David Holt’s State of Music


Keb’ Mo’

Blues legend Keb' Mo' visits with host David Holt. Keb' has described himself as "too happy for the blues, too bluesy for jazz, too funky for folk, and too city for country." David talks with him about how he found his place in music.

AIRED: May 01, 2021 | 0:24:41

(Upbeat bluegrass music)

- [David Holt] This is Kevin Moore.

Most folks know him as Keb' Mo'.

He's played at the White House, performed with Eric Clapton,

Taj Mahal, and Bonnie Raitt.

Keb is a five time Grammy award-winner.

He's a soulful singer, fine guitarist, and great songwriter.

He can find the heart of a song and serve it up

with a powerful groove that leaves no toe left untapped.

He's one of my favorites.

(playful guitar music)

♪ Lupe came here from Mexico

♪ About three or four years ago ♪

♪ And the journey, journey

♪ Journey was long

♪ She got a job at a local factory ♪

♪ Sent money back home to her family ♪

♪ She said, "This, is where I belong" ♪

♪ She said, "This is my home, this is where I belong" ♪

♪ A man arrives from Pakistan

♪ A stranger in the promised land ♪

♪ Mohammed, Mohammed was finally free ♪

♪ He drove day and night in a taxi cab ♪

♪ When people got mean, he didn't get mad ♪

♪ Because he knew this, is where he belongs ♪

♪ He said, "This is my home, this is where I belong" ♪

♪ La-la, la-la, la-la-la-la,

♪ La, la, la, la, la, la, la, la ♪

♪ Lupe had school on Monday night ♪

♪ When a man walked in who looked just right ♪

♪ Mohammed and Lupe were falling in love ♪

♪ And they raised a beautiful family ♪

♪ Taught them all their history ♪

♪ They know this, is where they belong ♪

♪ This is their home

♪ This is where they belong

♪ My people came over from Africa ♪

♪ To North and South America

♪ And the journey, the journey

♪ Journey was long

♪ And they sacrificed and they paid the price ♪

♪ So I could live this wonderful life ♪

♪ And I know this, is where I belong ♪

♪ You see, this is my home, this is where I belong ♪

♪ La-la, la-la, la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la-la, ♪

♪ La la la la la la la la la la la la la la ♪

♪ This is my home

♪ This is where I belong

♪ This is my home

- We all have a Dharma, you know,

something which is the thing that you do or I do

that no one else can do better

and that's your job to be that

because you're the best at that.

There's a space for you.

And if when you get quiet, you know,

and you really start allowing yourself

to listen to what's going around you

and to move into that space

you'll go right to where you're supposed to be.

- You had a wonderful quote that says

you were "too happy for the blues,

too bluesy for jazz, too funky for folk,

and too city for country."

(both laugh)

- Yeah, that pretty much sums me up.

- But you found a place in there.

You found- Yeah.

- sort of-

skirting all that. - Yeah.

- Yeah.

- I would kind of, it's like I would go

into the- I'm making a bouquet of flowers

and I go through and kind of snip things off music pieces

here and there.

And I took, I studied them,

I mean I went to a lot of school.

I played in the orchestra in high school,

I was in the Compton Community Youth Orchestra

- Playing what?

- French horn.

- Wow!

- And I was-

I went to the beginnings of what's MI,

which is called the Guitar Institute of Technology

which is MI in Hollywood.

- Yeah.

- I was one of the, probably, founding students of that.

I studied with Joe Diorio and Howard Roberts.

I went to LACC and did a couple of years there

in their music program, always studying.

So I learned theory, I learned about chord changes,

harmony, composition.

Studied Bach at the LA City College with Ms. Modlish,

and a lot of composition classes.

And so I was always putting the pieces together

because I didn't really know anything.

I'd been out there playing for 10 years,

but I didn't really know anything.

And I guess I was kinda trusting the process, in a sense,

whereas, I just knew I didn't wanna work a job

and I just loved not going to work.

(both laugh)

- And then you found out music was work.

- Well I knew finally you had to show up,

you had to be responsible. - Yeah.

- But I just didn't want to get up in the morning

and go be somewhere eight o'clock and punch a clock

and listen to some B.S. from some boss.

(both laugh)

So I like to kind of have life on my own terms

and accept the consequences as to what they are.

- Did you grow up in a musical household?

- Well, it was kinda quasi musical.

I was always in a kind of a musical environment.

There was a little bit of music in the house.

There was a piano,

that came later after I started playing the guitar

but there was music on my block

and there was music at school and music on the radio.

- And your mother was a singer, wasn't she?

- She sang at church. - Yeah.

- My sisters played the flute,

one played the cello and the piano.

And my mother always kinda pushed us toward music,

but... she pushed me

and I guess I just kind of kept going.

- Yeah, you sure did.

- You grew up at a time in Compton

when it was before the hip hop era.

