Kenny Wayne Shepherd

An interview with Blues guitarist, Kenny Wayne Shepherd
by Mike Huberty
November 2018

Kenny Wayne Shepherd on the cover of Max Ink for November 2018

Kenny Wayne Shepherd on the cover of Max Ink for November 2018

Now well into the third decade of his career, KENNY WAYNE SHEPHERD is no longer just a Blues guitar wunderkind, but a mainstay of the genre with the longest running album on the Blues charts and three platinum records. And while he did record his first major label album while still only in high school, he says they had to work for it. “We still had a period of paying our dues. First of all, it was nearly impossible to get anybody to let me sit in and jam with them when I was little because it was weird and they were thinking ‘What’s this kid know about blues music?’”, Kenny says. “We were playing little bitty places where we were lucky to get $150 or $200 a night and play 3 or 4 one hour sets. Obviously signing a record deal and making an album and success happened for me a lot earlier than a lot of people, but it’s not like I went on American Idol and overnight became a superstar.”

Growing up in Shreveport, Louisiana with a radio deejay and concert promoter father, Shepherd was surrounded by music and also tried to get down to the Big Easy as often as possible. “The first time I got onstage I sat in with Bryan Lee”, he says of the Wisconsin born blind musician who’s been in New Orleans since the 1970s and is a staple of their Blues scene. “And I used to go down there and watch him all the time as a kid. I was thirteen years old, he let me get onstage with him. That was the first time I stepped onstage and played in front of people. That was incredible, I was nervous. I didn’t know what was going to happen, I figured it would go one of two ways, either really good or really bad. But I ended up getting my first standing ovation. That was the defining moment for me where i felt like, well maybe I could actually pursue something with this.”

In 2017, he released the album, Let It Ride On Down, his latest record to debut at Number One on the Blues chart, and he’s particularly proud of the one of the tracks. “‘Diamonds and Gold’, I was excited for people to hear. It’s really new and fresh sounding. It’s got this R&B thing where it’s got a killer groove and horn section, so it’s kind of retro at the same time as having a young vibe to it. That one actually is possibly the strongest when it comes to streams on Spotify for the album as well. The message in the song is just a tongue-in-cheek poking fun at pop culture how everything is so materialistic right now. I’m not one to make big political statements in my music, it’s totally done in fun to observe how weird the world is around us. But ultimately the song makes you feel good because it’s got a good groove to it.”

While Shepherd still performs with Noah Hunt, the vocalist on “Blue on Black”, Shepherd’s most famous blues-rock song still played on rock stations every day, he isn’t afraid to break out his own pipes now. “I’ve always written songs the way I write and I put the message that I wanna put no matter who’s going to sing it”, he says. “But that’s what pushed me into singing in the first place. I wrote a bunch of songs that were very personal to me. They were about my girlfriend who is now my wife and so they were just extremely personal. It felt weird for somebody else to sing those songs, so it felt like that was the time for me to step up and do this.”

And Kenny Wayne Shepherd will be returning to the Barrymore in Madison on November 14th and he has a kinship with city that goes back a long time. “One of the radio stations there was one of the first, if not the first, in the entire country to add my first single into radio rotation.”, he says. “So I’ve always had a very special place in my heart for Madison just because they were out of the box one of the first cities outside of my hometown to support my music. Over the years we’ve always felt the love and support from the area. We connected with them a very long time ago and the connection has always stayed strong.”

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