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Published: 2011/11/07
by Randy Ray

A Song to Last a Lifetime with Keb Mo

RR: Let’s follow the thread that you’ve been laying down. You talked about what makes a person tick. You talked about your work ethic. You brought up Compton. Obviously, you grew up in South Central, and you are now part of the Nashville scene, as well. Why is The Reflection’s “Something Within” important to you?

KM: That song is kind of like a tribute to my family.

RR: You’ve got everybody on there.

KM: Yeah, it’s a tribute to how we became who we are as a family. There’s a lot of back story in there. My uncle, Herman [Wyatt], had actually recorded my grandfather [Victor Wyatt] on a boom box—the recording on the record—back in the 80s, on a cassette. What I did was that he sings the whole song, he sings the whole two verses of something a cappella, and I didn’t have to tune it or nothin’. His vocal was right smack in the key of E. We just had to take out all the [Mo imitates a tape hiss sound], you know, all that stuff out. (laughter) Took it out and ran it through a couple of nice tweeds, and it just fluffed right back up. He’s got this amazing voice and a big vibrato in there [Mo imitates his grandfather’s vibrato]—he was a blues man. So, I took that, and I feel like, in a sense, my grandfather justifies who I am. I didn’t just become who I am. There are people who came before me. There are people who did things. There are people that made sacrifices and grew up and made mistakes and did some stuff right and lived before me, so it’s a tribute to all of that—both sides of the family; all of that. It’s not just me standing here on my own. I’m surrounded by legacy. Your legacy, where you come from—there is power in that, and so I wanted to celebrate that: that he was there and he was a singer. He wasn’t a professional singer, but he was a great singer that hardly ever sung a lot.

By putting the family around him, putting my younger sister singing [Rochelle Rawls], and my cousin, Mark Wyatt singing that second verse, and my son, being a musician and a drummer, picking a sample—I don’t know how to sample, but I did say to my son, “What should we do with this, man? This is pretty cool,” and he put it together—it was just perfect. My son’s a drummer and he can do that stuff—slap things together like that. He just knew what to do it with it, and I took it from there and, for the next three years, proceeded to figure out how to make it sound like it was put together. I had to put more of my vocal on it because, at first, I didn’t have enough of me in there. It was all about everybody else, so I figured if it was going to be on the record, it needed a little bit more of me, so people would know that it was me. (laughter) Just so they would know.

It really sounded like a jam at first, but I got that balance and I’m just really happy with it. Easter Sunday [2010], I had everybody at my house. Had my mom there, had all kinds of friends. Everybody wasn’t related, but just all the friends and family that were there hanging out, I got them in the studio and did the song. Just a lot of fun. I wanted that spirit of family to be on there, right there, in the song and, with the title of the album being The Reflection, it just all worked together really well.

RR: It does. You have a bit of field recording, which reflects the past, and you’ve got a modern feel with the mash up, too. That coda symbolizes so much to me and, as a closing track, it’s a fantastic finish to a complete work.

KM: Thanks much. I really appreciate that, man. I’m the last one to try to toot my horn here, but I just put a lot of effort into it. I always hoped that the effort will somehow in a way inspire something special in the one that heard it. That was my wish.

RR: Moving from the record to the road, let’s talk about your band, which includes some veterans, as well as new members we’ve discussed like Kevin So. You’ve also got Jeff Paris on keys, guitar, mandolin, and background vocals, Les Falconer III on drums, Vail Johnson on bass, and Michael B. Hicks on keys and background vocals.

KM: Let’s start on the drums. Les Falconer III has been with me for a while; he’s a staple in the band, and we’ve played together back with the Rose Brothers. He played in my band, the Harvels back in the day. He’s been with me a long time.

Jeff Paris was the keyboard player, and he’s playing guitar, now. Jeff and I played with A Taste of Honey together back in the day, and he’s a very interesting musician. He actually had a hair band. (laughter) Go on YouTube and punch in “Jeff Paris,” and you’ll crack up. He’s a guitar player and a great keyboard player. I asked him to play guitar and he did it and it was really cool. He’s a great singer and songwriter. He’s had hits writing with Lita Ford and Jeffrey Osborne—he’s really got a great discography.

Kevin So, you know. He’s a great guitarist, great keyboard player, singer, and all around musician and effective performer, and it’s really a pleasure to have him in the band. I was like “Wow”—I couldn’t believe that he was in it.

Vail Johnson joined the band after the last four or five years playing with Kenny G. He’s a masterful bass player. He’s played with Chick Corea, which is no joke at all. He’s played with MC Hammer, Con Funk Shun, Jeff Lorber—he’s a musician’s musician. I call him [Mo scats a really fast bass sound]. (laughter) Because he plays so fast. Here he comes! [Mo scats an even faster bass sound] (laughter)

Michael B. Hicks is a 28-year old guy who lives in Nashville. He’s from Georgia. He’s an amazing singer, and he’s got a 12-piece band called The Funk Punks out of Nashville, and he’s very much trained in the church. He plays organ, he plays piano, too, and he’s a great singer. Great guy. Great character. He’s just an amazing dude.

We’ve got old dudes, we’ve got young dudes, we’ve got crazy people, not so crazy people—it’s a really good mix; I’m really having a lot of fun on the road.

RR: Speaking of age, I just spoke with John Scofield who reaches a milestone in December, while you reach one this month in October. How old do you feel inside?

KM: (pauses) Well…I know I don’t feel my age. I know I’m turning 60, but I don’t really feel my age. When I say I don’t feel my age, what I mean is that I don’t feel time. I feel the moment. And I’ve been waiting for 60 for a while because I think when I was about 45, I said to myself, “When I get to 60, when I reach 60 (and it seemed like a long way away, you know, and here it is like 10 minutes later [laughter]), when I hit 60, I’m just going to throw it in, and just play the blues. I’m just going to play the blues. I’m just going to go around—you know, the old guy who everybody wants to see playing the blues.” (laughs) Then out comes The Reflection, and I go, “O.K., there goes God laughing—‘you’re making plans’.” (laughter) Out comes The Reflection —the furthest thing from the blues ever.

I’m just gonna have fun. I think my next record, it’s only fitting to just…I want to go so far in the gutter that people can’t stand it. (laughter) I’m going to go waaaaaaay down. I might even drink some liquor and cut some stuff drunk or somethin’. (laughter) Which I never do; I don’t even drink. I just want to go way down where you put on the record and you have to clean it off before you put it in. (laughter)

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