It's kinda the era of... what,

Marvin Gaye and the Temptations?

- It was the 60's.

The Sixties.

- Yeah, I hear a lot of that in your voice,

a lot of those guys.

Did you study them pretty hard or do you think about that?

- Mostly I was, back then

when all the popular music was going,

that's not so much what I was doing.

That came like later in the late 60's, like '69.

- What were you doing then?

- Playing in a cover band.

As a kid I played steel drums.

- Yeah.

- And that's what kind of kept my musical thing going.

I was always a strange kid.

I listened to Johnny Mathis and Nat King Cole.

- I hear some of that in your voice too.

- I was kind of like... and I liked,

I liked the blues and I liked things,

I liked what was on the radio,

certain things like Motown and Stax.

- Yeah.

When did you start getting into the blues?

- I don't remember the exact day,

but I remember when it became important,

that was in my... in the early '80's,

when I started really

paying attention to the blues

because...I guess all my other options were gone.

So to speak, I had explored all my options by then.

- Was this after playing with Papa John Creach or...?

- Yes, yes, I had played with Papa John Creach.

I had done an album on the Chocolate City label

of Casablanca Records.

And I had some publishing deals,

you know, and I had been kind o.

- So you were already after it?

- I was after it, I was doing,

but I would always fall into it.

I never á*wentá after it, it kinda came to me.

So, I was kind of drug along in the music industry

until I woke up and figured out I was supposed to be in it.

- Did Papa John Creach,

did you learn anything from him?

Because I used to see him in college,

it was probably before you were in the band,

but I lived in San Francisco in the late '60's.

- Where did you see him,

did you see him in the Great American Music Hall?

- And the Fillmore.

- I might've been there.

- How about that?

What did you learn from him?

He was wonderful.

- Well, he kinda took us off the street, Papa John did.

We were playing in a little like storefront rehearsal hall

in LA and he was on his way to get some,

along with his producer and his arranger

and they were about to do an album to get some soul food

at the Jet Set Cafe,

which was two doors down from my little rehearsal studio.

And we were rehearsing,

and they came in and they liked what they heard,

and for some reason they hired us to play on his record.

- Oh really?

- Yeah we were like [amazed face]

All of a sudden we were at Paramount Studios,

going down to Union, picking up checks.

- How old were you at that point, do you think?

- About 20, 21.

- So you knew pretty early on, you were gonna be a musician

or wanted to try to do that?

- No, I was just being drug along by my friends.

My friend James Speed would be,

"Does anyone wanna come play at this thing?"

And my friends, they would always invite me- Carlos,

with the steel band.

I was too shy to really go in

asking anybody "Can I play?"

I was always á*askedá,

because I wouldn't have,

probably would have never went on my own.

I even stopped playing for about a year after high school

and went to, you know, learn a trade.

- What was that?

- Architectural drafting.

- And did you do that for awhile?

- No, but I had an apprenticeship at a company called

Daniel, Mann, Johnson and Mendenhall

for a couple of years.

And there I figured out

that I didn't like being cooped up.

So I went,

and once again at the second year of that job

I started getting calls from my friends again

to come play, even though I had stopped playing,

but I just went and got my guitar and my hat

from my mom's house, put it in the trunk of my car

and drove down there and started playing with them.

- Tell that story about your mom in the Buddhist meeting.

- Well, you know, my mom was a very religious woman.

I'd been going to these Buddhist meetings

and I was really young

and I guess I was very easily influenced

and I was being a Buddhist.

I still kind of carry a Buddhist mentality.

- Yeah.

- But I tried to tell my mother about Buddhism

and to get her to come to a meeting

and told her about it a bit and she kinda wasn't having it.

So she retaliated with me and she said,

"Well, Kevin,

remember that time you and your sister

were sick with tuberculosis

and the doctor said you're both gonna die?"

She said, "Well, I prayed for you

and you're still here, ain't yo?

And you feel pretty good, don't you?"

(both laugh)

So, that didn't turn me away from my Buddhism

but it expanded my horizons

on what spirituality and faith was.

- Right.

Tells us about your mom too.

- Yeah, yeah, I didn't mess with her after that,

I kind of left that alone.

