and Keb Mo (1994). And slotted between the two most recent sets was the release of his DVD - Sessions at West 54th - Recorded live in New York City, June 10, 1997. That's a mighty amount of Mo whichever way you look at it.

He disagrees that's he's a prolific songwriter, even though he then confirms that his next studio set will be ready within the next six months, although when it's released is another matter.

"I'm very lazy really," he says laconically. "I've got to find things to write about. I can write pretty good. I can come up with a song when I've got that idea but I usually don't waste my time until I've got something I like. At times you've just got to look for it and when it's hard to find it's usually right under your nose. Just pay attention to what is going on in the world, your own personal life, in your relationships."

"I always like to say that making a song is like hatching an egg,” he laughs. “You just sit on it. I also like to have something real in there, a kind of an arm reaching out to reality. Like you tell it how the times are and how they look to you. No matter if it's mostly bad like now, there's a lot of stuff within that which might be good.”

"I figure like I'm one small part of this big thing that's life and humanity and I figure that if I'm really speaking personally from my life then I'm speaking for a lot of people because of our connectiveness, not because I've got an edge that other people don't have but because if I go within myself I'll find things that are within everybody."

And that is very much the heart of the blues which has always spoken for a large number of people whether it be as a voice against oppression and of inspiration and hope, a history of a race, even a belief. And in that is an encyclopaedia of stories, history and knowledge.

"The blues is talking about things; it's not about being poetic, it's about trying to express life," Mo says. "It's funny the blues people that influenced me were blues people who influenced me later. As I grew up I was more influenced by Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield, The Beatles, people like that, the popular music of the day. I grew up being intrigued by the song, by good songs.”

“I became intrigued by the blues later on. When I did there's no doubt that my favourite blues artist became Muddy Waters. Every time I hear Muddy it just puts a big ol' smile on my face," he chuckles. "There's something about what he does that does it for me."

What about Robert Johnson?

"He's a different kind of a character. Robert was more of an innovator. Blues kind of revolves around what he did. Even Muddy Waters. Muddy kind of borrowed from him and developed his own style."

Not bad for a man who made only two records, yet influenced virtually every major blues player.

"Pretty good work I think. Robert died in 1938 and he's still selling 66 years later. It just goes to show you it's quality not quantity that counts. And he died a mystery and he died young. Troubled and sensitive. Just like James Dean and Marilyn Monroe. It leaves a mysteriousness, 'Like wait a minute, that's it? That's all?' I think people like that are meant do something extraordinary - like Martin Luther King - and when they've done that something extraordinary, God goes, ‘Good work. Okay, you can go now.'"