Around the S&E Nashville offices we have been listening to a lot of Keb Mo recently and his BLUESAmericana album. It reminds us of one of our favorite stories from the last year where we sat down with Mo back in October as part of a story detailing the history of Blues in Nashville through the years. We also can’t wait to see him when he comes home to Nashville in August and plays the Schermerhorn Symphony Center.
– – –
Nashville is the country music capital of the world, but it is also called “Music City USA,” so there should be no surprise that it also has a rich history in blues and R&B. In the early sixties, Jefferson Street was home to multiple blues clubs that hosted legendary artists like Etta James, BB King, Ray Charles and many more. At one time, Nashville was also home to the legendary Jimi Hendrix, and Jefferson Street became his launching pad to the “chitlin’ circuit,” which at the time was a circuit for African Americans wanting to play nationally. Small recording studios lined Jefferson Street, giving many of these early performers in the clubs an opportunity to record. From the stage to the studio, blues became a low-key part of Nashville’s music history.
Nashville’s blues connections began decades ago. One of the primary groups to emerge from this era were The King Kasuals. The King Kasuals was a Nashville-based blues band that not many people may have heard of today, but its founding members were legendary blues guitarist Jimi Hendrix and legendary bass player Billy Cox, who still lives in Nashville today. Cox and Hendrix performed in several bands together, playing at once-thriving clubs like the Del Morocco, the Club Baron and the New Era Club, which were located in the Jefferson Street area. Nashville blues stretches nearly a century, from the 20’s until today with artists like Grammy Award-winning blues performer Keb’ Mo’, who became a local Nashville resident around four years ago.
Nashville blues artist Keb’ Mo’ started his recording career with Jefferson Airplane and Papa John Creach, which is also where he received his first gold record. Keb’ Mo’ struck out on his own in 1994, when he released his self-titled debut album, “Keb’ Mo’.” The album featured two covers of classic Robert Johnson songs, who Keb’ Mo’ credits as a very influential artist in his career. Two years later, he released another self-titled album and included guest vocals from renowned artists Jackson Browne and Bonnie Raitt. This album earned Keb’ Mo’ a Grammy and locked in his status as a legendary blues icon. With the given name of Kevin Moore, Keb’ Mo’s abbreviated nickname was created by drummer Quentin Dennard—his record label loved it, and the rest is history, as they say.
A cool vibe and neighborly folks makes the city of Nashville feel like a small town. “That’s what I love about living in Nashville,” Moore states. “I don’t get out a lot while I’m home, but sometimes I go out to hear The Time Jumpers, and it’s always a great time at the shows. You always feel like you’re among friends and family. Vince Gill and many other country artists have a great respect for the blues and perform it well themselves. The blues and country music came from the same place. Great music is great music,” Keb’ Mo’ expresses.
The blues can relate to most everybody at some point in their lives. You’ll hear lyrics expressing troubles, experiences, heartbreak and sadness. The blues can begin when you wake up in the morning. It’s okay to comment on your woman, if she’s treating you bad or if she just up and left, and it’s the only way you can love her. Blues expresses the feeling that, if you’re happy being sad, the blues will bring you through it. The blues is a feeling. Real blues music walks hand in hand with that feeling—not just the lyrics, but also the melody and instrumentation.
“Remember the blues is always evolving, It has subsequently been absorbed into and become part of many other forms of music, but the classic blues always brings you back to the basics,” Moore explains.
“BLUESAmericana” is Keb’ Mo’s newest album and marks the next chapter of his musical journey. He will not limit himself, because Moore has a broad view of the blues and conveys it as the backbone of American music. That sentiment is clear to see in BLUESAmericana. Keb’ Mo’ made a statement in our interview that I think sums up Nashville’s blues scene: “Nashville blues might not get a lot of attention, but it gets the right attention.”
The blues gets a lot of respect from all walks of life. Take a look at Nashville’s live blues scene, with local artists like Joshua Singleton, who still has that classic blues grit element. Singleton is one of the many blues artist in town who still sticks to the true blues roots. “I was influenced by BB King, Muddy Waters, Keb’ Mo’, Jimi Hendrix and many of the early blues artists that came out of Nashville and Memphis,” claims Singleton.
Nashville blues has its own raw power that is drawn from the classic blues, and it’s hard not to have that element in your music when you’re raised between Nashville and Memphis. Singleton states, “Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have anything against country music. My brother Jonathan Singleton has four number one country songs as a songwriter. I guess my music just tends to be more in the blues. I perform in a Delta Blues Band called King Zero with Duane Simpson, and it’s really a great feeling seeing people’s reaction to the blues,” Singleton expresses. I’ll bet Nashville has more blues venues than Memphis has country music venues!
In the late forties and early fifties, the Mississippi Delta Blues spread across the nation. Many blues musicians gravitated to Memphis and Nashville, leaving a classic blues footprint in these areas. These players had a strong influence on later musicians in early rock & roll and rockabilly. Country music was also greatly influenced by the early Nashville blues. Blues has and always will be a root part of many kinds of music. Nashville residents seem to embrace the culture of the blues with many annual blues festivals across our region. The next time you’re looking for something to do, find a local blues band and spend a night out indulging in Nashville’s low-key, blues culture. You’ll soon understand why Nashville’s got the Blues.