Kenny Wayne Shepherd

More Trouble
Kenny Wayne Shepherd
Kenny Wayne Shepherd: Mark Seliger.

In 1997, the rock music being embraced by radio and MTV was primarily pop punk (Green Day), rap metal (Limp Bizkit), nu metal (Korn), alt rock (Radiohead), and Britpop (Oasis). It was not blues rock. But, thanks to the surprise success of Kenny Wayne Shepherd’s sophomore album, Trouble Is…, and its single/video “Blue on Black,” the genre surged. With 2022 marking a quarter-century since the album’s release, Shepherd has issued a complete re-recording, Trouble Is… 25.

What made you decide to re-record Trouble Is…?
There were a lot of reasons. There’s business reasons to it – Taylor Swift recorded songs from her catalog for business reasons. It’s revealing that some artists re-record their earlier material. But we had a whole thing planned; I knew I wanted to do a 25th anniversary tour where we were going to play the whole album in concert for the first time. Then I thought, “If we re-record this music, it’s better than rehearsal.” Also, this one holds special significance. It was a monumental record for us.

Did you have a sense that “Blue on Black” was a special song right away?
Yes. Without a doubt. Especially when it came down to mixing the record – we were in Burbank, and Tom Lord-Alge was mixing. We were all in the studio and played it. By the middle of the song, people’s wives and girlfriends were dancing around the studio. It was this really euphoric moment. And by the time the song was done, people were hugging and high-fiving. It was one of the more-incredible experiences I’ve had as far as music goes.

Which solos are you most proud of?
“Blue on Black” obviously – that’s the unique solo. John Mayer came up to me at the Hollywood Bowl when we were doing the Van Halen tour in 2015. He said, “You’re the only guy since Jimi Hendrix to get an Octavia on mainstream radio.” That guitar tone was something the record label was concerned about, but I didn’t want to bend on it. The solo itself is very abstract, like a jazz singer doing scat. It’s not melodic – it’s a free-form, free-flowing thing.

Another was the song “Slow Ride,” which won “Guitar Solo of the Year” from [a guitar magazine]. I was really proud of that, especially being an 18-/19-year-old guitar player.

What were your main guitars back then?
I’ve always been an old-school guy. Most of the songs were on my ’61 Strat – a rosewood slab-board. It’s pretty much all original except I put Graphtech saddles on it. I also picked up a ’59 hardtail Strat I used on a few, and I had two Custom Shop Strats. But I’d say 90 percent of the songs were played on the ’61.

Which amps and effects were you using?
I had a ’65 Twin reissue from the first series; it was a numbered limited edition before it became a regular production amp. And I had a ’64 blackface Vibroverb, and a Vibro King.
For effects, I used an original Univibe; I had an original TS808 [Ibanez Tube Screamer]. I found some old photos of us in the studio, and I’m sitting on the floor with my guitar in my lap, and in front of me plugged in is a silver Klon [Centaur].

And what are you using now?
I carry about 20 guitars on the road with me. On this tour, I have my ’59 hardtail, for some shows I have the original amps, all those same effects, and a regular pedalboard that has various reissues of those pedals. I also have my ’60 Les Paul sunburst. All of my regular amps were built by Alexander Dumble.

Do you think Trouble Is… helped keep blues-rock alive in the late ’90s?
I would say so. There was a real void when Stevie Ray passed away. And I wasn’t scheming to fill somebody’s shoes – especially not his. I was just playing music I loved to play, things fell into place, and I got an opportunity. I broke through to the mainstream. And when things like that happen, record companies start looking for other people to do it. So, it helped break down a lot of walls at radio for this music, and opened a lot of doors for other players at the time.

This article originally appeared in VG’s March 2023 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.

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