He’s a Grammy-winning bluesman from Nashville, Tennessee - but how will Keb’ Mo’ handle the 10 questions we ask everyone?
1. What was your first guitar and when did you get it?
“My first guitar was an acoustic guitar from 1963 from Sears and Roebuck - a Silvertone. I was 12 years old. I just goaded my father constantly for this guitar and finally he just got it for me. It cost $25, which was a significant amount of money back then. And I was off and running!”
2. Suppose the building’s burning down - which guitar from your collection would you save?
“I’d have to go and get my Keb’ Mo’ [Bluesmaster] Gibson, because that’s what I like writing songs on, mostly, and I think songs are at the heart of what I do.
“If they all were burned I could probably get a few of them back, but that Gibson… it’s a parlour-sized guitar, based on an Epiphone Bluesmaster, but it’s higher end - better wood, better craftsmanship. A fine guitar.”
3. What’s the oldest guitar that you currently own?
“The oldest guitar is a Dobro built in probably 1933. It’s a wooden guitar with a round neck. I’ve had it for around 23 years and it’s set up for slide. I use a ceramic slide called The Mudslide made by Jim Dunlop. Some of the glass slides are a little too light and the metal ones are a little too heavy and a bit noisy. But the ceramic one I use is glazed and it’s a very clean sound.”
4. What plectrums do you use?
“For my slide work, on the thumb I use a Golden Gate pick and on the others I use the metal finger picks by National and they’re 0.25 weight. I prefer the brass ones; sometimes I have to use the steel ones, but the brass has the nicest tone to it. On my electric, my flatpicking, I just use a regular heavy pick - Jim Dunlop heavy, tortoiseshell.”
5. When was the last time you practised and what did you play?
“The last time I practised, I played my Will Hirsch handmade acoustic guitar and I was playing along to the NPR Tiny Desk sessions. National Public Radio has this concert series and it’s done in a little tiny office. People cram themselves in there, it’s not heavily mic’d and it’s just as close to unplugged as you can get.
“They video these fantastic artists and I was just sitting there, working on my accompaniment skills. You never know what key they’re going to play in and so it’s practising my sideman chops. In between songs, I’d just play scales.”
6. What’s the closest you’ve ever come to quitting music?
“In 1991, probably. I went to school to try to find something else to do and I took an electronics course for a year. Then I got a job with Roland Electronics and I decided to go home and think on it, and I called the guy next morning and said that I’d changed my mind and I didn’t want the job - and I kept going.
“It would have been an entry-level job, an internship, and I don’t even know that the job would have lasted that long. It just seemed that I was putting my fate in the hands of someone else.”
7. If you could change one thing about a recording you’ve been on, what would it be and why?
“On my recording of She Just Wants To Dance on my first record, I wish I had played the slide guitar part better and I would have added an electric guitar part to it. I would have looked a little closer at the part. I think I was happy with it at the time, it just went too fast and I didn’t think that part through as well as I did some of the other ones on there.”
8. What’s the worst thing that’s happened to you on stage?
“I had a paper cup full of drink thrown at me in Knoxville, Tennessee. A crazy guy came in the back door, snuck in, and he had a drink with a straw in and he hurled it at me on stage [laughs] and it hit my guitar.
“He had a good aim… I stopped and I said, ‘Get that mother out of here!’ [laughs]. I wish I’d been nicer, but I was just so shocked. In hindsight, I should have just stopped and said, ‘Hmm, was the playing really that bad?’”
9. What advice would you give your younger self about the guitar if you had the chance?
“Right now, I wish I’d practised more. I think I’d have gone to college - any college. If I couldn’t have got into a premier music school, like Juilliard or the University Of Miami or something like that, I’d have still gone to some college and studied and expanded my knowledge and got a degree.”
10. What aspect of playing would you like to be better at?
“I would like to hear better, have a better ear - I wish I had perfect pitch - and I wish I could pick faster.”
Keb’ Mo’ and Taj Mahal’s new album, TajMo, is available on Decca Records.