Kenny Wayne Shepherd
@ the Islington Assembly
4 July 2012
Click an image to enlarge.
There are few artists whose names
are synonymous with one instrument and how it’s played in service to an
Utter the phrase “young blues guitarist” within
earshot of anyone with even a cursory knowledge of the modern musical vanguard
and the first name they are most likely to respond with will be Kenny Wayne Shepherd.
Still barely in his 30s, the Louisiana born axeman and songsmith has been selling
millions of albums, throwing singles into the Top 10, shining a light on the rich
blues of the past and forging ahead with his own modern twist on a classic sound
he has embodied since his teens. He met Stevie Ray Vaughan at 7, shared the stage
with New Orleans legend Bryan Lee at13. As an adult, he continues to create genre-defining
blues-infused rock n’ roll.
Kenny Wayne Shepherd’s How I Go
not only serves as a strong reminder of the chops that caused Guitar World to
place him right behind B.B. King and Eric Clapton on their list of blues guitarists,
but it’s the strongest indication yet of his gifted songwriting talent.
The album pairs Shepherd’s deeply soulful and impassioned takes on classic
material like Bessie Smith’s “Backwater Blues,” Albert King’s
“Oh, Pretty Woman” and The Beatles “Yer Blues” alongside
the strongest writing and co-writing of his career thus far.
not forget that Kenny co-wrote “Blue on Black” very early on. The
song was #1 on the Rock Charts for 17 consecutive weeks. All of the accolades
heaped upon his playing are well deserved and well earned. But there is so much
more to offer.
“At this point, most people who know about me
know I can play guitar,” Shepherd says. “As far as my approach
to guitar on this record, it’s not about showing people how much I can play.
It’s about really choosing the right notes and playing them at the right
times so that every note penetrates people, and they feel it inside and it’s
not just some fleeting thing that just goes right by them.”
to be conservative, and selective, and tasteful in the solos that I did,”
he adds. “I wanted to concentrate on the song as a whole: the vocals,
the arrangements, so every instrument that is being played contributes to the
song and takes it to a better place.”
Kenny Wayne Shepherd is growing as
a songwriter, musician and producer. Which isn’t to say he’s not proud
of his past. “I don't have any regrets, other than maybe a couple of
outfits that I wore on stage,” he laughs.
“My approach from day
one was that I was not going to record anything that I couldn’t completely
wrap my mind around and that I wasn't prepared to play for the rest of my career.
As a result of that approach and not letting anybody talk me into doing anything
that I didn't want to do, and nobody forcing me to record anything I didn’t
want to, I’ve got a body of work that I'm proud of. I still enjoy playing
all of the songs off my first album. They are as much fun to play today as they
were in 1995 when that album came out. I'm not one of those guys who doesn’t
want to listen to his own music. I don’t go around listening to it all the
time, but, my thing is, if I’m making music that I don’t want to listen
to, then why am I making music? I enjoy what I do. I have a lot of stuff that
I'm proud of. Every album that we’ve done I’ve tried to do different
things. I've never wanted to be an artist where people could predict what was
The name “Kenny Wayne Shepherd” is absolutely
synonymous with “young blues guitarist” but that phrase isn't the
totality of his person.
“Blues player is definitely one of the labels I've accumulated,
because I'm a huge blues fan and I love to play the blues,” he says.
“But if you listen to my music, especially over the course of my career,
everything that I do is not blues. It’s the foundation of what I do, but
my stuff has a lot more of an edge to it. It’s a little more contemporary.
And there’s certain youthfulness to what I do. I started writing and recording
music when I was a teenager and that energy has been consistent throughout my
year’s “Live in Chicago!” captured epic performances from Shepherd
and an assemblage of living legends in the blues world. Shepherd’s incredible
presence and perpetually giving performances, designed to get every person in
the room on their feet and to leave them smiling, are all of the evidence one
needs to determine that he’ll continue to do this for decades to come -
just like his heroes.
“I’ve got a lot of a career left
ahead of me and a lot of records left to make,” he says. “I’m
hoping to be playing music when I’m in my 80’s like B.B. King. I’ve
got a lot more songs left in me to write and record. My fans want to hear new
music, they want to hear new albums, and then when they hear a new record they
want to come out and hear us play that stuff live.”
Kenny Wayne Shepherd
is very cognizant of the emotional role music can play in the lives of his listeners.
He’s in awe of that responsibility and works hard to bring happiness to
people with his considerable gifts. With that said, he’s bound and determined
to be remembered as a guy who just straight-up kicked a lot of butt. “I
get up on stage every night to play my heart out and to try to turn people on
their ear, man. I want to bring light into people's lives with my music. If I
can make people feel good for an hour and a half to two hours and forget about
whatever might be stressing them out, then I'm doing my job.”