Blues icons bring TajMo tour to F.M. Kirby Center in downtown Wilkes-Barre
WILKES-BARRE — When Kevin Roosevelt Moore and Henry Saint Clair Fredericks take the F.M. Kirby Center stage Thursday night on their “TajMo” tour, they’ll bring nearly a century of music backed up by five Grammy Awards between them.
Both Keb’ Mo’ and Taj Mahal — the names by which fans know the musical icons — are elder statesmen of the blues and stars in their own right.
They teamed up to tour this year to promote their 11-song album, “TajMo,” described on their website as a collaboration that “merges their distinctive voices, personalities and guitar styles to create vibrant, immediate music that’s firmly rooted in tradition yet ruled by a playful sense of adventure.”
That’s public relations babble for good music rooted in the blues and Americana genres that showcases the dual frontmen and their strong band.
At 65, Keb’ Mo’ is the young guy. Until 1994, he was a respected side player and studio musician who collaborated and recorded in the early 1970s with Jefferson Airplane’s violinist Papa John Creach. Along the way, he jammed with Albert Collins and Big Joe Turner, won three Grammys and played at the White House twice.
In 1994, he became the frontman with his self-titled debut album, “Keb’Mo,” featuring two covers of the blues mystical figure, Robert Johnson. His Keb’ Mo’ moniker was coined by a fellow musician and picked up by his record label as a street-talk abbreviation of his birth name.
He brought his act to Northeastern Pennsylvania in 2001 when he headlined the Pocono Blues Festival near Lake Harmony.
In a phone conversation with Mo’ last week while the tour was on break, Mo’ expressed his respect and awe for his 75-year-old collaborator repeatedly. As Mo’ tells the story, he became a fan when he saw Mahal play at a high school assembly.
“He’s a just a brilliant man,” Mo’ said. “Making this record and doing this tour was a really big deal for me.”
Taj Mahal has been recording and performing his blend of blues and world music for more than 50 years. Son of an Afro-Caribbean jazz arranger and piano player, the two-time Grammy Award winner incorporates elements of Caribbean islands music, jazz, Hawaiian rhythms, reggae and African beats into his music. He mingled with blues icons Howlin’ Wolf, Lightnin’ Hopkins and Muddy Waters in his early years.
Mahal, who grew up in Massachusetts and lived for awhile in Hawaii, is no stranger to Northeastern Pennsylvania. In 2003 he headlined the Pocono Blues Fest and two years later he was the main act on a Saturday night at the Fine Arts Fiesta on Wilkes-Barre’s Public Square, just steps away from the Kirby Center.
Variety of music
Mo’ said the concert will showcase a nine-member ensemble with a horn section and saxophone player. Songs from the “TajMo” album, released on the Concord Music label, will be featured, but Mo’ promised both artists will dig into their personal songbooks too.
“TajMo” offers a variety of genres, including Chicago blues, country blues, Americana and a version of The Who’s “Squeezebox” with Caribbean and zydeco flavors added.
“As soon as we heard that Keb’ Mo’ and Taj Mahal were collaborating on an album and a subsequent tour, we were in touch with their agents looking to get the Kirby Center involved. We feel really lucky to be one of the stops as they travel the country together,” said Kirby Center Executive Director Will Beekman.
“In Taj, we are getting one of the all-time greats, a legendary force since the 1960s in both the R&B and Blues genres. In Keb’, we are getting a three-time Grammy Award winner and one of the greatest blues guitarists and vocalists of the past two decades. Put the two of them together, and it’s magic,” he added.
Tickets, ranging from $29 to $69, are available online at kirbycenter.org, at the Kirby Center box office and by phone at 570-826-1100. The show starts at 8 p.m.
First gold record was received for a song, ‘Git Fiddler,’ which he co-wrote with Papa John Creach of Jefferson Starship fame in 1975.
Won first Grammy for Best Contemporary Blues Album in 1997.
In 1998, he portrayed legendary bluesman Robert Johnson in documentary, ‘Can’t You Hear the Wind Howl?’
In 2001, he appeared on ‘Sesame Street’ with Kermit the Frog and the Muppet gang and performed the song, ‘Everybody Be Yo’self.’
Played at ‘In Performance at the White House: Red, White and Blues’ in 2012.
Was featured in Martin Scorsese miniseries, ‘The Blues’ in 2003.
He performed at White House again in 2015.
He’s been a longtime supporter of Playing for Change Foundation, a nonprofit that promotes social improvement through music and art education.
He tours extensively and has recorded 11 albums.
He has a preference for red guitars.