Interview with Kenny Wayne Shepherd

Kenny Wayne Shepherd

Blues Rock guitarist seems to have been around for an age yet he’s still only in his mid-30s. His latest album Goin’ Home pays homage to his Blues influences.

Your new album Goin’ Home is out at the beginning of May. How do you feel on the eve of its release?

I’m feeling really good about it. Most of my records straddle a line between Blues and Rock. In my heart I’m a Blues player and I love the Blues but I love Rock ‘n’Roll too and Rock allows me to take the Blues into many different directions. This album is me revisiting the roots of the Blues and music that inspired me to play the guitar. I went back to revisit the music I was listening to as a kid by people like Muddy Waters. Freddie King, Bo Diddley and people like that. We picked some songs of theirs to record that hadn’t been recorded a million times so we dug deep into their catalogues. We didn’t want to do the obvious ones. I think it’s a great album and all the initial feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. So I’m feeling pretty good about it.

Blues music has such an illustrious history; it must have been quite a job for you to whittle down your song choice to 15 songs, including the 3 bonus tracks on the album. Your first list must have had enough songs to fill a 10 disc boxed set?

There were a lot of songs that I wanted to do and at one point I was thinking of doing a multiple disc release but I wasn’t sure. I figured that we’d put this one out and see what the fans thought and if the record company wants us to do another one maybe we will.

Were there any that you initially wanted to do that didn’t work out?

There were some songs that didn’t make the record because for example there was an up-tempo song that wasn’t included as we already had three up-tempo ones on the record. There was also a Howlin’ Wolf song called “Forty Four” that my piano player was really excited about as the piano is featured throughout the entire song. That didn’t make it though as I felt we already had a couple of songs that filled that void. There were a couple of songs that we finished that could pop up at some point in the future and a few more that we didn’t finish that we may work on again at some point.

There’s songs on there by the Three Kings, BB, Freddie and Albert; Muddy Waters, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Bo Diddley and Buddy Guy. Do each of those songs by them mean something different to you?

It’s more the musicians who recorded them. Each of them were so influential to me growing up and they really inspired me to play so I studied their music and techniques and incorporated what they did into what I do. These songs are certainly favourites of mine and some of them I’ve wanted to record for a long time like the BB King song “You Done Lost Your Good Thing” and “Everything Gonna Be Alright” by Magic Sam. This was the perfect opportunity to do it.

For you, which songs did you particularly enjoy working on?

I’d say “Still A Fool” by Muddy Waters is one of my favourites because he is one of my favourite artists. He is the one if I could ever trade places with a guy and be someone else it would be Muddy Waters. He was so cool and had such an amazing voice and I was really proud to be able to do that song and I’m actually the one doing lead vocals on it as well so it’s a really special one for me. Robert Randolph played on that song with me and it’s probably the one we took the most creative liberty on as the original just featured Muddy on his guitar and that was it and ours is a very electrified version. It’s probably the closest to a normal Kenny Wayne Shepherd song on the album.

You actually got to meet Stevie Ray Vaughan too. How much of an impact did that have on you?

I was already interested in guitar and I had little guitars with nylon strings that I was fooling around with but when I got to meet Stevie, it was a life changing event for me and I became obsessed with wanting to play the electric guitar with that fire, passion and intensity that he played with. I was only 7 years old when I first met him. At first I wasn’t going to do a Stevie Ray Vaughn song on this record but Chris Layton from Stevie’s band Double Trouble, he’s now in my band and he asked me how could I do an album of Blues covers and not do one by Stevie Ray so he’s the one that chose “The House Is Rockin’”. We cut it and I sang on it. The original is just about perfect and there wasn’t too much I wanted to change about it so we kept it pretty true to the original but we lengthened the guitar solo a little in the middle and I did my own thing there but the start and end of the solo is basically the same as the way he did his. There’s a firm tip of the hat to Stevie’s version.

Did you consider any songs by the very original artists such as Charlie Patton, Blind Lemon Jefferson or Son House to cover?

