Some things in music are timeless, seamlessly crossing generations with beauty, precision, and heart in creating sounds that last lifetimes. The blues does just that. Kenny Wayne Shepherd is riding the wave of bliss that the blues brings to so many ears, all while earning himself a Grammy, #1 slots on Billboard charts, and a following that has once again propelled rock-blues to the mainstream. Kenny Wayne is quickly leaving his mark on the genre. At twenty-two, there is plenty more to come from this one-time prodigy who has shed his boy-wonder tag to become the leader of the blues movement in the new millennium. I spoke with the young man responsible for putting blues back on the front page where it belongs, and judging from the words he spoke, he plans on keeping it there for a long time.
How’s life on the road going?
Great, almost sold out everywhere. We’ve got a whole new show we’re doing. The shows are going over great with the crowds. Pretty much everyone is digging it.
You’re traveling up north now?
Yeah, we’re here in Indianapolis.
Great city. Must be crazy with all the Final Four stuff going on.
Tell me about the new album. It’s already hit #1 on Billboard, and it’s being received pretty well.
On this one I wanted to get back to some of my roots, so we did a few shuffles, a few Texas-style traditional blues songs, like “Shotgun Blues”, then we did some more experimental type stuff, like “Every Time It Rains”. We still did the rockin’ stuff like “In 2 Deep” and tried another flavor with songs like “Where I Was” and “Electric Lullaby”. I really wanted to show a lot of diversity and dexterity in everybody’s playing, show more depth in vocals. I think we came out with a great record.
I agree. Some of the guest appearances are amazing. How did you go about working them onto the album, as far as scheduling and getting a hold of them?
All of those people are pretty much people I know. It was just a matter of a phone call, really. Les Claypool happened to be down the hall in another room at the studio we were at. We were just hanging out, kicking it with him and having a good time, so I asked him if he wanted to come play. Everybody else was pretty easy though.
You covered “Them Changes”, by Buddy Miles. Was there any reason for that selection?
I was driving home from the studio listening to the Band Of Gypsies Live At The Fillmore East and it had a really good version of it on there and I thought we could rock it.
And you definitely did. You’ve broken down the standard rock barrier against blues-rock that’s been built up since Stevie Ray Vaughn passed. Do you have any bigger plans, as far as breaking things down and setting standards?
We’re always going to be true to the music. We’re always going to do this kind of music. We’re happy with how it’s going right now. I just want to carry on the tradition, keep the spirit of the music alive. There’s a whole new wave of young blues artists coming out now, and it’s something to get excited about.
I was able to catch a show of yours a few years back in a bar with a fairly small crowd. How has playing stadiums, opening for Dylan and the Rolling Stones, expanded your palate for live shows as far as a stage show and showmanship?
The more we play, the more confident you get, so you get comfortable on stage. To get the experience of playing arenas and stadiums is great, but I like to do a nice mix of both. That’s why we’re doing theaters and clubs on this tour. We like to do a little bit of both.
At the Blues Heaven Foundation Benefit show, you were up on stage with Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, and Robert Cray. Are you in awe, or do you try to wow them?
I try to stand my ground, let them know I can play, especially if it’s my first time meeting them. I have been starstruck a few times though.
Do you feel like you’ve earned a spot among them?
I don’t have the history like some of these guys have, but I have years ahead of me.
You’ve won Grammy’s, had number one albums. At twenty-two, where do you look in the future?
We’re just looking to keep in it and get several more albums under our belts, maybe move into producing other bands. I just want to stay involved as much as I can with music.
Have you had any opportunities with other artists?
I played on a Winona Judd song I wrote, I did the guitar part. I’ve done some other stuff here and there. I just did a couple of tracks with Double Trouble for their album that they’re putting out.
At twenty-two, you connect to a younger audience much easier. Have you used your position to speak with kids about following their hearts in music and living out dreams instead of just thinking about them?
I’ve tried to use my position to help encourage kids, get them playing and keeping at it.
On WB, Movie Star comes out next week, and you’re on it, right?
Yeah, I did some acting on the show, as myself. The band was there too. We did a quick performance. It was fun.
Is acting an area you’d like to pursue?
I enjoy acting. It’s something I’d consider in the future.
Do you feel the need to conquer MTV?
I feel MTV should deal with bands that do the music we do, definitely give them more attention. That’s just a wall that needs to come down. I don’t know of an immediate solution, but hopefully we’ll find it.
Not to pass judgement, but I think someone with your skill has so much more to offer than what the Total Request Live kids are spoon-fed.
I think MTV tends to be trendy. They go for the moment, instead of going for broke. They do play a lot of good acts that do deserve attention.
What kind of plans do you have for the summer?
We’re just going to tour all summer, just supporting the record.
Great. That’s all the questions I had for you. Do you have anything to add?
Thanks. That’s about it. Thanks for the support.
+ rick hinkson