Success comes in the strangest forms. For more than four decades, Keb’ Mo’ has been considered one of the leading contemporary lights in the Delta Blues tradition, a guitarist of infinite skill and invention who can easily play straight Delta translations or seamlessly hybridize the genre with dashes of Pop, Jazz, Folk and Rock.
Yet for all he has accomplished as a brilliant musician and a tireless political activist (he belongs to the No Nukes and Vote for Change organizations), one of his most recently recognizable pieces of music is the high profile theme song to the wildly popular sitcom Mike & Molly.
A good many music listeners may be unwitting fans of Keb’ Mo’ (a nickname bestowed upon him by his first drummer). Recording under his given name, Kevin Moore, he was 21 years old when he was hired by Hot Tuna/Jefferson Starship violinist Papa John Creach and appeared on four of Creach’s solo albums, including 1972’s Filthy! and 1974’s Playing My Fiddle for You. Mo’s first Gold record came when he was 24, for Jefferson Starship’s Red Octopus; Creach, Mo’ and John Parker co-wrote the instrumental track “Get Fiddler.”
Mo’ remained with Creach after his 1975 departure from Jefferson Starship and became even more enamored with the Blues during his long tenure with Monk Higgins’ Whodunit Band, which led to jams with Albert Collins and Big Joe Turner and an even deeper appreciation of the form. Keb’ Mo’s solo debut, Rainmaker, was released in 1980; his eponymous sophomore album wouldn’t appear for another 14 years.
His next album, 1996’s Just Like You, earned Mo’ his first of three Grammy Awards — 1998’s Slow Down and 2004’s Keep It Simple completed the hat trick (he’s been nominated three more times since then, most recently for last year’s excellent BLUESAmericana). Mo’ appeared in Martin Scorsese’s Feel Like Going Home, the first installment in Scorsese’s expansive series The Blues, and released a compilation album to promote the project. Mo’s music has been tapped for several television soundtracks and he has appeared in TV shows and films as an actor, notably on CBS’ Touched by an Angel and in John Sayles’ film Honeydripper.
Whatever side action Keb’ Mo’ entertains along the way, his truest love will always be the Blues, in as many permutations as he can imagine.
KEB' MO' plays at Taft Theatre Thursday, Jan. 29. Find tickets/more info here .