Guitarist and vocalist Keb’ Mo’ crafts old-fashioned acoustic blues with the soul of B.B. King and the passion of John Lee Hooker. An accomplished frontman as well as trained bandmate, Mo’ is known for his interpretation of jazz, blues and rock through the acoustic guitar.
Even with Mo’s chops and years of experience, he insists that the world is full of great guitarists. He just happens to be one of them.
“I think all guitar players are great. Every time I see a guitar player, I’m like, ‘Wow!’” he laughed. “My attorney is a great guitar player!
“I think what makes a great guitar player is the conviction and connection with the instrument. Your instrument is the communicator of what’s in your soul, so the instrument can only play what you put in it.”
Gibson.com chatted with Mo’ about his acoustic Gibson Bluesmaster signature guitar, his latest album and why the guitar transforms into a completely different instrument depending on who has it in their hands.
What first drew you to the guitar?
My uncle Herman Wyatt taught me guitar. He put the guitar in my hand and said, “Here, try this.” He showed me some chords and finger picking, and that was when I was about 12. That’s how I got started. I kept going and moving around with it. I never was a fanatic; I just kept on noodling. [Laughs] I keep playing, and I would write a song, and then I would noodle around some more and play a couple of licks.
Tell me about the process of creating your signature Gibson guitar.
The process for the guitar with Gibson started with the fact I like a small body guitar. I had a really nice small body guitar that I had lost in an auto burglary, and for years, I was without this one guitar…. When Gibson and I came up with the Keb’ Mo’ model, it made me happy because it replaced that great small body guitar I had. The guitar is a 12-fret, not a 14-fret body, so there’s less neck on it. You get a little more sound of out the guitar, because those two frets are gone, I think. There’s something about the 12 frets that just works. I think my signature guitar is really a songwriting instrument. I use it to play live and in the studio, of course, but the heart and soul of it is a songwriting guitar.
What does it mean to you to have a signature Gibson?
To have a Gibson signature guitar is a huge honor because there are a lot of guitar players in the world. Just on my block, there are 900! [Laughs] I’m in Nashville, so you throw a rock, and you’ll get eight of them, and good ones, too. So, to have your name on a guitar is something you can never imagine.
Growing up, I couldn’t even imagine playing guitar for a living, let alone having my name on a guitar that people would actually buy. It’s a huge honor. Any money I make from it goes to the Colorado Wildlife Preserve charity. I don’t make any money from it.
You go down to the factory and see all the work and love that goes into making Gibson guitars, and the people who work at the factory really love their jobs, and there’s just an excitement down here that you don’t find in a lot of work places.
What made you go with an acoustic guitar over electric?
I just think the acoustic guitar was the natural way to go. It’s what I’m more known for, and it’s very real and organic. With an electric guitar, you need a power outlet. An acoustic guitar just rings through the room. It makes its own sound. It’s simple. It just makes sense. I didn’t even think about having an electric guitar. It never crossed my mind!
You recently played at the White House. What was that experience like?
It was really magical, because the way it’s set, you get to see the performances, because the back stage is behind the audience. At the White House, you leave with a huge feeling of satisfaction. You get to meet the President and the First Lady, and it’s a magnificent affair.
Let’s talk about your latest album, The Reflection. What was your musical vision with this release?
The same as every record: You make a record and do the songs. I don’t really see it when I start; I see it at the end, when it’ done. I don’t really have a vision when I start out, but I really love making a record. I just go in and put the songs together, and it comes out the way it comes out.
When should we expect a new album from you?
Working on one that will be out in 2014. That’s the 20-year anniversary of my first album, so I don’t know if I’m going to call it the 20 year album, but that’s why there’s a significance to me.