KENNY WAYNE SHEPHERD
10 Days Out…Blues from the Backroad
Promo Tour, Sparks, NV Dec. 2006
by Todd Smith
Watching Kenny Wayne Shepherd grow into a world-class blues guitarist has been quite a thrill. In the early days, some twelve years back, most thought he was the product of an over anxious record label pushing out the next guitar god-wanna-be ala Eric Clapton. In the miles since, KWS has come into his own style of blues-based rock while still keenly aware of the lessons taught at the feet of Stevie Ray Vaughan. Born in the late seventies just outside Shreveport, Louisiana Shepherd picked up the guitar at the tender age of seven. Late at night the youngster could be found plucking out rudimentary chords while listening to his father’s Muddy Waters records. By 13 he was playing onstage with New Orleans bluesman Brian Lee, but no one inspired him more than Texan bluesman Stevie Ray Vaughan.
This year Shepherd turns thirty, and to celebrate, he is releasing a deeply personal documentary of his exploration of the blues throughout the south. Packaged as a CD and DVD, 10 Days Out…Blues from the Backroad has him sitting in with some of the greatest names of the blues on both a regional and national level. Names like B. B. King, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, and Hubert Sumlin whose careers reach back to the earliest days of blues. Then there are guys (and gals) like Pinetop Perkins, Henry Townsend, Honeyboy Edwards, Cootie Stark, Neal Pattman, and Etta Baker who share their insight. As a bit of a teaser and some shameless promotion, Shepherd brought his band to John Ascuaga’s Nugget just outside of Reno to showcase highlights from the film and run through a nice warn up set of KWS classics.
As the lights dimmed, a twelve minute trailer for the documentary projected on to a large silver screen. It was just enough to pump the sold-out crowd and apply a marketing spin for the records January (23rd) release date. When the film faded, Shepherd and band took the stage roaring into “Born with a Broken Heart” off Ledbetter Heights (1995). The set list was a typical mix of Kenny Wayne’s four albums. Nothing new from 10 Days Out…Blues From the Backroad, but a couple nice surprises in a reworking of Elmore James’ “Dust My Broom” and the obscure encore “King Bee.” With a white Fender balanced over his hip, a flurry of notes streaming from the amps, and the occasional grimace contorting his face, the guitarist did justice to the Howlin’ Wolf standard “I’m Leaving You,” his self-penned “Shame, Shame, Shame” and “The Place You’re In.”
Shepherd’s confident swagger is always impressive as he truly thrives in front of an audience. He surrounds himself with equal talent borrowing Double Trouble/Arc Angel skin-man Chris Layton and bassist Scott Nelson to hold down the bottom end. The well-aged Ricky Osborne layers in a haunting late ‘60s early ‘70s organ vibe throughout adding just enough texture and nostalgia to Shepherd’s grinding guitar. Noah Hunt, the band’s underrated raspy singer is the one musician that could steal the geetar-slinger’s spotlight. A mix between Gregg Allman, Paul Rodgers and Joe Walsh, he easily handles a wide range of vocal challenges from thick Louisiana blues to Texas-seared boogie. A true expressionist, Hunt can crawl into an 80-year old black man’s skin or embrace the nuances of ‘70s classic rock. It’s all there in “Long Gone,” “True Lies” and the massive radio hit “Blue on Black”.
Kenny Wayne Shepherd is one of the few platinum-selling blues artists out there. Most blues players never achieve that level of commercial success; much less ones that are still relatively young. His live show remains vibrant because he is constantly pushing, pushing himself, his band and his audience. The group’s smoking rendition of “Shotgun Blues” and the extended jam of the Jimi Hendrix masterpiece “Voodoo Child” puts them in a world class all their own. Yet, for Shepherd this is only the beginning. After his rock foray with 2004’s The Place You’re In, he set out to rediscover his love of the blues. He hired producer Jerry Harrison (Talking Heads) to join himself and director Noble Jones and record the people behind the music and the players behind the music. The goal was to get intimate recordings in intimate places, and maintain authenticity with no overdubs and no high-tech fixing.
“Live as it went down,” says Shepherd in his press release. “What happened is what you hear. We kept it as real as possible.” The 10 Days Out...Blues from the Backroad DVD lays bare that truth, taking the viewer into the small rooms, the kitchens, the dense woods where this music was made. “I was trying to convey the place that produced this kind of music,” says director Noble Jones, “the elements that came together to produce the blues, the environment these people came from and how it weighed on them.” After watching a craftsman apply his trade in front of this frontier town, one anticipates where the mesmerizing guitarist will go next.
Website: Kenny Wayne Shepherd