There are few artists whose names are synonymous with one instrument and how it’s played in service to an entire genre.
Utter the phrase “young blues rock guitarist” within earshot of anyone with even a cursory knowledge of the modern musical vanguard and the first name they are most likely to respond with will be Kenny Wayne Shepherd. The Louisiana born axeman and songsmith has sold millions of albums while throwing singles into the Top 10, shining a light on the rich blues of the past and forging ahead with his own modern twist on a classic sound he has embodied since his teens. In a 20+year recording career that began when he was just 16, Shepherd has established himself as an immensely popular recording artist, a consistently in-demand live act and an influential force in a worldwide resurgence of interest in the blues.
2017 was a huge year for Kenny Wayne Shepherd, his latest studio album Lay It on Down dropping in August. The album featured all new material written by Kenny and several of his musician friends. Debuting at #1 on the Billboard Blues Chart, #1 on the Rock Chart, #1 on the Internet Chart and #5 on the Billboard Top 200 (US all-genre album chart). Recorded at his home studio in Shreveport and co-produced by Marshall Altman, Lay It on Down also spent eight weeks at the top of the Blues chart.
Kenny Wayne Shepherd is about to embark on his first Australian Tour in 6 years and we got him on the line to talk about the tour, “Lay It on Down” and its potential follow up
H2Z: Thanks for your time Kenny, let’s start by talking about your album
“Lay It on Down” which is a year old. Now you have had time to live with the album and play those songs live, how do you feel about “Lay It on Down”?
KWS: I am really happy with it, I was talking with a friend of mine today, who’s opinion I value, and I feel would be very honest with me, and he thinks it’s my best album that I have done so far. I think that’s a subjective statement, everyone will have their own opinion. Fans will gravitate to different albums as their own favourite. My goal when I made this album, was to try and make the best album of my career, even 25 years into my career, because I wanted to push myself to be the best I can be. I recently listened back to the record and I think it still sounds great. I accomplished what I wanted to with the songs. They have great grooves, great melodies, they tell great stories. I think the musicianship is top shelf, and I am very happy with it. The songs that we are playing live from the album, are going over extremely well every night with the audience.
H2Z: I like the fact the album is diverse yet still remains familiar
KWS: Exactly! You get a wide variety of sounds, grooves and musical influences, but it still sounds cohesive, you know, if you listen to the whole album, it makes sense.
H2Z: You have mentioned in the past you like to record to 2-inch tape, do you think that is somewhat a lost artform these days?
KWS: I think that more people, like myself, who care about that kind of thing, are gravitating back towards it. There is no doubt that modern technology brings a lot of conveniences and makes a lot of things about recording easier. You know, we utilize both. We use tape and we use pro-tools too, but everything goes through the tape machine. I feel there is a warmth and a saturation there, that you cannot duplicate in the digital realm.
H2Z: Do you feel by doing that you have less constraints and more of a wide and free sound, where you aren’t locked into the box of the digital world?
KWS: Yeah, and to my ears it sounds more organic and more natural, there is more warmth to it. The digital world can be quite harsh. But the thing is, most things have been conditioned to it. I mean the majority of the people, that listen to music, are listening to it in a portable scenario. That is like a very dumbed down version of a true audio recording. The actual recordings we make in the studio are so much more high fidelity. But people are so used to it though, and probably won’t notice the differences. To them, they are not really paying attention to hear that difference, but people that really do listen for the difference, they can hear it. If someone pointed out to you, what to listen for on an album that what recorded on tape as opposed to solely on digital, you would instantly be able to recognise it, and you would forever change the way that you approach listening to music.
H2Z: I read you headed back into the studio recently to start on a new album. Is that true?
KWS: Yeah, just kind of keeping the ball rolling. We had a little bit of time off at the beginning of this year. I was taking that time off to spend with my family, because we have been so busy over the past year, year and a half, actually several years to be honest with you, which is great, but I wanted to spend some time with my family. I figured that while we were off, we might as well go in the studio, and make a record, and we did. It’s almost finished, and it will be ready when the time comes that everyone decides that it’s time for a new Kenny Wayne Shepherd album.
H2Z: When you are in the studio do you generally use a similar set up to your live rig, or do you use that opportunity to diversify and change it up a lot more?
