In Conversation with Kenny Wayne Shepherd
BD: I was delighted when I was sent your latest album Lay It On Down to review via Mascot Label Group. The album has a beguiling mix of complexity and simplicity. Before we talk about the album, Ramblin Man and UK Tour lets go back to the beginning
BD: What were your first musical influences growing up in Shreveport, Louisiana?
KWS: It was the first concert I went to Muddy Waters & John Lee Hooker when I was three years old. What an introduction to the blues in anybody’s life. For me it was the start of a lifelong connection with the blues. I just gravitated to the blues, there is an honesty about the music. It is music played with heart and soul. Blues define lyrical content. Dad loved the blues and introduced me to the music. I was influenced by and love a wide spectrum of genres including country R’n’B; Rock’n’ Roll and Funk but it was Blues I naturally gravitated to.
BD: What was it about the guitar that made this the instrument of choice and music your passion.
KWS: I loved the guitar and taught myself. I also love the drums, but have never sat down and learnt them. Not sure my parents fancied a drum kit being practiced in the house. I was attracted to the kinda music that features the guitar. Rock/Blues and Country they all featured the instrument and a lead vocalist. Not sure if I chose the guitar or it chose me.
BD: During your long career leading up to the release of your 8th Kenny Wayne Shepherd studio album you have explored the blues. What does the blues mean to you and how would you define the blues?
KWS: Blues is a timeless genre, it addresses the ups and downs in life. Often about difficult subjects it is the feel you get as the music takes you beyond overcoming what is troubling you. I myself play the happy side of blues what makes life good, celebrating life. Blues is timeless it speaks to people whatever their age, colour or background. Add into the mix all this and it has spawned every type of modern popular music; inevitably you find yourself back at the blues.
BD: Lay It On Down, your 8th solo album, focuses on the lyrics as you take the listener on a journey. The guitar is ever present whilst often complex in the tones and shapes achieved and the lead breaks are curtailed giving a contemporary fresh feel. Moving away from blues power what led you to this change in direction?
KWS: I always play to the opportunity to shape and show the musical image that I feel needs to be created. Some songs like Ride Of Your Life gives you the opportunity to lay it on down hard. It was not the intent to play one way or the other the guitar chords just used to showcase everything. Records should take people on a journey. I set out with the goal that this would be the best album of my career. You have to continually set the bar high if you want to accomplish anything.
BD: Where do you get your inspiration for your songwriting?
KWS: Historically I have always based my song writing on my life experiences; or when writing with someone else their experiences. Until now actually written from fiction. Ride for Your Life is definitely fiction definitely not literal. I haven’t and I am sure none of the band have experienced escaping capture from the law. The music has an outlaw on the edge vibe so we wrote the song. It was a lot of fun, whereas Louisiana Rain is very personal showing an appreciation of where I come from. BD: Do you write the music or the lyrics first? KWS: Nine times out of ten starts with the tune and then the lyrics but there are exceptions.
BD: You are playing Ramblin Man on the Outlaw Country Stage & Holmfirth in July and then back in UK & Europe in October for a tour. Does a new album help keep touring with your music fresh and vibrant?
KWS: Yes, have asked but been assured that on that day it is the right stage as calling that, but same thing as the Blues stage. Looking forward to being back in the UK and again later in the year. I love touring and playing my music have a large back catalogue to choose from with a career spanning twenty-five years. New album is good and brings its own challenges; new songs to learn outside of the studio and having to work them into the set list so they fit in. I have worked songs from the album into shows I was playing last week in America. Still work to do to ensure the songs make the biggest impact, it is often trial and error revising the set lists as a tour progresses. It definitely keeps it interesting and always gauging the reactions from the audiences that all have favourites they expect to be in the set list. The expectation from the fans is inevitable with a career of twenty-five years, lots of records played on radio and in the charts. There is a group of songs fans expect and want to hear so you have to walk a fine line when introducing new stuff.
BD: If you were putting together the perfect fantasy band with members from across the years (dead or alive) who would you have playing
KWS: Already have it with The Rides. Myself, Stephen Stills and Barry Goldberg.
Let me think
Drums: Chris Layton; my drummer, he is the best drummer for what I do
Bass: Danny McCormack No let’s put together a legendary group so have to be Willie Dixon he is so impactive on a song
Guitar: Albert King, Jimi Hendrix I would just love to have the opportunity to play alongside these guys.
Vocals: Muddy Waters
BD: Having mentioned The Rides, I loved the last album Pierced Arrow are you likely to tour in the UK with the band?
KWS: We have toured in the States and have tried to put together a UK/European tour twice now just not come about. We are planning a third album so hopefully a tour will come about.
BD: Thank you for your time and insights into your music. Anything you would like to say to your many fans.
JWS: First I would like to say how much I appreciate the support I have ever since the first time I played when I opened for The Eagles in Wembly back in 1996 for a three night run. The loyalty of the fans once they find an artist they like they are a life-long fan. Secondly, I am really looking forward to playing UK & Europe again. I make a conscious decision to come back and tour Europe every couple of years whenever possible. There has been a longer gap this time as been touring States with The Rides. I want to reach out to new fans of the blues, continuing to build a fan base for our brand of Blues and Rock n’ Roll.