For most of this record we were concentrating on the electric period. We did do a Lightning Hopkins song that didn’t make the record that was completely acoustic and it was a great version too. I also think that the Ten Days Out Blues documentary that we did in 2007 had a lot of the early Blues artists featured on it so this time I wanted to feature more of the electric Blues.

Was one of your aims with this album to help to bring Blues to a new audience?

Absolutely and that’s why we chose the songs that we did as we knew some people may have been hearing these songs for the first time so I hope they go and dig further into these artists catalogues and not just listen to their most popular songs. It’s a tradition in Blues to give credit where credit is due and acknowledge the influences of the people that inspired them to play and this album is an album of exactly that.

You have an incredible array of guests on the album from Ringo Star, to Joe Walsh and Warren Haynes. Are these all guys you’ve worked with in the past?

They are all friends of mine and I’ve worked with them all to varying degrees over the years and they are all very talented musicians and all have a deep appreciation and understanding of Blues music. I knew they’d all bring something significant and unique to the performance. It was really great having each one of them on the record.

You must have an incredible address book!!

Ha Ha!! I don’t know. It might be impressive to some people.

Did you manage to get most of them in the studio to record their parts with you or did some have to get sent in over the internet?

Most of the guest artists had to do their parts after the basic tracks were done. They are all extremely busy and we recorded this album down in Louisiana and did it in 11 days and trying to get all those people down at the same time was just impossible.

For the basic tracks though we got the whole band in one room together and played everything live in the studio. With the very minimal amount of over dubbing so it literally came down to which ones we played the best, which had great lyrics and those that still sounded relevant and relatively current and we just picked those that we thought would make a great record from beginning to end. We want people to be able to listen to the whole record and go on a musical journey.

Do you hope when you head out on tour with your band that one or two of your guests may be able to play the odd show here and there?

It’s certainly possible. We’re doing a tour in The States in July where I’m headlining and Robert Randolph and the Family Band are opening so that’s the perfect opportunity for him to come up and do “Still A Fool” with us. There’s always opportunities for that to happen.

You only have one show in the UK in May. Are you hoping to come back later in the year for a more comprehensive tour?

We’re hoping to confirm some additional dates later in the year and make an announcement soon. I’ve been getting a lot of messages from our fans telling me to play other places outside of London so I’m pressing my booking agent hard to make it happen.

You have quite a formidable band behind you which includes Chris Layton from Stevie Ray Vaughan’s band and Tony Franklin from Blue Murder and The Firm on bass. How long have you been together as a unit?

Chris recorded my first album with me back in 1995 and he’s been in and out of my band ever since. He’s been a constant member of my touring band for 8 years straight but he’s been involved with me since day one of my professional career. Tony is the most recent addition and this is his second or third year in the band. Riley, our keyboard player has been in the band for 6 or 7 years.

You’ve worked with singer Noah Hunt for a fair number of years now having worked together since 1997. When did you two first cross paths?

I had a different lead singer on my first album and when it came to doing the second album he had some things he had to address and we parted ways. We auditioned 12 people and Noah was by far the best and we hired him. Two weeks later we were in the studio making the Trouble Is album. He’s been with me for 17 years now.

Your last album of original material was How I Go back in 2011. Have you any material ready for your next studio album?

I’m already writing songs for my next album. I also have another band called The Rides with Stephen Stills and we are writing new material for that too so there’ll be a lot of new songs coming from me

You’ve played with BB King and Hubert Sumlin and toured with the Rolling Stones, Aerosmith, The Eagles and Van Halen amongst many others. What has been the highlight of your career so far?

It’s really impossible to pick one moment and to pick one moment wouldn’t do justice to all the amazing people who have been in my life. The best moment of my life for me was when each of my children were born. That to me is the most significant thing that has happened to me beyond anything I have done in music. I would say however that playing Jimi Hendrix’s Woodstock Stratocaster was a huge moment for me.

What plans do you have for the rest of 2014?

We’ll be on the road basically all year and will be touring with Robert Randolph and then the Los Lonely Boys and will do the Experience Hendrix tour again too and we’ll be back in Europe in October or November.

Kenny Wayne Shepherd’s new album Goin’ Home is out now.


  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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