No Dead Air
" BluesWax Sittin' In With Kenny Wayne Shepherd†
By Bob Putignano

Kenny Wayne Shepherd recently released his first live recording, his first for Roadrunner Records; itís a particularly hot affair, too. Check out what Shepherd had to say about this fine new disc, career highlights, artistic influences, Derek Trucks, and more in this telling interview with from Shepherd, one of the bright lights and potentially key players in the direction of blues music.†

Bob Putignano for BluesWax: How you doing Kenny?†

Kenny Wayne Shepherd: Iím doing good, Bob. How are you?†

BW: Allís good here, thanks, and happy to be chatting with you for the first time on WFDU and for BluesWax.com.†

KWS: My pleasure to be here.†

BW: Iíve been waiting for you to do a live record like this for a really long time. This Live! In Chicago disc is just hair-raising.†

KWS: I appreciate your comments. Iíve been making records since my mid teens, and our fans have been asking for a while to put out a live record, which is what we are known for Ė our live performances. I was just waiting for the right opportunity to do this, and I think we got that with this new recording.†

BW: You grabbed it well, plus it was nice that you mixed it up with special guest spots with some of your blues heroes, too.†

KWS: What that did was enable us to put out a record with some new material, as most people put out live albums thatíre mostly their older hits and/or fan favorites. So when we had the guests came in, it was the first time weíd recorded these blues classics, which is a brand new listening experience for our fans and unique, too. So what we get is an amount of songs that weíve never released, and half of previously recorded studio tracks.†

BW: Plus the sequencing is well laid out. Your band comes out and you are just slamming.†

KWS: Thatís my style; I like to come out swinging hard. Thatís what we do every night, a pretty hefty one-two punch. We like to hit hard with the first three or four songs and set the tone for some furious music.†

BW: Iíve seen you several times and youíre right, your band does not beat around the bush and you get to hitting things off from the opening notes. I think I saw you at the ultimate setting in Tremblant, Quebec, in Canada this summer and, man, what a show!†

KWS: For people that have never been there, Tremblant was a wonderful place for us to play. The setting is just absolutely beautiful, we all had a great time, and I think the fans got off on it, too.†

BW: Later that night after your performance, and the next day, the buzz of your show was everywhere. People were talking about it, and some even said, ďI hope the Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band comes back next year.Ē That encore you did seemingly went on forever, and if I remember correctly that somewhere in the mix you did a Peter Green tune?†

KWS: Yeah, thatís an old Fleetwood Mac tune called ďOh Well.Ē That tune always goes over so well with the crowds we play in front of.†

BW: Being that you are only in your early thirties, itís neat that youíve done your homework and research about these classic tunes.†

KWS: Well, thatís true. I grew up listening to the blues and rock Ďní roll, plus all kinds of music, so my roots go pretty far back. I feel pretty well versed, and I think that shines through with the music that I write and play.†

BW: And you seem very comfortable shifting and sifting through all of this.†

KWS: My dad was in radio. He was a program director and general manager of several radio stations. Iíve watched him and learned what it takes to put together a good set list of music. He was always very conscious and aware about the flow of the music he programmed, like which song went well with the next song kind of stuff, always trying to keep the tempos changing to keep it interesting for the listener. So I built my live show around that same theory, picking the right moments to hit the crowd hard and choosing spots to slow it down a bit, too.†

BW: I understand that concept well, as I constantly try to look for that ultimate on-air segue.†

KWS: Absolutely! So obviously you noticed we have a lot of hand-picked segues in our set. There are a lot of bands that are great about shifting from one song to the next and thatís really important to keep it interesting for ourselves and for the audience. A concert has to flow, and ultimately we are the ones that have control about how our live set should be orchestrated.†

BW: And leave the crowd wanting for more. A lot of people are not plugged into the flow and segue of songs. It really is kind of a lost art and I am happy you are hip to this technique. Even if the crowd is not totally aware of what you are doing, I do believe they get it kind of sublimely.†

KWS: Right on! Being on radio, you know how that is. I know the worst thing in the world is having the dreaded dead air, which may only be for a few seconds, but five seconds can feel like an eternity. I feel the same way about my live concerts. I donít want too much downtime in between songs. I want to keep things moving, keep peopleís attention. Iím not a fan of dead air anywhere, and that also applies when Iím onstage.†

BW: Sweet. I donít think you have any live DVDs, correct? †

KWS: We have not put one out yet. Right now weíre working on a new studio album and scheduling to have that out in February or March of 2011. Once itís released weíll get out on the road and do a full-fledged year to year-and-a-half tour to support the new disc. So I think that will be a great time to film some of those shows for a live DVD.†

BW: Youíve got my vote! Your Web site is? †

KWS: www.KennyWayneShepherd.net Come to think of it, you what we do have is a DVD/CD called 10 Days Out (Blues From the Backroads). We went through the South and met up with a lot of my heroes and went to their houses and set up in their living rooms or back porches. So we made a record out of that and a documentary film, too. There are a lot of live performances on that, so if you donít have that, itís a pretty cool DVD to own. Fifteen tracks all recorded live on location at peoplesí houses and such. Itís really cool. You get to meet some my heroes, like B.B. King, Clarence ďGatemouthĒ Brown, some of the guys that played in Muddy Watersí band and Howliní Wolfís band. Then thereís blues musicians that you probably never heard of before. Iím proud that we were nominated for two Grammys and won a bunch of awards for that.†

