Inspiring Spaces: Keb’ Mo’
Mixing family and music at home in Middle Tennessee
Story by Hollie Deese
Photography by Reeves Smith
Robbie Brooks Moore was selling cell phones at an AT&T store in LA when Kevin Moore — blues musician Keb’ Mo’ — came in with his broken phone. He was tall and handsome, and they immediately hit it off; the fact that she was also a musician helped connect them even more.
They began building their life together in California — getting married, having son, Carter Mandela, buying a house. But they moved into their Middle Tennessee home eight years ago, found on a trip when Kevin was playing a show at the Ryman. Five days later they put in an offer contingent on the sale of their LA home, which ended up going for well over its asking price after 15 offers.
“It’s like a homecoming for me, coming to the South where my roots come from,” Kevin says. “I was moving closer to the place where it all began. I came here in my 50s, and I turned 60 in Nashville. It’s like a fresh start. This is a place I kind of started life over again.”
Carving out spaces that are conducive to Kevin’s music was key in their new home, starting with his office where he writes alone, unless their 9-year-old dog, Rudy, is hanging out, too.
“The next record I’m doing, I’m looking for a very personal kind of thing. This is where I can be alone and force myself to go deeper,” he says. “I feel like this space is reminiscent of how I wrote my first record. It’s a couch, a coffee table, a guitar, a pad and pencil, no computers.”
Where he wrote that first record was a small two-bedroom apartment on Adams Boulevard in LA, with a living room set up very similarly to his current office.
“I would sit down with my guitar and just have a pad of paper, and I would practice listening to music,” he says. “And sometimes I would practice playing scales while watching Oprah, and I would sit and write and dream, too.”
He says there’s always a classical radio station on, the music wafting through even when he’s not in there, so it permeates the atmosphere with inspiration. There is a separate studio, and then a green room with snacks and a standup arcade machine for breaks between sessions.
“I have been fortunate to have three main writing places, depending on who I’m writing with and what the purpose is,” he says. “If I’m writing with someone for the purpose of recording a song, I like to go straight into the control room where we’re going to record. But if we’re just writing just for the sake of writing, I’ll go into the green room and we’ll snack.”
Everything in the home was knotty pine when they moved in, so paint was required everywhere, except, of course, the exposed beams overhead. And while Kevin says his wife takes the lead on inspiring the ambience of the house, they do have a system for choosing colors.
“She picks a paint color, and I go one shade darker. That’s the color,” he says. And for him, it’s Farrow and Ball or nothing. “It’s like you want to eat the wall.”
And Robbie’s fine with the collaborative system they’ve worked out, for their home life and record label, Kind of Blue Music. She runs it, as well as the charity they are involved in, Turnaround Arts, working with a school in Chicago directly on arts programs.
“Generally if we both talk about it, we come up with an even better idea than what the original was,” Robbie says. “Mostly he kind of lets me do it. But he’s got good opinions. He’s got a good eye.”
For example, the Moores had tried a number of pieces on a large wall in their living room — a kimono from Japan, a bookshelf. They finally together found the perfect piece on a trip to India, a large tapestry that even looks good when the Christmas tree is up.
“Everything we do is big, and we’re on a blues budget,” she says. So it helps that the art that is everywhere around the house is usually tied to people and travels and feelings. An investment always worth making, many of them are even gifts.
Keb’ Mo’ shares what type of spaces inspire him
Over the fireplace is a photograph from Anthony Scarlati after Robbie saw something of his on Facebook that immediately made her cry. They have three pieces from artist Brian Nash, including one in the powder room and a commission Robbie had done for Kevin as a Christmas gift.
A portrait of Amy Winehouse was a gift for Kevin, too, for Father’s Day. It was done by artist and family friend Asher Wood as a thank-you for letting him stay with the Moores for a bit while his new home was finished being built. Other friends, glass artist Marlene Rose and giclee artist Robbie Firestone, have pieces on display.
“Kevin and I wrote a song together called ‘I’m Amazing,’ and those are the lyrics of it,” she says of another special piece. “We had a children’s choir sing at our wedding, and they painted that as our wedding gift.
And the father of Ross Hogarth, Moore’s sound and mixing engineer, is illustrator Burne Hogarth, known for creating the Tarzan comics. The Moores have one of his prints, too, which was framed at Bennett Galleries.
“The more art we’ve gotten here, it just feels so good,” she says. “I want everything in here not to just take up space, but when I walk past it I want it to make me smile. I want to just get that feeling of a special memory, so I’ve really focused on that in the last couple years.”
Robbie even went out on a limb and painted the soundwaves piece in the green room as a gift for Kevin this past Valentine’s Day.
“I mostly do photography, but I want to learn to paint. So I’ve been tip-toeing into that,” she says. “And we want to show our son to just go ahead and try things. If it’s bad, so what?”