BY WHITNEY YOUNGS
About two years ago, Californians learned there are less Californians for the first time on record.
The causes for a shedding of residents once part of roughly 39 million are manifold and what you’d expect from the second most diverse state, but the main driver of population loss is Californians migrating to other parts of America. They leave for many reasons, but the most commonly mentioned is the high cost of housing.
Most resettle in Idaho or the border states, but some relocate to one particular state in The South: Tennessee, specifically Nashville and its surrounding towns like Franklin—which is home to Californian, guitarist and singer, Keb’ Mo’, whose latest work, Good To Be, draws connections between the two states.
“I believe that music has the power to heal,” Mo’ says, “and I wanted this album to make people feel good. I wanted it to bring joy and make them maybe think about where they come from and the journeys that brought them to where they are.”
The Volunteer State offers more bang for the buck—mainly among artists who want to reside in a hearty cultural scene like Nashville—where the cost of living is lower than The Golden State.
Years ago, Mo’ entertained the idea of moving to Nashville when discussing it with his wife—both of whom wanted to give their son a slower pace of life. The Compton native, born Kevin Roosevelt Moore in 1951, envisioned living 2,000 miles from Los Angeles, and so the son of African American migrants from Texas and Louisiana, became a migrant himself, relocating to Tennessee in 2010 when his son was three.
“Compton has always been my home,” Mo’ said. “Finding a way to connect those two places on this album was a powerful thing for me. It felt like something I needed to do. Years ago, I drove around in L.A. delivering flowers and listening to some of the greatest Nashville artists on the radio, and now that I’ve lived here a while, it’s probably shaped me even more.”
Mo’s parents nurtured his appreciation for gospel and blues music, and by adolescence, he’d become a gifted guitarist. At the age of 21, he landed a spot in Papa John Creach’s band. Recording only one album under Kevin Moore in 1980, Mo’ took the next 14 years to change his stage name and release Keb’ Mo,’ a self-titled debut that won the W.C. Handy Award (Blues Music Award) for acoustic album of the year.
Keb’ Mo’, a moniker given by Mo’s former drummer, Quentin Dennard, is a shortened version of his birth name. Since then, nearly all of Mo’s studio albums have earned a Grammy nomination, four of them winning. He earned his fifth Grammy as performer and producer of the 2001 album, Timeless: Hank Williams Tribute. Now 71, Mo’ is known for his masterful playing, songwriting and arranging.
“This album is where I’m at right now,” Mo’ says. “It might not fit neatly into a certain category – even though the music biz and algorithms like to keep me tightly in the blues genre. Don’t get me wrong: the blues is a very important part of my experience, but it’s not all of who I am musically.”
In Good To Be, Mo’ literally couples his native and adopted hometowns by writing the album at his Franklin house and in his 800-square-foot childhood home in Compton, where he converted one of the bedrooms into a music studio. In fact, the relocation to Tennessee afforded Mo’ the opportunity to buy the two-bedroom, one-bath house where he grew up (with three siblings) following the death of his mother in 2018 at the age of 91.
“You can’t bring an attitude to Compton,” says Mo’. “You can’t pose. You can’t be anything but real when you’re walking down the same streets you used to ride your bike on as a kid. In a lot of ways, coming back there felt like it completed me.”
Keb’ Mo’ plays BeachLife Ranch Festival September 23.