BW: Did you put that out yourself? †

KWS: We did it through Warner Brothers Reprise, but it was a brainchild of mine. Thereís actually a Web site called http://www.tendaysout.net where you can see a preview of the documentary, and some of the guest artists that participated.†

BW: Oh, now I remember, Hubert Sumlin told me about your documentary, but I never got my hands on a copy, and now I need to get one.†

KWS: Yeah, check it out. I think youíll enjoy it.† ďI donít want too much downtime in between songs. I want to keep things moving, keep peopleís attention. Iím not a fan of dead air anywhere, and that also applies when Iím on stage.Ē

BW: Your dad has been pretty involved with your entire process and evolution? †

KWS: Yeah, my dad actually retired from radio around the time I signed my first record deal and dedicated his life to managing me. Weíve been doing this together for almost twenty years now. I signed my first record deal in 1993. I really value our time together doing this with my dad, especially in this record industry where it is good to have family around.†

BW: Youíve got that right about the record industry where it has to be important to have your dadís experience and smarts about all thatís involved.†

KWS: Besides being involved with radio, my dad also did concert promotions. He also had his own independent record label at one point and managed other artists, so he was prepared of what was to come with my career.†

BW: And your dadís first name? †

KWS: His name is Ken, too.

† BW: Want to make sure he gets his creds, too.

† KWS: He gets that all of the time!

† BW: Now, you moved out west and are not in Louisiana anymore?

† KWS: Yeah, Iím living out in California now, and Iíve got to tell you that you just cannot beat the weather. I love Louisiana, which is my roots and everything, but the humidity, manÖ†

BW: Iíve been in Louisiana in the summer and I understand.†

KWS: But I go back there a lot. My family still lives there. I go there just enough to keep everyone happy.†

BW: A couple more questions before I let you go. How long has the current configuration of your band been together?†

KWS: About six years for the exact current band configuration. Noah Hunt Ė who sings most of the lead vocals Ė we are coming up on fifteen years of working together.†

BW: Noah really impresses me.†

KWS: He sure can belt it out. The keyboard player, Riley Osbourn, has played with Willie Nelson and Lyle Lovett over the years. He has been with me for almost six years. Our bass player, Scott Nelson, joined the band right around the same time as Osbourn. Chris Layton from Stevie Ray & Double Trouble was on my first record since around 1995 and has been my fulltime drummer for over six years. I have to say this is the greatest band Iíve had in my entire career. Tommy Shannon sits in with us from time to time, as well.†

BW: Nice to have that Stevie Ray connection.†

KWS: Absolutely! Stevie Ray was the single most [important] reason I picked up the guitar and learned to play. The first time I met Stevie I was just seven years old, and the last time was when I was thirteen, which was not long before he passed. Stevie autographed my first Stratocaster for me; Double Trouble was my band before I had a band. Everyday I would practice and play along to their CDs! When it came time for me to play with them, Reese Wynans also came along, too. It was just so natural.†

BW: What an underrated player that Reese Wynans is.†

KWS: For sure.†

BW: Now the obvious question that I have to ask, and I know the answer[s] probably change from week to week, but if you had to choose a handful or two of players who influenced you, who would they be?†

KWS: Some of the biggest influences of what I do would be B.B. King, Albert King, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jim Hendrix, Albert Collins. Those guys are just some of my biggest influences. In my rhythm playing I like to call on some the James Brown grooves. Bottom line is I like to have a lot of diverse influences.†

BW: Thatís the way it should be, shouldnít it? †

KWS: Absolutely! If you are a musician, you should be able to learn for all types of music.†

BW: I love the fact that there are some musicians like yourself who are younger and carrying the blues forward. We need guys like you Kenny, as well as artists like Derek Trucks. We need to keep the youth coming at the blues. The future is in the hands of artists like you.†

KWS: Thereís constantly new players being introduced to the blues and rock, and I think itís in good hands. You mentioned Derek Trucks who has to be the best slide player who is playing that instrument right now.†

BW: You are preaching to the choir, Kenny. Have you and Derek hooked up and jammed?†

KWS: Yeah, I just saw Derek a couple of weeks ago at an event sponsored by the Guitar Center. Weíve shared the stage together a couple of times and heís just a tremendous player!†

BW: Heís got that jazz thing going on, too.†

KWS: Oh, I know!†

BW: Iíve taken enough of your time. I will be looking forward to seeing you here in the New York City area as part of the Experience Hendrix tour, and even more so as the Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band.†

KWS: Thanks. Weíve got a lot of fans out on the East Coast and look forward to coming there with the Hendrix tour, and doing a full Kenny Wayne Shepherd show, as well. For your listening audience I hope they check out my new CD Live! In Chicago on Roadrunner Records. They will not be disappointed.†

BW: They certainly will not be disappointed. It will probably be in my Top Ten for 2010; a lot of it just blows my head off.†

KWS: Thank you, Bob.†

BW: Keep the good music coming, Kenny. Thank you! † Bob Putignano: www.SoundsofBlue.com