Kenny Wayne Shepherd | Every Night Is Memorable

kws75.jpgPlaying live is a cool thing, I love to play live, because that’s when the fans come out, and you get to feed off their energy and see how they react to the music. That’s where it’s happening.







Kenny Wayne Shepherd has enjoyed a career as an up-and-coming guitar hero in an era when very few are able to claim that prize. He was able to break into the big-time music biz at the ripe young age of 17, with his 1995 debut album Ledbetter Heights (Giant) immediately going gold with the hit “Deja Voodoo.” Each successive release also produced radio hits such as “Blue on Black” from 1998’s Trouble Is and “In 2 Deep” from Live On in 1999. His success at a young age has allowed him the freedom to explore his musical horizons and pay respectful and sincere homage to his roots. He is an undeniable talent on an upward spiral fueled by a ton of energy and enthusiasm. He will be coming to rock the Voodoo Lounge June 19, on tour in support of his new CD and documentary film exploring traditional blues music, 10 Days Out – Blues from the Backroads (Reprise). He just keeps on getting better and better.

You’ve already had a long career by industry standards. What still motivates and inspires you?
My fans, and just my love of the music. The fans motivate and inspire me and my love of playing music; it just keeps me wanting to create more. What I doing right now, obviously we’re on the road, but I’ve been making trips across the country, meeting up with my songwriting people that I write with, and we’ve been writing songs for a new album. So what I’m hoping to do is to get in the studio before the end of the year and start recording a new record.

So you’ve already got another project in mind?
Yeah, I’m working on it. As soon as I get all my songs together, I’m going in the studio and start recording.

How did your approach to 10 Days Out – Blues from the Backroads differ from previous albums like The Place You’re In?
Well, it’s pretty obvious. First of all, this is like the most traditional blues record I have ever done. Second, it is a different approach to making a record, period, because it was not done in a studio. We loaded a tour bus up with a bunch of recording gear and we went out and found these musicians in their environment, and we played with them in their houses, or front porch, backyard, native blues bar -- you know, wherever we could. We just set up and we’d play with them and recorded like that. And then we had a film crew follow us and made a documentary film of our entire trip

Is that out on DVD now?
If you buy the record, you get the CD and the DVD. The CD is 15 tracks and it’s all live music, and the DVD is like—well, it’s not just like a recording of us playing, it’s a real documentary, insight into the people’s lives that we’re meeting up with. And there are some people, like B.B. King is on it, and Pinetop Perkins from the Muddy Waters band is on it, Clarence Gatemouth Brown is on it. Then there are a bunch of the unsung heroes of the blues that even if you’re a hardcore blues fan, you might be hearing some of the other people for the first time.

That’s quite a daring project and very different. Do you find that you are in a position now to have more artistic freedom?
I’m just glad to be able to have done this kind of project. I feel like it’s a career piece and I like to do different stuff. It’s like every album I like to experiment with something different. This is definitely a unique project by today’s standards.

How much does the desire for radio play guide the production process of your work?
Obviously, it’s ideal to have as much radio play as you can get. It’s actually pretty impressive the amount of radio play that we got for the record. Plus you’ve also got the satellite radio stations, which have their own blues channels that play nothing but blues, and that also helped this project as well. We got a lot of mainstream rock radio airplay, a significant amount for a project like this.

Do have any thoughts about the direction that blues music is going in? How has the industry changed?
The industry has changed in a lot of ways as far as people don’t buy CDs so much anymore as they do download them. But as far as blues music goes, there are a lot of people that are doing the blues. There is no shortage of people who want to play the blues and are playing the blues. I guess it just depends on what they are going to do with their opportunity. I like to extend that; I love to play traditional blues, but I also like to write music that incorporates other influences as well. And that is why music kinda has this kind of blues/rock hybrid vibe going. But I like to do both, mix it up and do whatever I feel is coming naturally out of me when I write.

You mentioned an upcoming project; is that going to be yet another direction that you are going to explore?
My next record I would imagine is probably going to be something more like what you come to expect from me, which is that mix of blues and rock. But I never really know for sure what an album is going to turn out to be like until we’re actually done with it. ’Cause I can go into the studio thinking it’s going to sound one way, but a lot of changes happen in the studio and sometimes it takes on a little bit of a different direction.

How do you keep that sweet tone so consistent between live versus the studio?
Playing live is a cool thing, I love to play live, because that’s when the fans come out, and you get to feed off their energy and see how they react to the music. That’s where it’s happening. In the studio, the creative process is different because there’s really no limitation as to what you can experiment with in the studio.

Do you still use any of your old gear, or do you update your rig with new technology?
I’m a pretty old-school kinda guy in my musical approach; I like old stuff, really. There’s a lot of advantages to the new stuff, but as far as my rig goes, I use either original old Fender amps and guitars or… Fender has done a really good job of reissuing their classic amps, so a lot of times I use a reissue, but it’s just a remanufactured amp with an older design; that’s the sound I dig the most.

Is there a particular message that you are interested in getting out there? Are there any charities or education programs you are currently involved with?
There’s a few different ones. There’s one called Mending Kids International that helps kids in Guatemala and third-world countries who have surgeries, life-threatening situations; it helps them to get their surgeries, helps them out with their situation. There’s a few other ones. I did an acoustic signature-series guitar with Martin and we donated some of the proceeds from the sale of the guitar to charity, boys and girls clubs, stuff like that.

What have been some of your most memorable performances? What was it like working with people like B.B. King?
Every night is memorable to me, but playing with people like B.B. King and sharing the stage with the guys like the Rolling Stones and Aerosmith and Van Halen -- I can’t really pick a favorite, but I can just say that it has been a privilege to share the stage with those kind of people.

Are there any artists you would look forward to working with?
I haven’t had a chance to work with Eric Clapton; I think I would like to do that at some point, if the opportunity presented itself.

How do you spend your time away from the guitar?
I’m into cars and stuff. I’m actually doing a thing called “The Hot Rod Power Tour” right now, where it’s like a 1,500-mile road trip with hot rods and muscle cars. I like to design cars and build them and stuff like that.

Do you have a pet project that you are working on?
I just built a ’72 Dodge Charger. They filmed an episode of Hot Rod Television on it that airs on the Speed Network, so you can check that out. | Derek Lauer

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