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By: Michael D. Vogel

© October 1, 1999. Michael D. Vogel.  All Rights Reserved.    

Published in:

The Album Network magazine– October 22, 1999

 

His sound is unmistakable, his stance unforgettable.  Notes stream from his guitar in metallic waves, occasionally softening into a feathery whisper.  His voice is that of the six-string; as if being ripped from his throat, he screams tales of love, betrayal, hope, despair and all-night bacchanalia.  It’s the blues at its most raw-nerved and ferocious–but look into the musician’s face as he gyrates and bends almost in half, doubling over to the floor.  He breaks into a smile, eyes glistening with childlike joy.

Deep in the boiling cauldron of the blues, Kenny Wayne Shepherd is having the time of his life.

While helping to introduce blues-based rock to a whole new generation of music lovers, Shepherd’s also infused it with a fresh energy and profound emotional depth that’s helped to stir the hearts and souls of hundreds of thousands of new fans around the country.  By skillfully blending elements of the blues, fiery rock riffs and sensuous rhythms (as well as featuring his passionate, unforgettable guitar style), he’s helped to create a unique and magical sound.  It’s a sound that remains–like the long sustained notes that mark his distinctive guitar solos–as powerful, as moving and as meaningful as ever.

With two straight #1 blues albums, a string of Top 10 mainstream Rock Radio hits (including the record-setting “Blue On Black,” the #1 Powercut for all of last year) and a 1999 Grammy nomination for Best Rock Instrumental Performance, Shepherd could’ve given himself and his bandmates some time to relax.  But, rather than resting on their laurels, KWS and company jumped into the studio with a new sense of excitement.  The end result, Live On, readily shows that Shepherd’s power as a guitarist, songwriter, arranger and performer has only strengthened over time.

On a stopover in Tennessee, while wrapping up the B.B. King Blues Festival, Kenny Wayne shared his thoughts about carrying the blues tradition into the next century.

You’ve picked up the torch and are now introducing the blues to a whole new generation.  Do you find it hard to deal with such a heavy responsibility? 

Kenny Wayne Shepherd: “I’m definitely about carrying the torch.  The day that Stevie Ray [Vaughan] died was a true turning point for me.  I wanted to put a band together but had no idea what I’d achieve.  My main focus was to do whatever I could, whatever amount, to help this kind of music keep going.  So I’m definitely about consciously making people aware of the blues, as well as the people who made it possible for me to do the music that I’m playing.”

How do feel about being compared to your idol? 

KWS:”I can’t see myself on the same plateau that I put Stevie Ray on, mostly because I idolized him so much.  When I saw him on magazine covers, I always wondered what that would be like; and now that I see myself there, it just doesn’t register the same.  For lack of a better term, it’s about as surreal as it gets.”

Looking back, did Trouble Is…exceed your expectations? 

“We had a great run with that record, which really helped ease my mind.  And the ‘Blue On Black’ story just blew me away.  I’m still amazed at how well it’s still performing to this day.  Especially coming into this third album. 

“But then again, you still have to perform well.  You still have to try and do better than the last.  I think we’ve captured that on the new album.  I think the music has gotten a lot stronger, the playing and songwriting too; combined with the production it’s come together really well.  You really get a natural high, just from the excitement of something like that.”

In choosing a title for this album, was it a reflection on where to go after the success of Trouble Is…? 

“I definitely felt that fit the theme of the album.  It just helps to carry it on.  To help the music live on.”

Similar to Trouble Is…, you brought in Tommy Shannon, Chris Layton and Reese Wynans of Double Trouble.  Is it important for you to work with them simply because of your ties with Stevie Ray and your homage to the profound influence he’s had on you? 

“That definitely has something to do with it.  My main objective is to keep his spirit alive through my music in any way possible. 

“But a lot of it also has to do with the fact that these guys are very good friends of mine and we make great music together.  The funny thing about it, though, is that I grew up learning how to play the guitar along with them on their albums.  It was like they were my band right there in my living room.  It’s crazy, because I learned how to play as if I was playing with that band, so when we went into the studio, there was already that natural chemistry between us.  We just play off each other, working as a complete unit.  As a result, they’ve been instrumental in helping me to achieve the things I want to in the studio.”

