RUSHONROCK editor Simon Rushworth caught up with the guitar hero following his latest stint on the Experience Hendrix tour…
RUSHONROCK: Give us a flavour of what it’s like to work on the Jimi Hendrix tribute tour?
KENNY WAYNE SHEPHERD: We do the whole tour and we’ve been involved for a number of years. In fact we’ve been there from the beginning. It’s put on by the Jimi Hendrix estate – organised by Janie Hendrix – and the great thing about it is the really interesting range of guitar players who contribute. This year we had Zakk Wylde and in the past Steve Vai, Eric Johnson and Joe Satriani have been part of the tour. It’s always a really diverse group of musicians. That’s what I love about it. Buddy Guy has just been out with on the latest run and so has Jimi’s bass player Billy Cox. So you have someone who influenced Jimi, someone who played with Jimi and a bunch of guys, like me, who were influence by Jimi. It’s incredible to be part of it all. I’ve tried to persuade the organisers to take the tour beyond American but it hasn’t happened yet.
RUSHONROCK: What was your first experience of Hendrix?
KWS: I grew up listening to him. My dad played his records all of the time in the house. Both my mother and father went to see Jimi at Shreveport – before they met – and he made a huge impression on both of them. As a consequence he was a huge part of my childhood. I suppose like a lot of kids I learned how to play Purple Haze first off and after that I was hooked. I think one of the things he got off Buddy was the ability to play those ‘loud’ tones and to play with real intensity. He questioned convention and refused to allow his music to be kept in a box. That’s what appeals to so many guitarists – even now.
RUSHONROCK: How much of a thrill is it to share the stage with a legend like Buddy Guy – a musician you cover on your Goin’ Home album?
KWS: Obviously it’s pretty incredible. Throughout my career I’ve been fortunate to share stages with some amazing musicians. I’ve played with Buddy, the Stones, Van Halen – the lists is endless. Whether I’m in the studio or on the stage with these people it’s always an incredible experience. It’s always exciting to work with someone new and talented because it encourages you to try new things. That’s the coolest thing about collaborations. Things happen that just wouldn’t happen otherwise. But I don’t really get butterflies the first time I play with someone new. I don’t ever remember having stagefright – I just try and enjoy the moment.
RUSHONROCK: How important was it to make Goin’ Home (covers album celebrating Shepherd’s blues heroes) at this stage of your career?
KWS: As far as I’m concerned it was the perfect time. I’ve reached a milestone in my career and I wanted to mark that milestone. I signed my first record deal in 1993 and released my first album in 1995. I’ve been a professional recording artists for 20 years now and when I realised that landmark was approaching I started referencing my past and thinking about what got me here in the first place. I was thinking about all of the artists who influenced me and it just inspired me to make Goin’ Home – it’s an album that pays tribute to some of my biggest influences. We knew the artists we wanted to cover but we wanted to try and find some songs that hadn’t been covered a million times before and put our own stamp on those songs. The people who performed on that record are all friends of mine and most of the time it just came down to a phone call or a quick chat and they were happy to get involved. Everyone who appears on Goin’ Home likes the blues and appreciates the impact it’s had on various genres over the years. And of course they’re all very talented musicians.
RUSHONROCK: Blues is still associated with an older generation – even after 20 years in the business do you still feel under pressure to prove yourself as a relative newcomer?
KWS: It is a genre that’s still associated very much with the past and there are some traditional blues purists – whatever you want to call them – who are still holding out for that bygone era. But I think for the most part I’ve been around long enough now for people to respect who I am and what I do. I’m a grown man and the blues community has embraced me – especially since the 10 Days Out: Blues From The Backroad documentary came out in 2007. I think that showed just how much I live and breathe the blues. I think it’s interesting that, although the genre is 100 years old now, it’s still relevant. In many ways I think blues is healthier than ever. As long as there are younger people coming along who want to make a name for themselves as blues musicians then the genre will not only survive – it will thrive.
RUSHONROCK: What are the greatest challenges you face on the road?
KWS: It’s an interesting question but at this stage of my career I suppose it’s simply when a key piece of equipment fails. My goal every night is to put on the best possible show. I just want to give every bit of energy I have to the crowd and any technical problems interfere with my ability to do that. It’s so frustrating. How you deal with that reflects how professional you are. But I’m surrounded by a great team and a great band and we can get through most things. In the past jetlag has really affected my performance so this time we’re flying to the UK a day earlier to ensure we’re all properly acclimatised and in the best position possible to deliver the goods. There’s no drama these days – we’re all family men and we’re too old to party. There’s no sex, drugs, rock n roll on this tour!
RUSHONROCK: Does travelling the world inspire you as a songwriter?
KWS: Certainly my life experiences and the observations I make on the road inspire lyrics and the subject matter that underpins my songs. Right now I find myself full of gratitude on a daily basis – I’m grateful for so many things. I have healthy children and a beautiful wife and I’m able to make a living doing the job I love. That’s all reflected in my music. There’s a popular misconception that blues is all about doom and gloom but if you do your homework there’s often a message of hope in there. There are some very positive aspects to the blues.
Image courtesy of Mark Seliger