There are few artists whose names are synonymous with one instrument and how it’s played in service to an entire musical genre. Utter the phrase “young blues guitarist” within earshot of anyone with even a cursory knowledge of the modern musical vanguard and the first name they are most likely to respond with will be Kenny Wayne Shepherd. Still barely in his 30s, the Louisiana born songsmith has been selling millions of albums, throwing singles into the Top 10, shining a light on the rich blues of the past and forging ahead with his own modern twist on a classic sound he has embodied since his teens. He met Stevie Ray Vaughn at 7, shared the stage with New Orleans legend Bryan Lee at 13 and as an adult, he continues to create genre- defining blues-infused rock n’ roll.
Kenny Wayne Shepherd’s “How I Go” not only serves as a strong reminder of the chops that caused Guitar World to place him right behind B.B. King and Eric Clapton on their list of blues guitarists, but it’s the strongest indication yet of his gifted songwriting talent. The album pairs Kenny’s deeply soulful and impassioned takes on classic material like Bessie Smith’s “Backwater Blues,” Albert King’s “Oh, Pretty Woman” and The Beatles “Yer Blues” alongside the strongest writing and co-writing of his career thus far.
Let’s not forget that Kenny co-wrote “Blue on Black” very early on. The song was #1 on the Rock Charts for 17 consecutive weeks. All of the accolades heaped upon his playing are well deserved and well-earned but there is so much more to offer. “At this point, most people who know about me know I can play guitar,” Shepherd says. “As far as my approach to guitar on this record, it’s not about showing people how much I can play. It’s about really choosing the right notes and playing them at the right times so that every note penetrates people, and they feel it inside and it’s not just some fleeting thing that just goes right by them. “I wanted to be conservative, and selective, and tasteful in the solos that I did,” he adds. “I wanted to concentrate on the song as a whole: the vocals, the arrangements, so every instrument that is being played contributes to the song and takes it to a better place.”
The name “Kenny Wayne Shepherd” is absolutely synonymous with “young blues guitarist” but that phrase isn’t the totality of his person. “Blues player is definitely one of the labels I’ve accumulated, because I’m a huge blues fan and I love to play the blues,” he says. “But if you listen to my music, especially over the course of my career, everything that I do is not blues. It’s the foundation of what I do, but my stuff has a lot more of an edge to it. It’s a little more contemporary. And there’s a certain youthfulness to what I do. I started writing and recording music when I was a teenager and that energy has been consistent throughout my career.”
Kenny Wayne Shepherd is very cognizant of the emotional role music can play in the lives of his listeners. He’s in awe of that responsibility and works hard to bring happiness to people with his considerable gifts. With that said, he’s bound and determined to be remembered as a guy who just straight-up kicked a lot of butt. “I get up on stage every night to play my heart out and to try to turn people on their ear, man. I want to bring light into people’s lives with my music. If I can make people feel good for an hour and a half to two hours and forget about whatever might be stressing them out, then I’m doing my job.