Keb’ Mo’ (aka Kevin Moore), born in South Central Los Angeles, California in October of 1951. Winner of not 1, not 2, but 3 Grammy awards. A blues singer and songwriter, as well as an actor playing roles in “Touched By An Angel”, “Shallow Water” and the last episode of “The West Wing”, AS WELL as starring in the 2007 John Sayles movie “Honeydripper” and playing the role of one of his idols, Robert Johnson, in the 1998 documentary, “Can’t You Hear The Wind Howl?”.
It’s amazing what information the internet can provide you at a moment’s notice.
I was asked Monday afternoon by my General Manager, Doug Koffinke, if I was available the 21st to give a special plant tour to Keb’ Mo’. Shamefully, I have to admit, although I’ve heard the name before, I had no idea who he was. Judging by his credentials that I obtained by googling “Keb’ Mo’”, however, I was impressed. A Gibson fan since the Kalamazoo, Michigan days, Keb’ was here to look at a guitar we were building him and to discuss with us a planned signature series of guitars as well. Upon meeting the man for the first time, I was taken aback. A long, lanky gentleman, dressed in a ball cap, t-shirt, jeans, and sneakers, with a big grin from ear to ear, he looked much younger than his actual age. His rather large hand absorbed my hand as he gave me an enthusiastic hand shake and expressed his pleasure to meet me. I could tell by his demeanor that he was indeed excited about checking out our facility and seeing how a Gibson acoustic guitar gets build, but most of all, he wanted to meet the people BEHIND the guitar.
The tour was like none I’ve ever given before. With our Master Luthier Ren Ferguson giving Keb’ a crash course on the particular properties of tone woods and our director of marketing, Robi Johns, shooting photos of the event for this article, it appeared that Keb’ was having the time of his life. He was very hands-on, picking up various parts and studying them and thumping them with his fingers to hear their tonal qualities as we made our way through the different departments. The thing that really hit home for me, however, was his direct interaction with all the workers on the floor, shaking their hands, thanking them for doing the jobs that they do, signing autographs, and joking around with them, he really made them feel important. Often times, the term “hand built” in today’s society seem like only a catch phrase, but Keb’ realized that at Gibson, it means everything, and he truly, sincerely appreciated it. At one point during the tour, he actually asked an employee, Jerry Sommerfield, if he could trade places with him and actually glue in side dot markers on some fret boards. After doing several fret boards, jokes were being made in reference to perhaps doing other jobs around the plant to help with the day’s production. Funny as it seemed, I think he would have actually loved it if he had a chance.
The tour wound down at the Master Inspector’s bench, where Patrick Hanson demonstrated to Keb’ the particular things he looked for while inspecting the final product before the guitar got cased and eventually shipped off. We stood around the bench, as Keb’ talked about a variety of subjects including his first guitar as a child, about Compton, California and the wide diversity of people who lived there (including cowboys as we found out), and even played us a hilarious improv old style country/western song from the top of his head. More hands were shaken, more autographs were signed, and more thank you’s were given out.
Later, Keb’ remarked to Ren, Doug, and I on how impressed he was with the flow of the production line, on how so much craftsmanship goes into every guitar but done on such a large scale as to be profitable. He also talked extensively on how there was a “small town” vibe in the air, where everyone knew everyone and it wasn’t simply a soul-less line of production drones pumping out parts one after another, but that everyone puts their soul into it. One employee, Val Bolitho, a member of the custom shop, introduced herself and admitted that she too had never heard of his music, but knew he was a blues man. Modestly, Keb replied that he didn’t know if he was a “blues man” but that he was just a songwriter. I guess that’s what kept it real for me, that a man of Keb’ Mo’s reputation and critical acclaim was a lot like us folks behind the scenes in a lot of ways; he is a man doing what he loves to do, nothing more, nothing less, and that he is great at what he does. Keb’ made a lot of friends today and truly impressed a lot of people, including myself, with his wit, charisma, humor, and charm.
I immediately ran out after the tour and picked up two of his cds, “Keep It Simple” and “Suitcase”. If you’ve never heard his music before, you are doing yourself a tragic injustice. It’s not only blues, but it is a modern blues, mixed with a slight flavor of reggae, some calypso, some pop, as well as some good ol’ Delta mixed in for good measure. I personally think that if the great Robert Johnson was alive today, he would tip his hat at this talented individual. These are going directly to my Ipod, guaranteed. Thank you, Keb’ Mo’, from all of us here at Gibson Acoustic way out in the middle of nowhere in beautiful Bozeman, Montana. You are now part of the family and we look forward to seeing you again.