Keb’ Mo’ did something he never thought he would do. He made a holiday album.
“So that’s done,” he deadpans. “I don’t have to do that anymore.”
Born Kevin Moore in 1951, the blues singer/songwriter/guitarist grew up in Compton, Calif. He was still Kevin Moore when he was tapped to back Papa John Creach, of Jefferson Airplane fame, in the early ‘70s.
He explains his stage moniker with characteristic humor: “People have been calling me Keb’ Mo’ since I was 10 years old. That’s what ‘Kevin Moore’ is in the hood. If my name was Joseph, I’d be Joe Mo’,” he says with a laugh.
Released in October, “Moonlight, Mistletoe & You” doesn’t have any traditional Christmas carols. It may, in fact, be a perfect holiday album for blues fans who might scream if they hear “Frosty the Snowman” one more time.
Standouts include the back-of-the-barroom head-swayer “Santa Claus, Santa Claus,” which sounds like something B.B. King might cry into his beer on Christmas Eve; a soulful cover of Charles Brown’s “Please Come Home for Christmas,” and the perhaps all-too-relatable “Christmas is Annoying”:
“I remembering caroling and sledding down the hill . . . But now the thrill is gone and all my credit cards are maxed . . . I’m all grown up and Christmas is really annoying.”
It’s been a busy few years for Moore, 68, who won a 2018 Grammy for “TajMo,” his collaboration with blues legend Taj Mahal. He also released “Oklahoma” in June and is involved with Playing for Change, a project created in 2002 “to inspire and connect the world through music,” featuring musicians from around the world — and the likes of Ringo Starr and David Crosby — all singing one song.
Mo’ positively comes alive when asked about Playing for Change, co-founded by his producer/engineer Mark Johnson. (“That dude is a bright light. He’s like a star.”)
Watch them all, including “Walking Blues,” featuring Mo’. #Goosebumps.
We caught up with Mo’ as he readies to bring his “Jingle Bell Jamboree" to the Berklee Performance Center Dec. 7 (he also has later dates in Salisbury, Northampton, and Portland, Maine).
Q. You said you’d never do a holiday album.
A. Christmas is kind of a conflicted time for me. Because it lasts so long, first of all.
Q. [Laughs] Right.
A. Everything shuts down. And everything is all about Christmas. And then there’s the commercialization of Jesus. It just sends a lot of conflicted messages. I was a greedy little kid; I feel bad about it now. You get probably five good years of really good Christmases. Maybe six or seven. But after that, man, you’re gonna pay for that big time.
Q. [Laughs] So why make this now?
A. It just evolved. I started doing this [Irving Berlin] Christmas song, “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm,” with [singer/songwriter] Melissa Manchester; that was her idea. That song is probably 12 years old. “One More Year With You,” I wrote that with Beth Nielsen Chapman the day after New Year’s like five years ago. And so, periodically, Christmas songs kept coming up.
Q. And why the name “Jingle Bell Jamboree” for the tour?
A. Because that’s what it is. It’s a fun time.
Q. Will you have guests with you?
A. No, I was going to get Michael Bublé, but he turned me down. Celine Dion turned me down. Katy Perry, Lady Gaga. Most of them said no. So it’s just me and my band. [Laughs]
Q. [Laughs] So this is your 25th anniversary performing under the moniker Keb’ Mo’. How long did you perform under Kevin Moore?
A. Thirty years.
Q. Wait — you performed as Kevin Moore for 30 years?
A. Yes. I’ve been playing gigs since I was 12 years old.
Q. Wow. So why the name change?
A. Because no one gave a crap about Kevin Moore. It was too common of a name. Keb’ Mo’ is the one that stuck; people liked it. It was a nickname, and I called my demo tape “Kevin Moore aka Keb’ Mo.’” And they said "Keb’ Mo’? That’s cool!” I would’ve never have had the [courage] to rename myself. Nor would I have had the nerve to move from another city and state to LA to try to make it. That’s why I think God planted me in Compton, California, where I was just a freeway-ride away to Hollywood. [Laughs]
Q. You’re involved with Playing For Change. I love those videos.
A. Mark Johnson went out and just started recording people. The next thing you know he’s in Africa. Recording people on the street in Spain. When anyone mentions him, I just light up; I’m so proud of that project. Ultimately, in your life, that’s what you want — to be part of good, positive things. I like when people say: “We’ve had some hard times, and listening to your music, we got through it.” It’s not like I had anything to do with it — but in some little way, to be just a little piece of someone’s victory, that’s what it’s about for me.
KEB’ MO’s JINGLE BELL JAMBOREE
At Berklee Performance Center, Dec. 7 at 8 p.m. Tickets start at $59.50, 617-747-2261, www.berklee.edu