Featured Interview – Kenny Wayne Shepherd

Blues Blast: Welcome to Cincinnati Kenny, it must be fun playing here since your singer Noah Hunt is a native and has a large cadre of friends and fans in and around the city.

KWS: Yeah absolutely, it’s like when I got back to my home town. He’s like an adopted member of my family down in Louisiana, so coming to Cincinnati is like coming home for me too.

Blues Blast: Well you’re into tonight headlining with Joe Walsh on the bill. How did this pairing happen?

KWS: Well Joe and I have been friends since I’ve was17. My first album came out and I was doing the “Hell Freezes Over” tour with the Eagles in Europe plus a few shows in the states. We became friends on the tour and have stayed in touch. We’ve jammed a few times in Los Angeles with other musicians. Since we’ve both got new albums out we thought it would be a good chance to go on the road together especially since we get along.

Blues Blast: Okay, you’ve jammed with Joe Walsh, who would you like to perform with that you haven’t yet?

KWS: Hmmm, I don’t know, I’ve played with just about everyone but Clapton and I would really like the opportunity to do that. Unfortunately every time they have done the Crossroads thing we’ve had prior commitments.

Blues Blast: The Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band has a new album called “How I Go” so the logical question is how’s it going for that disc?

KWS: It’s going well and a lot of people believe its our best album to date and I’m really happy. I think it’s certainly one of our best records. I’m very proud of the album, everyones performance shows a lot of growth and maturity and that comes from having done this for 20 years.

Blues Blast: I understand that your approach to this record was to really focus on crafting the song rather than try to put on a blues guitar shredding clinic.

KWS: I’ve just learned over the years after listening to my guitar heroes, Albert King, B.B. King, Albert Collins and even Stevie Ray, that a lot of the times it’s the guys with the “less is more” approach that really resonated with me. I felt their music so much. I would hear a lick that I would like and I would want to learn it. It wasn’t normally a flurry of notes, it was usually just a collection of powerful notes combined into a lick. I just didn’t want to overdo it on this record I wanted to make sure that what I played for the songs was appropriate. I want the music to penetrate people in their soul with those notes.

Blues Blast: Do you think it takes a level of experience and maturity as a guitarist to get to be able to capitalize musically on that “less is more” approach?

KWS: I think everyone who is young when they pick up a guitar wants to be fast. A lot of that is youth and a lot of what I am doing does come with maturity but there are a lot of guys out there who play fast like Steve Vai, Joe Satriani or even Joe Bonamassa.

Those guys aren’t kids and they still play fast a lot of the time and they are really good at it, really technically talented. For me, it’s like Albert King. Nothing that guy does is fast. He never plays anything fast, it’s all just straight from the gut feeling. You know Hendrix is about as fast as a player, or Stevie Ray in his later days when his speed was picking up, that’s about as fast as it gets for me. It’s cool and it’s fun to play fast but I feel like when I play with B.B. King he can play just one note and it says everything for him. That’s more inspirational to me than seeing how many notes you can cram into a phrase.

Blues Blast: You built your chops on the blues and in that genre you’re well respected. Do you think you’ll continue to explore more rock or alternative styles or stick primarily with the blues?

KWS: Well blues will be in everything I do and no matter how many times I branch out in different directions, I’ll always return to the blues It’s the foundation of what I do. In my heart, I love the blues and I could just play blues guitar all day long and be happy.

As a musician, songwriter, composer and producer, taking the blues in different directions keeps things interesting to me. To throw a progression in that isn’t typical of the blues to see what direction it takes the music and to see what ideas it generates, I find that interesting. Now, I could sit around and play a slow blues or a 1-4-5 blues shuffle all day long and it would be a lot of fun but as a writer I like to try different things. I also like to incorporate my rock influences because you know blues and rock were cut from the same mold.

Blues Blast: You often are compared to Stevie Ray Vaughan but from a guitar playing and song writing perspective, what sets you apart from SRV?

