Keb' Mo, whose name is actually Kevin Moore, chuckles a lot. It's a low sound that builds to where you, at the other end of the phone, can easily imagine the big wide grin that splits his handsome face. He's laid back, like his music, which flows over you and gets inside your bones the way good earthy Delta blues should. But Moore is a powerful force in contemporary blues music who happens to also embrace soul and folksy storytelling.
"For inspiration I look to life for songwriting," he said. "Musically it changes all the time. Right now I'm pretty burnt out and dry. I put a lot of energy into creating the new stuff, ("Suitcase"). I'm like a desert. I'm looking for the rain. It always comes. I'm listening now to the new album of India.Aire, 'Testimony.'
"I really like the record. Also, I listen to younger artists, as opposed to older artists I grew up with. That's so ingrained in me. So I look to the future. Not that I want to emulate that. I want to understand what's going on, though. My fans are mostly middle-aged, between 25 to 60 and up. It's cool."
Recalling two earlier visits to the area, he said, "Life's great in Sun Valley. Michael Clair, (of Carey), is a friend of mine. Last year, I came to hang for awhile and see (Clair's) Western States College (in Gooding). See some of the kids."
As those fortunate few who remember, Lyle Lovett was playing at River Run and introduced Moore, who played off the cuff for a bit, much to the audience's delight. He's a presence on stage, tall and lanky and cool.
"Me and Lyle are friends, and I know the back-up singers real well," he chuckled. "Lyle and his very Large Band."
Born in Compton, Calif., he now lives in Los Angeles. He came up through the ranks in the L.A. music scene.
"My musical goal was to be a songwriter as opposed to being a blues artist. I was already playing in bands when I got really interested in songwriting."
By 21, Moore had joined an R&B band that caught the attention of Papa John Creach of Hot Tuna and Jefferson Starship fame. They played back-up for him on tour and played on three of his subsequent albums. A staff position at A&M records writing songs and contracting demo sessions followed, and, in 1980, Moore released his own solo album. He regularly opened for jazz and rock musicians such as the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Jefferson Starship and Loggins & Messina. Since those early days, he has released seven albums and is a three-time Grammy winner for Best Contemporary Blues Album, in 2005, 1999 and 1997.
In 2006, Moore was Grammy-nominated for Country Song of the Year for "I Hope," co-written with the Dixie Chicks. This year he also produced "Behind The Levee," a new album from New Orleans-based funk-rock jam band the subdudes, who headlined Hailey's Northern Rockies Folk Festival last year.
But it's his continued unique sound and take on the blues that sets him apart from other R&B musicians.
"I think about melodies, so I brought that into the blues," he said. "The two kind of got together and decided to make something else."
That sounds like something he isn't in partnership with, something that's outside himself.
"It's inside and outside," he clarified. "I like the way it's coming now. It's okay to make singles like in the old days. It freshens everything up."
Moore is about to start the second leg of his summer tour with Bonnie Raitt. They had a month break in between and are now heading to the Midwest, the South and back to the West. The wicked schedule takes them from Red Rocks to Deer Valley to Sun Valley by Aug. 31 in just three days.
What has he been playing on the road?
"I'm playing a lot of new material. I'm playing more than I probably should be playing since there's always a juggle between old and new. But I'll save that for a surprise for the concert," he said. "I can't spill the beans. You know I've never seen my shows. I see the audience. That's the show for me."
Moore's distinctive visage turns up on the big screen as well. He portrayed blues legend Robert Johnson in "Can't You Hear The Wind Howl," a docu-drama narrated by Danny Glover and featuring commentary from Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, Robert Lockwood, Jr. and other Johnson-influenced music icons. Moore will also show up this year in the movie "All The Kings Men."
Whether he's pitching himself, soul or the blues, Keb' Mo seduces with style.