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Interview with Kenny Wayne Shepherd

Kenny Wayne Shepherd

Interview by Duncan Jamieson

Louisiana Blues rocker Kenny Wayne Shepherd makes a welcome return to the UK. He spoke to Rocktopia about his fondness for playing in Europe, the imminent new The Rides album and touring this summer with Johnny Lang and Van Halen.

Do you notice much difference between US audiences and the ones here in the UK?

We love playing and the support for us is there so we'll keep coming over. The goal is to keep coming over for many years. This time we're going to 5 or 6 countries in Europe. We'd like to come over maybe a couple of times a year. Fans and music lovers aren't so different the world over but fans in Europe hold an interesting position; especially in the sixties era, and particularly in the UK. When the blues wasn't doing much in the US the UK gave the artists a place to play and then there are the musicians from the UK like Jeff Beck and all the others who made great music in the late 60s and early 70s so it's special playing there.

You were exposed to music young as your dad was a radio personality and promoted bands. What can you remember of your earliest influences?

There were an assortment. The first concert I ever saw was Muddy Waters. In my very early life in terms of blues I was seeing the greatest bluesman there was. Then I was influenced by other things like Stevie Ray Vaughan and the records of ZZ Top. I also heard a lot of country; Willie Nelson, George Jones but there was something in the Blues that I connected with. There's a passion and emotion that everyone can feel. When I picked up the guitar it had to be the Blues. My biggest influences, the list just goes on and on.

You mentioned Steve Ray Vaughan. You met him when you were just a kid of seven.

My dad was the promotor for his gig. I was introduced to him. I was just a young kid but I remember him being very nice to me. I remember they sat me on the amp case and I watched the entire show from there. I could have watched him all day, every day. He played with so much passion.

You're self-taught, aren't you?

I learnt chords from guitar class when I was in middle school, at the 8th grade. It was before you could watch people on the internet. I'd listen to records over and over and try to pick out the first note of the song, then the second note and I'd piece together like that over time. Then there comes a point when suddenly the instrument makes sense.

Tell me about starting out and did you feel pressure getting so much attention so young?

I put my band together at fifteen and the curiosity about us got out to California and Irving Azoff. My dad was excited for me. We went out to Atlanta, Georgia and recorded our first album ('Ledbetter Heights'). You wonder if people are going to listen to you and people did. That record went on to sell over a million records. I'd been in a studio 2 or 3 times making demos before the album so I was comfortable. I loved having the opportunity to perform and record. The only pressure I might have felt was any pressure I put on myself.

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You're touring with Johnny Lang in the States. He too was a precocious blues talent. Are you kindred spirits?

People have been asking for years if we'll tour together. We're always getting emails and facebook messages asking if and when we're going to tour together. So Johnny and I said why not give them what they want, people clearly want to see us on the bill together.

The Lang, Shepherd touring partnership might be seen as an obvious pairing but this summer you're out on the road with Van Halen, an altogether different package. How did that come about?

I've known Eddie (Van Halen) since the 90s. We've always got on and he just asked me if I was interested. Eddie and I are very different guitar players. We've toured with them before and we went over well.

Not content with a busy tour schedule, and a Kenny Wayne Shepherd album last year ('Going Home'), you've got another The Rides album in the pipeline.

We've just finished recording it and mastering it. It's a great record, better than the first one. Most songs are original material and we're very proud of it. I've known Stephen for about ten to twelve years through going to football games together. He wanted to put a blues band together with Barry and my name came up. We had a lot of fun with the first record and a tour in The States.

Your last studio album 'Going Home' was a covers record with a lot of high profile guests. Is it something you're likely to do again?

I had a lot of fun with that record. The studio was a very enjoyable environment and it's how I think the studio should be; fun. The point of the album was to do new interpretation versions of the blues songs I grew up with. I'm very fortunate I've got talented friends who were interested and were happy to join me on a song or two.

With the busy commitments to touring and The Rides does this mean there's no time for a new Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band record?

No, there will be a new album. I'm focussing on songs and there's a live concert for DVD release too. I normally have a bit of a cycle where I'll do some traditional and then more contemporary, so the next will be more contemporary. I don't listen to other music when I playing music so I try not have too much of an outside influence. There's also a limited edition E.P coming out for Record Day which has 5 live recordings that we recorded while we were out on the road. People can buy the physical copies of the record.

I loved the documentary you made to accompany 'Ten Days Out: Blues from the Backroads' CD. Is that something you'd consider doing again or something similar?

'It is something I'm going to do for the 10th Anniversary of 'Ten Days Out'. I'm doing some research now. I may come at it from a different angle. I haven't quite decided. It worked so well before.

The fact that you can record an album quickly like 'Going Home' and can spend so much time out touring is it easier to survive as a blues musician than an up and coming rock band for example?

As far as touring goes, nobody has found a substitute for playing live. So you can that as it has traditionally been done. As far as record selling, it's not the same for anyone and you feel the effects. With itunes people can cherry pick one song and not buy the whole album as it was back in the day. I've sold over a million on a number of albums but now you re-adjust what you consider to be success. I consider success is when you're able to play music and people are willing to show up and watch you. Touring, my priorities are providing for my wife and kids. I have a lot of children. My focus is to find the balance for my fans and family.

Plenty of activity from Kenny Wayne Shepherd this year. Catch Kenny Wayne Shepherd live in the UK this month. He plays Salisbury City Hall Friday April 10, Holmfirth Picturedrome on Saturday April 11, Glasgow O2 ABC on Sunday April 12, Aberdeen Lemon Tree on Monday April 13 and London Shepherds Bush Empire on Wednesday April 15. For concert ticket information call 0844 478 0898 or visit www.thegigcartel.com

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