Blues musician Keb’ Mo’ had been working nonstop on what would become the Grammy-winning album TajMo. After a weeklong break, he gave it another chance. This time, he took it on a drive.
“I should have been sick of it,” he says. “I rode around with it, and I was like, ‘Yeah, I think we got it.’”
Keb’ Mo’ and blues legend Taj Mahal will come to Eugene — for the second time this year — to support the collaborative album that features original music, blues standards and some pop songs.
Considering the two artists’ history with blues music, a few songs pop out: The Who’s “Squeeze Box” and John Mayer’s “Waiting on the World to Change.” The Mayer song, Keb’ Mo’ says, had some serious “teeth” for a pop song and contrasted the silliness — and innuendo — of The Who’s track.
Keb’ Mo’ was attracted to the Mayer track and Taj Mahal was eager to learn the song. It speaks volumes to Keb’ Mo’s willingness to hunt for good music. Sure, you can consider him a bluesman following the tradition of Robert Johnson — although he doesn’t care much for the marketing term of being “the link” to the Delta Blues — but he knows a good song when he hears one. It’s got a certain characteristic to it.
“For me, I listen to the atmosphere of that music,” he says. “It’s more about what I read of the history. At the times it was being played and formed. And how it was played and how it related to cotton picking, slavery, post slavery, Jim Crow. The sounds of desperation and longing — I just listen to that. I want that longing.”
Keb’ Mo’ says he tries to apply that same sincerity when writing music. He doesn’t look for trends or anything. He aims for his music — and performance — to speak. Maybe that’s why he and Taj Mahal had an immediate chemistry when writing the album.
As this isn’t the first time that Keb’ Mo’ and Taj Mahal have been out on the road in support of the album, the two musicians have their set list down. It features the album, of course, but they also work in a lot of Taj Mahal standards. Keb’ Mo’ says that, when deciding which songs to feature, he asks himself what he would want to hear. That carries a lot of weight for someone who was impressed by Taj Mahal’s performance when he was in high school.
“It opened the door that there were different things out there,” Keb’ Mo’ says. “All you heard before was the blues your parents listened to — BB King, T-Bone Walker, Bobby Bland — and out walks this big, black hippy dude with a big hat and a steel guitar.”
TajMo, the Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’ Band with Alicia Michilli, play 7 pm Friday, July 27, at Cuthbert Amphitheater.