Interview of Kenny Wayne Shepherd by Monica L. Yasher

Posted on 9/29/2010 by Monica Yasher


When I met up with Kenny Wayne Shepherd, he had a lot going on.  He was putting the finishing touches on his "Live From Chicago" CD that was released this week.  He was pleased to have had the opportunity of working with Willie "Big Eyes" Smith and Hubert Sumlin, two of his blues idols.  He was using some of the material from his "Ten Days Out" CD,  and this offered new material for Willie and Hubert.  Kenny was excited to share his music for his blues role models to perform.  

I also spoke with Kenny on the importance of his traditional last song of the evening, "Voodoo Child".  Kenny feels this is the greatest rock anthem of all time.  You can catch him performing this song at the Experience Hendrix Tour that will be starting on October 26, 2010. 

As I said, Kenny had a lot going on.  Look for an additional CD release coming soon! Let's see what Kenny and I talked about: 

Monica: Hi Kenny.

Kenny: Hi Monica. How’s it going?
M: It’s going pretty good. I hear you have been in the studio. Do you want to tell me about your new CD?

K: We are working on a few albums right now. We’re making the live record. It’s a live show that we did not too long ago, when we went on the road to support my last project “Ten Days Out: Blues From the Back Roads“. We took some of the guest artists from that project, took them out, and did some shows with them.

This particular concert is from a show that we did in Chicago. It’s cool. It’s a really great performance, and I’m really excited about it. We have Hubert Sumlin from Howlin’ Wolfe’s band and Willie “Big Eyes” Smith from Muddy Water’s band, and a couple of my guys that I looked up to as a kid growing up in Louisiana.

The unique thing about this record is that a part of it is live material from my previous records. More than half is essentially new material, because the songs we’re playing with the guest artists are not songs that have not ever been recorded by them. They are not even songs that were on the “Ten Days Out Record“. To a certain degree, half of the live album is going to be a new experience for fans when they hear it.
We are also on the homestretch of my next studio record. When we are done with the live record, we are going to go back and revisit that. The live record will come out first and closely followed by the studio album.

M: You are busy. Let’s talk a little more about the original DVD, since this is kind of a part two to it. You traveled through the country and met up with authentic blues musicians. How did this experience impact your life? What did you take away from that experience?

K: For me, I’m a huge blues fan. It was an opportunity to fulfill some of my childhood dreams. They were musicians that I looked up to all of these years; and, to give back to the blues community, and try to offer them up a really unique project for them to sink their teeth into.

M: You performed with Double Trouble, True?

K: Yeah, Yeah the guys from Stevie Ray Vaughan’s band were on that project, and I’ve been playing with them since I basically got started. I did my first record with Chris Layton, the drummer, playing on it.

M: Do you consider yourself a rock star or a blues star, and where do you, or do you, draw the lines between the two?. Different venues call for different music, so how do you handle that as an artist?

K: Well. I prefer to not be pigeon holed in one category or another. I’ve played on country records. Wynona Judd recorded a song I wrote. I played on Willie Nelson’s record. Travis Tritt recorded a song that I wrote. I played on his record. I played on Kid Rock’s record. I’ve done my own stuff from traditional blues albums to my fourth album that was a straight ahead rock record. I like to think of myself as a musician that likes to play music..all kinds of music. Blues is my first love as far as music goes. But, I like to rock as well…so, I don’t know…I kind of fancy myself being somewhere in between.

M: You are more than in between. You are obviously in the country world as well.

K: Yeah a little bit. I kind of just dabble in that. You know? Definitely. Most people just say I am a blues rock guitar player.

M: You’re happy with that?

K: That’s fine with me.

M: How do you make the blues new and innovative, and yet try to stay traditional? What is your key to success?

K: It’s complicated. It’s a fine line to walk between the rock and the blues and keep it authentic. I think I do a decent job of it. My roots are what they are, and I think they are very heavily into the blues. I think that no matter what I do, that there will be that influence there and that authenticity because of the influences that I have. Not everything I do is traditional blues, and not everything I do is straight ahead rock. My favorite place to just rest, is right somewhere in between. Do that nice high rhythm blues and rock. More like blues with an edge, I guess, you know?

M: I do know. Let’s build on the experience of your music. For someone that hasn’t seen you, what should they expect? How would you describe it?

K: It’s pretty much all about the guitar…and the lyrics and the vocals. It’s basically I’ve worked with the guitar for a long time and playing live. That’s what we enjoy doing the most. We’ve kind of built ourselves a reputation of putting on a really great show. A lot of people say that we sound better live than on the records. I’m very proud of that reputation. Basically, in our live show, we try to revisit as much of the material that we can from our five projects that we have out for so far. In an hour or hour and a half it is kind of hard to play everything. We try to hit on as much as possible. We try, to a degree, it’s in your face guitar blues rock and roll. And, if you have never seen us, we can just about guarantee that we will convert you before you leave!

M: OK! I like that! Talking to you about being an artist, I read your story about the 61 strat guitar that you wanted and didn’t have the money for. Low and behold when you came back around to that location the second time, there that guitar was. This seemed to be a very monumental moment for you. Is it?