KWS: Well, I would bring more equipment into the studio than I would ever bring on stage, along with a host of effects and things like that, that I might bring in just to have them available, and some additional guitars as well, which I may or may not use, but just want them to be available in case I want or need to use them. But the core of my rig, which are the amplifiers that I use on a regular basis, as well as the guitars and my pedal board, pretty much is the same on stage as it is in the studio. My amps are built by this guy, Alexander Dumble, and he is regarded as the best amplifier builder on the planet, and his amps really are incredible. It’s such an amazing sound that you want it both on your record and on stage, so I use the same stuff.
H2Z: I’ll be seeing you for the first time when you tour soon, so for the uninitiated, what can we expect from a Kenny Wayne Shepherd show?
KWS: Well, we try and cover a lot of material. It depends on how long of a set that we have. Sometimes we can play for over 2 hours, depending on the venue. So, depending on curfews, it can be anywhere from 75 minutes to 2 hours. We use the time we have available to try and cover as much material as possible. We have put out a lot of albums, over the past 25 years, and there are a lot of people that have followed me that entire time, but also there will be people such as yourself, that are seeing us play live for the first time, and some people might be actually hearing the music for the first time. What I try to do is put as many songs in the set that I know are going to be important to people, who have been following me the whole time, going all the way back to the first album, then also going all the way up to the most current album, and try to feature some of the new music as well. But, it’s always high intensity, blues rock, guitar driven music. Its real music, and its authentic music which is played from the heart. There is so much energy on stage that we try to transmit that to the audience on a nightly basis.
H2Z: Say you were going to do a new album, calling it “KWS and Friends”, who would those friends be? Do you have a dream list of people you want to collaborate with?
KWS: Well actually on the record before this one, which was called “Goin’ Home”, which was an all traditional blues cover album, where I recorded a bunch of songs that I grew up listening to as a kid, that were originally recorded by my heroes and some of my biggest musical influences. On that record I actually bought in a lot of people to play, that were good friends of mine that I admire as musicians. So just in referencing that album we have Keb Mo, Warren Haynes from Government Mule, Ringo Starr from The Beatles, Joe Walsh from The Eagles, Kim Wilson from The Fabulous Thunderbirds. That was just off the cuff, me calling up some of my friends that would really lend their talents to the songs I chose.
H2Z: Speaking of covers. What did you think of 5 Finger Death Punch’s cover of “Blue on Black”?
KWS: You know what, I think it’s pretty good to be honest with you, I think they did a great job. When someone covers a song that you have written, and first of all, a lot of people are attached to the sound of the original version, but as a song writer, I write songs not just with myself in mind, I mean that’s one of those songs that is a bona-fide hit song. We set records for longest running number one song on the rock charts here in the states, when that song was first released, so it really is a bona-fide hit song. So, to see 5 Finger Death Punch do a version of it, and a couple of years back two of the guys from Shinedown, did an acoustic version of that song, and what I would really like to see is a really popular country artist make a country hit out of it as well, because nothing really says hit like something that can transcend genres and it really is a testament to that song. It could be a really hard rock almost heavy metal song. It could be a blues-based song. In my mind it could be a country hit. That’s the sign of a real hit, you know. I’m very proud of that song, and I think those guys did a great job.
H2Z: Before we let you, go Kenny any final words for our readers and your fans in Australia?
KWS: Well it’s been a few years since we were there last. I’m really looking forward to coming back, as its one of my favourite places to play and also to come on a holiday. I mean, my wife is Australian, so we come there to visit her family, and I spend a lot of time in Australia. I love it there. I’m looking forward to seeing everybody and encourage everyone to get out the shows. I guarantee you will walk away a happy customer at the end of the night.
H2Z: Great Kenny, thanks so much for your time, and we look forward to seeing you in Australia soon
KWS: Thanks very much, see you then
KENNY WAYNE SHEPHERD BAND EAST COAST TOUR
WITH SPECIAL GUEST ASH GRUNWALD
Thursday 4 October Enmore Theatre, Sydney, NSW
Friday 5 October Eatons Hill Hotel, Brisbane, QLD
Saturday 6 October Forum, Melbourne, VIC
Our friends at TEG Live have given us a double pass for each to give away. What you need to do is
1. Make sure you like the Hear2Zen Facebook Page
2. Tell us the member of Government Mule that recorded with Kenny on Goin Home (Hint – You can find the answer by reading the interview) and which east coast city you want to attend (Sydney, Brisbane or Melbourne)
Email us your answer at email@example.com (with subject title “KWS Contest) along with proof of the page like.
Winners will be drawn 7pm Friday September 21st