Live On really demonstrates the breadth of your ability as a blues-rock player, covering standards as well as introducing a few new flavors that aren’t common for a blues record.  Did you feel you had to reinvent yourself after the success of Trouble Is…?

“I wanted to get back to basics and therefore wrote songs like ‘Shotgun Blues’ and ‘Losing Kind.’  But I also wanted to try and take things a bit further with songs like ‘Was’ and ‘Every Time It Rains,’ which really add a modern spin to some of the blues traditions.   But I also wanted a few razor-sharp tracks, like ‘In 2 Deep,’ which could’ve been a track from the last album.

“That’s one of the reasons why I’m so pleased with this album.  I tried to address all these areas.  But because of this, there are those that have a hard time labeling what kind of music it is.  I think it’s blues-rock, but I think it also applies to roots rock as well.  Because, when you listen to tracks like ‘Where Was I’ or ‘Live On,’ you hear the roots of what blues are all about.  It all comes from the roots, and then it’s rock & roll too.”

The lead single, “In 2 Deep,” talks about getting in over your head.  Was this somewhat of a reality check? 

“This type of character seems to be popular throughout the history of music.  Everybody seems to have written a song about a madman that’s on his last leg.  Now he’s appearing in my music.  This guy is in a downward spiral.  He’s gotten himself into too much trouble and is now on the run.  It’s almost as if someone is out to kill him; so, he’s frantic and therefore just going to take out as many people as possible on his way down.  I guess you could say he’s just pissed off the wrong people.  Definitely not a place anyone would like to be in.

“So, a reality check would be correct, to a certain degree.  The lesson to learn here is to always stay in control of who you are and what you’re doing.  Getting in over your head leads to nothing but trouble.  People need to learn to just live on.”

Do you still feel like a kid in a candy store? 

“Oh yeah!  I get real excited around this time, especially when each single is released.  It’s always exciting to watch what happens when you put it out there and see the response from radio and the listeners, as well as hopefully moving up the radio and sales charts.  That’s just one of my favorite periods of the whole process, to watch that happen.

“Everyone’s been so supportive of us and people feel, especially at Rock Radio, that they can claim me as their own.  That helps to create great relationships that are elemental to a career.  We’re proud to say that we’ve worked our way up this ladder by doing it the old-fashioned way–by meeting people and staying loyal to the fans.  We know radio helped get us here, so we try our best to accommodate them, as they’ve done for us.  That’s the way it’s supposed to be done and I think that’s how we’ve gotten to the point we’re at.” ^m^

 

Origin:                                                                        

Shreveport, LA

Line-Up:                                                                                    

Kenny Wayne Shepherd – Guitars & Vocals                    Keith Christopher – Bass

Noah Hunt – Vocals                                                                   Sam Bryant – Drums

How Label Deal Came About:

A video and live show was all Irving Azoff and Jeff Aldrich needed to sign the 16-year-old Kenny Wayne Shepherd to Giant in 1993.

Guest Musicians:

Chris Layton – Drums                                                    Reese Wynans – keys

Tommy Shannon – Bass                                                Brian Lee  – Guitars

Warren Haynes – Guitars                                             James Cotton – Harmonica

Les Claypool – Bass                                                        Mickey Raphael – Harmonica

Arion Salazar – Bass

About The Current CD:

Having enjoyed two straight #1 blues albums, certified Gold and Platinum respectively, and a series of Top 10 mainstream Rock singles, Live On is the Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band’s third studio release. 

Discography:

Live On (Giant/Reprise, 1999) 

Trouble Is… (Revolution, 1997)                                      

Ledbetter Heights (Revolution, 1995)                                       

Produced By:

Jerry Harrison

Label:

Giant/Reprise

Website:

www.kennywayneshepherd.net

 

© October 1, 1999. Michael D. Vogel.  All Rights Reserved. This originally appeared on the Vogelism blog at http://www.vogelism.com, authored by Michael D. Vogel. This article may be shared or reprinted as long as this entire copyright message, including the source location of this article, accompanies it.

 

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