For a significant portion of Kenny Wayne Shepherd’s music career, he’s been hailed as the future of blues music. Emerging in the mid-1990s as a teenage guitar slinger, Shepherd found rock star acceptance as a hard-edged blues musician with songs such as “Deja Voodoo,” ‘Slow Ride” and “Blue on Black.”
For a significant portion of Kenny Wayne Shepherd’s music career, he’s been hailed as the future of blues music.
Emerging in the mid-1990s as a teenage guitar slinger, Shepherd found rock star acceptance as a hard-edged blues musician with songs such as “Deja Voodoo,” ‘Slow Ride” and “Blue on Black.”
But during a recent break from recording a new album in his hometown of Shreveport, La., Shepherd said his next move is to go back to the music that inspired him when he was a boy learning how to play.
“I’m going back to my roots again” for an album that will likely come out in early 2013, Shepherd said. “It’s kind of going to end up being a mostly covers album, going back and playing songs by all of my heroes, people I used to listen to in the living room when I was a kid. … It’s an interesting situation, revisiting my youth and my original enthusiasm for the blues.”
For the new album, Shepherd and his band are recording the old-fashioned way — live, with everyone playing at once instead of recording each individual part one at a time, and using tape rather than recording digitally.
“Back when these songs were originally recorded, they just got in the same room together and recorded together instead of redoing each part and laying the instruments over each other one at a time,” he said.
Shepherd has recorded songs written by other artists before, but he’s more widely known for his original songs. Nearly every album Shepherd has released has reached No. 1 on the Billboard magazine blues music chart, from 1995’s
“Ledbetter Heights” to last year’s “How I Go.”
But for the new album, Shepherd wants to share his love of blues artists, both well known and obscure, with the next generation of blues music fans.
“There are a lot (of influences). We have the ones that are most frequently mentioned — Albert King, B.B. King, Albert Collins, Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters,” Shepherd said. “But we are also exploring ones that don’t get talked about as much — Earl King, we did a Z.Z. Hill song the other day. There are all kinds of artists. Several of them are off the wall, but … we tried to choose songs that haven’t been covered a million times before.”
By recording the songs he loved when he was growing up, Shepherd said he hopes to introduce — or reintroduce — some of the artists to new audiences.
“My goal is to always turn my fans on to the music of the people who inspired me. There are young dudes who are fans who have never listened to a Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson album. My goal is to have them hear it, and they look and see who wrote the song, and they go back and listen to his version and get turned on to him. That’s the same with all these artists — show these people what inspired me and all these guys I listened to for hours trying to learn how to play guitar.”
It may seem a little incongruous to think of Shepherd as an elder statesman in blues music trying to serve as a link to the genre’s past — he’s only 35 years old.
But it’s approaching 20 years since he became famous as a long-haired teen guitarist who had skills beyond his years.
“I’m not a newcomer anymore,” Shepherd said. “A lot of people think I’m still in my 20s. I’m not a young kid anymore, but it’s great. One of the beautiful things about blues music, you can grow old playing the blues. If you’re trying to be a pop star, they are lucky to have more than five years of a career.”
Shepherd said he’d like to have a career like B.B. King’s — still giving concerts and making new recordings at age 87. So
Shepherd said he wants to continue learning how to improve his guitar skills.
“Most players get better with experience, as long as you’re open to learning new things,” he said. “I try to remain open to that. I learned a lot about how I like to do shows and how to make records and phrase solos. Learning when less is more — that’s important to the blues. I just want to continue to build on to my fan base and reach out to new fans, seeing new faces in the crowd and converting new people into fans of blues music.
“This is a lifelong genre of music. It’s still relevant 100 years after its inception. I feel grateful, man.”
Contact Brien Murphy at 788-1515.
What is Kenny Wayne Shepherd’s connection to “The Dukes of Hazzard?” Find out at our Off the Clock blog.
Meet Robert Cray
A five-time Grammy Award winner, Cray became a star in the mid-1980s when his single “Smoking Gun” became a pop music hit.
Cray formed his first band in the mid-1970s, and appeared in the movie “Animal House” as part of the band Otis Day and the Knights. By the mid-1980s, Cray found commercial and artistic success with his album “Strong Persuader,” and the singles “Smoking Gun,” “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” and “The Forecast” became hits on rock radio stations.
Cray has won four of his Grammy Awards for his blues music, and a fifth for best rock instrumental recording in 1996 for “SRV Shuffle,” a collaboration with Art Neville, B.B. King, Bonnie Raitt, Buddy Guy, Dr. John, Eric Clapton and Jimmie Vaughan.
More recently, Cray has released several live albums over the past few years, including 2006’s “Live From Across the Pond,” which topped the Billboard magazine blues music chart.