KWS: If I had to place myself on a chart, I’d say I’m musically somewhere between Stevie Ray and Jimi Hendrix. I think my music has more of an edge to it that Stevie Ray Vaughan’s music but it isn’t quite as out there or not as psychedelic as Hendrix. But there are plenty of songs I’ve performed and recorded over the years that I don’t think Steve Ray Vaughan would have recorded. “Blue on Black” is a perfect example, I can’t say that I could see Stevie Ray doing that song, that’s not to say he wouldn’t like it but I don’t know, as an artist I just don’t think that is a song he would have done. My fourth album, “The Place You’re In”, the album I sung on, is a straight ahead rock record and I don’t think it’s a record that Stevie Ray would have done. So, you know, I feel like I’m in the middle ground between those two guys. I have a pretty significant rock background growing up listening to ZZ Top, Jimi Hendrix, Lynyrd Skynyrd ,Almond Brothers, lots of southern rock bands and all of that stuff finds its way into your music, intentional or not simply because you absorb it.

Blues Blast: Do you think people who describe you as an “SRV clone” have actually listened to your musical catalog?

KWS: You know man, it seems like everyone tries to fit you in to a box. Look at Stevie Ray, when he was around people were calling him a Hendrix clone. Listen to B.B. King’s early stuff, it’s all T. Bone Walker stuff because T. Bone was B.B.’s hero at the time. Everyone has their heroes and influences and that’s not something I’m going to disregard. If it wasn’t for Stevie Ray Vaughan I would probably not be doing what I’m doing. Kenny Wayne Shepherd might not even exist as a guitar player that’s how significant he was to me on a personal level and on a musical level. So I have no problem, he’s one of the greatest guitar players to pick up the instrument, so if people want to compare me to him or throw me in that category that’s okay. There’s a lot of people who would love to be mentioned in the same breath with him.

Blues Blast: Today the tables are somewhat turned and now you’re influencing a host of younger guitarist. Guys like up and coming blues/rock guitarist Scotty Bratcher. He’s 23, plays a KWS signature Strat and lists you as one of his influences. How’s that feel?

KWS: I think its great. It’s hard for me to look at myself like that, I still revert back to that little kid with the guitar looking up at my heroes and just being a music and guitar enthusiast. It’s hard for me to see myself on a pedestal but it’s very complimentary and it has a big impact on me when people tell me my music influences them. You have a big responsibility when you are successful (in music). Music is a powerful thing and I try to take that responsibility and turn it into a positive thing.

Blues Blast: Let me ask you about your rig, I understand you’re using some gear from Pennsylvania based effects maker Pigntroix. How did you get hooked up with them and what’s your impression of their gear?

KWS: Yes, I’m using one of their effects pedals in the studio, one of the guys at Pigtronix sent me one of their EP2 Envelope Phasers, it’s a big unit and it gets these really crazy sounds. You can go like way far out there and get really trippy with it or you can get some very subtle effects. I used it on a song called “Anywhere The Wind Blows” with a couple chorus pedals and was able to get this great big monstrous sound. It’s a really cool sounding pedal, it’s the only pedal I have from Pigtronix but I am very impressed with it, impressed enough to use it on an album!

Blues Blast: You’ve got a nice arsenal of gigging guitars. Are there any routine modifications you make to your guitars to make them your own?

KWS: Look, that’s why my Kenny Wayne Shepherd Fender Strat signature model guitar is so ideal because the guitars are built the way I want. Now, if I bought a new guitar off the shelf I would to do it what have been done to the signature model. I would immediately put 6100 jumbo frets on it. I would put Graph Tech guitar labs saddles on it, I would probably put my signature series pickups in it because we worked a year and a half on them to get the right sound and I think they sound really good! Feeling and sound is most important in a guitar, if the frets aren’t big enough you can always re-fret it and the graphite saddles are so important to reduce string breakage. Since I’ve been using those saddles if a string has broken it’s because of a flaw in the string, they make a big difference.

Blues Blast: Well hey Kenny, thank you very much for your time this evening, have a great show and enjoy Cincinnati. Any final thoughts for our readers?

KWS: It was good meeting you and yes, I hope they will pick up a copy of my new record “How I Go” I think they’ll like it.

Kenny Wayne Shepherd is currently on tour with Joe Walsh. For more information on Kenny Wayne Shepherd, visit his official website athttp://www.kennywayneshepherd.net/

Interviewer Chris Armold is a writer and photographer in Ohio. Much about him and his work is at: www.chrisaphotograph

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