(playful guitar music)

♪ Way back when

♪ In the beginning of time

♪ Man made the fire then the wheel ♪

♪ Went from a horse to an automobile ♪

♪ He said, "the world is mine"

♪ He took the oceans and the sky ♪

♪ He set the borders, built the walls ♪

♪ He won't stop till he owns it all ♪

♪ But here we are

♪ Standing on the brink of disaster ♪

♪ Enough is enough is enough is enough ♪

♪ I know the answer

♪ Put a woman in charge

♪ Put the women in charge

♪ Put a woman in charge

♪ Put the women in charge

♪ The time has come

♪ We've got to turn this world around ♪

♪ Call the mothers

♪ Call the daughters

♪ We need the sisters of mercy now ♪

♪ She'll be a hero

♪ Not a fool

♪ She's got the power

♪ To change the rules

♪ She's got something

♪ Men don't have

♪ She is kind and she understands ♪

♪ So let the ladies

♪ Do what they were born to do

♪ Raise the vibration

♪ And make a better place for me and you ♪

♪ Put a woman in charge

♪ Put the women in charge

♪ Time to put a woman in charge ♪

♪ Put the women in charge

♪ Hallelujah

♪ We're gonna feel the magic

♪ When the girls take over

♪ It's gonna be fantastic

♪ Put a woman in charge

♪ Put the women in charge

♪ Time to put a woman in charge ♪

♪ Put the women in charge

♪ Oh yeah, come on

♪ Put a woman in charge

♪ Put the women in charge

♪ Time to put a woman in charge ♪

♪ Put the women in charge

♪ Oh yeah, now put a woman in charge ♪

♪ Put the women in charge

♪ Time to put a woman in charge ♪

♪ Put a woman in charge

- How did "Put a Woman in Charge" come about?

- My friend, John Parker and I, we were,

he came out to LA we were writing some songs.

We wrote some songs for long,

but those songs were mostly mine

a lot of my songs and some are the more popular ones too.

And, we were writing a song called "Put a Woman in Charge"

the song going well and we realized

that we didn't have a woman's perspective in the song.

So we called up my friend Beth Nielsen Chapman

and she jumped right over and she came over,

she came right over and she added those lines

like, you know, "We need the Sisters of Mercy now,"

like, you know, it's just things, thoughts she added

all that stuff, she put the feminine touch on it.

- Yeah, a great writer.

- You know, and so she made it really great.

Because two guys cannot write "Put a Woman in Charge."

It was, like, just wrong.

You know so.

- I would say a lot of people identify you as a blues man;

when did you start getting into that?

Because that was a little bit later on.

- Yeah after that album, that Chocolate City record,

about a year afterwards and I had no work,

I had a job, which I didn't want,

but I had a job.

I had to get some money so I went and got a job.

It was a crap job delivering airline tickets.

But I had a job and I was able to...

And so I got a call from my friend Spencer

and he asked me to take his place on a gig

because he was going out of town, he couldn't do it.

He was getting gigs, he was working,

he was doing very well.

I went and took his place on this gig for two weeks

on Monday nights, and he never came back,

and I became a member of that band,

which was a blues band called The Whodunit Band.

And that's where- - Were you singing lead, or-?

- No I wasn't singing lead,

I was the rhythm guitar; I was the other one.

Charles Dennis was the lead guitar player.

It was bass drums, two guitars and a saxophone.

So Charlie Tuna, who was Charles Dennis,

who became the guitarist for B.B King,

who would take it all the way out with B.B to the end,

mentored me during that time, and that's how I learned.

You have to be completely in it.

You can't, it's not,

in the head.

There's theory involved.

There's rhythm involved

and you have to have a super accurate sense of timing

and you have to be real about it.

It's very easy to do bad blues

and people that do it well are amazing.

- That's the way Doc Watson was,

he would totally focus.

He's totally inhabiting the notes he was playing.

- Yes.

That's what you gotta do and then that's hard

because you have to kind of put yourself on the line.

Take a lick like (rhythm sounds);

there's a million ways to play that.

- Yeah, true.

- You know, it's like,

there's so many little subtleties and grooves

and different types of blues coming from different

eras and different artists, that you can spend a lifetime.

I mean, Taj Mahal is a total student of the blues.

He's like to me, like, you know,

a laureate, a blues laureate.

- I agree.

- He knew more about blues than anybody I know.

Even now he sends me, YouTube videos, quotes,

interviews, about every day he sends me things to study.

- Wow! So he's been a mentor for a good while?

- Yeah.

You know, he's a teacher, he's a keeper of tradition.

If we were in Africa, he'd be one of the

to be wise man of the tribe

- True, yeah.

- He's that guy.

(guitar music)

♪ Every morning

♪ Every evening

♪ Every day I, I think of you

♪ The way you love me, through and through ♪

♪ When I'm with you, feels like heaven ♪

♪ You're an angel, holding me

♪ Your sweet, sweet loving, it sets me free ♪

♪ And in my wildest imagination ♪

♪ I could never imagine you

♪ Loving me as much as, as I do you ♪

(slide guitar)

♪ May be winter, may be fall

♪ I might have plenty or nothing at all ♪

♪ Baby I'm gonna be there, whenever you call, ♪

♪ Whenever you call

♪ Every morning, every evening

♪ Every day I think of you

♪ The way you love me, through and through ♪

♪ The way you love me, through and through ♪

(electronic whistle, boing boing, digital glow)


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