K: Certainly there is a bond between a musician and the instrument. That guitar has accompanied me all over the world and it has been played on the biggest hit of my career not to mention other people’s records. It’s definitely significant. There is something about that particular instrument for me that doesn’t exist with any another instrument. I would be devastated if something happened to that guitar.

M: You can relate to all the instruments lost in Nashville then?

K: I can’t even think….I can’t even imagine.

M: In regard to all of your nominations and you are young to have the biography that you do, do you feel that you are in competition with yourself? Do you always have to outdo the last? Do you feel this pressure?

K: I always want to feel that I brought something new to the table on a project. You definitely want to continue to grow and improve as a musician. You try not to compare too much. Each album should be it’s own. I don’t want to compare too much to the other records, but just look at it and retrospect if I have grown as a songwriter, composer, and a musician.

M: Bringing things to the table, do you want to talk about your band members?

K: My band right now has Noah Hunt on lead vocals. Been here for 14 years now. I do some of the singing as well. It just depends on the set list for the evening Scott Nelson is on bass from Austin, Texas. Riley Osborne on keyboards is also from Austin. He plays with Willie Nelson and Lyle Lovett and many other southern musicians. And, then Chris Layton from SRV and Double Trouble is on drums. It’s a really happening band.

M: It is. On performance, it seems that you do Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child” a lot. Why that song?

K: It’s just that since I’ve had my own band since fifteen years old, I ended every concert with that song. It’s just a great finale song for me. I think it’s one of the most powerful rock and roll anthems ever written.

M: Thank you. As a guitarist, what are you thinking about when you play? Is it the notes, where your hands are, or more of a groove? Where are you?

K: For me, it’s all about feeling the intuition from my heart. Just basically what I am feeling as I’m playing it. If I’m thinking anything it’s just making sure that things are going down the way the are supposed to, and trying to keep in mind how much time we have left and staying on schedule. Mainly I’m just following the feeling and the flow of the show.

M: OK. Thank you. What makes a good song to you?

K: Anything that is honest. I try to be honest in my music. Obviously you have to get creative on some things. You can’t be 100 percent literal. Real life experiences are something that everyone can relate to. I try to write about my thoughts that people can resonate with.

M: With your new CD, what was the most challenging song to complete for you and why?

K: I don’t know. I’m not sure which one is the most challenging. I feel that some came together quicker than others. I think the challenging thing is with the details and making sure that everything gets the proper amount of attention. I think the most important thing is making sure that the groove is there. That’s the foundation for the song.

M: What do you mean by details?

K: You know…sounds, textures, licks, vocal melody. All those little things that take the foundation and improve upon it, you know?

M: Yes. Which song is your favorite one?

K: On the new record? I like “Come On Over“. I go through phases of having favorite songs. Right now that one is my favorite.

M: Do you have any song regrets?

K: No (said very definitely). No regrets.

M: That’s awesome. Anything you want to share with me that I didn’t ask you?

K: No, I don’t think so.

M: Well then…I’ll ask one last question. Is there anyone that you would like to thank for your career? It seemed like your Dad did a lot to get that 61 Strat for you.

K: Well first of all my thanks goes to God. I feel like if it wasn’t for God, none of this would be possible. And, my family has supported me all of these years. They looked out for me when I was really too young to be able to be in a business world and look out for myself. And, the fans. They are the biggest part of what we do. There are no records and there are no concerts without the fans.

M: That’s a beautiful answer. I thank you for your time today.

K: Thank you. 

American Blues News Staff

What makes American Blues News unique is our coverage across America. Here is our lineup:

Mon: Memphis Correspondent - Robert "Nighthawk" Tooms
Nighthawk is our resident globetrotter and man behind the scenes, as he tours with the Reba Russell Band.

Tues: New York Correspondent - J. Blake
Blake is the American Blues News review and interview guru. You may catch him out and about in NY playing the blues.

Wed: National Correspondent - Monica Yasher
Monica is our executive director and artist interview specialist. You can catch Monica singing the blues around Pittsburgh or working on some country music songs in Nashville.

Thurs: Washington, DC Correspondent - Virginiabluesman
Geraldo offers inteviews and reviews. You may have seen him at an Ana Popovic concert or conversed with him on her websites, as he offers administrative support with her music.

Fri: Northeast Photographer - Nelson Onofre
Nelson offers a Friday column of blues photography and pictorial support for the interviews covered by the team.

Jim Stick in Colorado
Jim will be focusing on the Blues Festivals in the beautiful state of Colorado, and the artists that live and visit there.

Maureen Elizabeth, our resident art correspondent, will be focusing on blues art as she explores the creation of CD covers, or speaking with artists who also have a love of creating pictorial art in addition to their music! She may also feature some of her good friends in the Pittsburgh area. In her love of art, you may find Maureen's photography accompanying writer's articles on our pages. Maureen is also our marketing director.

Pittsburgh correspondent and photographer, CR Bennett, will share the Pittsburgh scene with all of you. You may also see CR's pictures accompanying other writer's articles.

We head to the big state of Texas! Abby Owen, our Texas correspondent.

Another big area to cover, the West Coast with Casey Reagan, Casey will feature many artists and events on this ocean's shores.

Lastly, we have our roving blues entertainment writer,
Chef Jimi.

And of course, we will surprise you sometimes!

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