Keb’ Mo’

Hearts and Ears
Keb’ Mo’: Ed Rode.

Keb’ Mo’s latest is folksy, endearing, and called Good To Be. Co-produced by Vince Gill and with Darius Rucker onboard, Keb’ draws listeners in with a warm smile and earthy guitar tones. More than a bluesman, he has always followed in the footsteps of the classic tunesmiths from the Great American Songbook. Good To Be continues that tradition.

You’re branded as a blues artist, but write accessible songs in the classic tradition. I’ve always done these styles of music. I got known for the blues, but even on my debut Keb’ Mo’ album, it was not totally a blues album – that was the message that was put out; “blues artist.” That’s how everybody met me. As the years went by, people perceived that I was stretching out and breaking new ground, but I have only been peeling back the layers of stuff I’d been doing for years.

You collaborated with other songwriters on Good To Be. Collaboration is good because you got two or more sets of eyes and ears on it. When it rings true to two or three people, it’s a better scenario. You’ll hit more people’s hearts and ears. The title cut “Good To Be (Home Again),” was written by me and Money Mark Ramos Nishita, from the Beastie Boys. We wrote that from my house in Compton on a Zoom call. We were talking about old L.A., the ’60s, the ’70s, and driving through Gardena, South Central, and Watts.

How do you finish a tough song?
I love the process, and I love working on a great song. I’m not a singer’s singer or a guitar player’s guitar player; I’m not even a songwriter’s songwriter. That’s what keeps my work moving forward. If I can capture the feeling of the songs in the recording, I can go out and be of some consequence to the world.

Is it a conscious decision that your songs are so sunny and positive?
I like positive. “All Dressed Up” and “Louder” are more-painful. What I like about “All Dressed Up” is that it’s between a man and a woman. It’s about a man in a relationship trying to figure out where he stands and acknowledging his guilt. “I’m a fool, and I know it, but I’m still in love with you.” The original title was “I’m A Fool And I Know It” (laughs). He was a playboy with feelings of inadequacy, and he meets a woman who settles for him. So yeah, it is positive in a way (laughs). There’s beauty in the darkness. It’s a beautiful kind of pain.

Do you have an obsession with red guitars?
No, but my first one was red and I have a few red guitars (laughs). A guitar has to catch your eye. I’m attracted by the way they look. You play a bit, and it catches your ear, then you feel it next to your body. It’s the combination of feeling the guitar, holding it, and playing it with the right strings. Red was my favorite color when I was a kid, but my signature Gibson isn’t red (laughs). I have a red PRS and a red 335, but most aren’t. I gravitate to a few electrics, and even they all have a flaw. The one I play most is my custom PRS that Paul Smith put together for me. The one I play at home is my Gibson L-5 with flatwound strings. I love my Bedell nylon-string, too.

The Gibson Keb’ Mo’ Bluesmaster is a fantastic guitar.
It’s a real working man’s guitar. The best one is the Royale; they only made 50 of them, and it has an aged top and an aged sound. It’s pricey. If I had to give all my guitars away except one, I’d keep the Keb’ Mo’.

What are your go-to guitars when playing live?
The Strat, the 335, and my PRS, which has two humbuckers and a Soapbar. It’s like a Strat with a five-position switch and a whammy bar. It’s a workhorse that I can take anywhere. I like resonators and Nationals, too. I don’t like to change guitars onstage.

What happens after the album drops.
We’re going out on the road. We have to be careful, and our shows will be masked and vaxxed. I have some studio projects in the works, but it’s too soon to talk about them.

This article originally appeared in VG’s March 2022 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.

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