Blues guitarist Keb' Mo' is something of a household name at this stage in his career. He's got a pocketful of Grammys and assorted other music awards and was a central character in Martin Scorsese's miniseries The Blues.
His most recent album, The Reflection, was a deviation from form, dabbling in soul, rhythm and blues, and pop. Critics lauded the release, and it further cemented his broad appeal. Known for his wide smile, rakish hats, and mastery of the blues idiom, Kevin Moore has some other secrets up his sleeve.
Little-known fact #1: When Moore performs with the Arizona Musicfest Orchestra, it will be his first time performing with an orchestra. Special arrangements of music spanning his career will be performed.
"It's kind of a big deal," he says with unbridled glee by phone from Nashville, noting the opportunity to front the orchestra just "popped up. It raises the excitement exponentially in my life. I'm really excited about it."
Moore, however, will have to contain some of that excitement when on stage. With an orchestra, one cannot just follow the mood and improvise.
"When you play with a symphony, there's only so much you can do; there's not a lot of wiggle room. You can't say when you get to the end, 'Hey, let's do this one a little longer,'" he says with a deep laugh.
Little known fact #2: Moore began his musical career on the steel drums in a calypso band. He gave it up for the guitar, but the blues wasn't yet a part of his life.
"I was just playing guitar, but I wasn't playing the blues," he says. "That was the furthest thing from my mind. I was just playing songs, playing in bands. The blues came later in life, in my 30s."
That seminal period began as he was "schooled in the blues" during a stint in the Whodunit Band, led by Bobby "Blue" Bland producer Monk Higgins.
"I was indoctrinated. I was taught about the blues; I experienced the blues, and it all started to make sense to me. So I went on a journey to learn more about it, learn how to play the different styles of the blues. Eventually, I started writing in the blues genre. That led me to where I am now."
Little known fact #3: Despite numerous music critic assertions, Moore does not believe he's the "living link" to the blues originators, guys like Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson.
"No, that would be Taj Mahal and Bobby Rush. They say that about me because maybe people see me a little more. Maybe I'm the 'living link' people know about," he says, laughing again. "I'm from Compton, California. Buddy Guy and Bobby Rush [are] from Mississippi; that's the real deal."
Little known fact #4: Moore will release a new album in 2014 — and it won't be like The Reflection.
"There's no blues on that record; don't get it twisted. It's just a record I wanted to make, that's all. I kind of paid the price for it. It shocked people. It was like I was putting raisins in my Snickers bar," he says with a laugh.
The new album won't follow that path again, but Moore won't reveal what path it will follow.
"You have to wait. It's not a secret, but I don't know how it's gonna turn out," he says. "It's always a battle between trying something new and coming up with something familiar. When I pick up a Snickers bar, I want a Snickers bar. But, that said, I am doing something different."