Kenny Wayne Shepherd

Labor of Love

Kenny Wayne Shepherd
Kenny Wayne Shepherd: Mark Seliger.
Kenny Wayne Shepherd called his latest record, Goin’ Home because, he says, “It was another opportunity for me to share with music fans my love and appreciation for the genre of music that inspired me to pick up the guitar in the first place.”

That music is the blues, and the disc features tunes associated with stalwarts of the music – Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley, Stevie Ray Vaughan…

“Every few years, I do a project like this because blues are very personal to me. Fans and musicians have been so nice, and inspirational to me, so it’s a show of appreciation.”

Shepherd had a relatively easy time picking songs for the album.

“I made a list of my biggest influences and started going through their catalogs, trying to find songs that hadn’t been covered a million times. I wanted songs that were still relevant, lyrically, and had good grooves. I chose two from each of my heroes, based on what I thought would make a great-sounding album from beginning to end, with each song contributing something different.”

The arrangements were done in the studio.

“The goal was to maintain the integrity and spirit of the original recording, then interject some of our own personality and vibe into it.”

Shepherd is joined by a number of guests on the record, including Warren Haynes, Joe Walsh, Robert Randolph, Keb’ Mo’, Kim Wilson, Ringo Starr, and The Rebirth Brass Band.

“That just happened on its own. It was never intended to be a duet record or to see how many people we could get to play. Literally, those are just friends I ran into and told them about the record. Everyone on the record is obviously a great musician, and they all have a deep appreciation and understanding of blues music. They all contributed something unique and significant to the track they played on.”

One name that may come as a surprise on that list is that of the former drummer for a little band called The Beatles. But, Shepherd says it shouldn’t. “He’s a huge blues fan and aficionado. He really loves, understands, and appreciates blues music. To me, he was an obvious choice.”

Those familiar with his past won’t be surprised by the guitars Shepherd used on the record.

“It was really pretty much just a Stratfest. I had my ’61, ’59, and ’58 Strats, all of which got used. I also used my Fender Signature Series Strat on a lot of the songs. I was very, very happy with the sound I was getting out of it.”

An ES-330 can be heard on one song, as well as a guitar of uncertain origin – a hollowbody that doesn’t belong to him, but was hanging around in the studio. All the acoustic parts were played on his signature Martin guitar.

The amps heard on the album were mostly those modified or built by Alexander Dumble. “I have a ’65 Fender Bandmaster head that he modified,” Shepherd said. “I used a ’57 tweed Deluxe that he calls the Tweedle-Dee Deluxe that he built for me, as well. I also have a couple of original blackface ’64 Vibroverbs that he re-worked for me that sound absolutely incredible. We used whichever combination of amps that sounded appropriate for each track.”

Shepherd’s guitar sound wasn’t modified a whole lot. “Some of the solos are just me straight into the amp. I wanted to keep it real and not get too crazy with it. The idea was to maintain that integrity and spirit of the originals, so we recorded the songs the way they likely were recorded when they were originally done. The whole band set up in the big room together. Everything was cut live. The end result, I think, is a pretty authentic sound.”

When he did use effects, it was pretty basic. “I used an original Vox Clyde McCoy Wah Pedal, an Ibanez Tube Screamer, and an Octavia pedal.”

Shepherd is maintaining a schedule that would make other performers feel either very tired or very envious; he and the band recently played for the Austin City Limits Hall of Fame and Anniversary Concert, and he is going to Europe before coming back to the U.S. to tour in support of the new record. After that, he rejoins the Experience Hendrix Tour, which he’s been part of for the past several years, then hits the road again with his band until the end of 2014. All of which is fine with him.

“It’s great to be busy. Busy playing music, man. It really doesn’t get much better than that.”

Kenny Wayne Shepherd’s paying back should help keep the blues around for many more years.


This article originally appeared in VG August 2014 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.