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Kenny Wayne Shepherd - The Blues in Great Hands

Issue #16

Fashions come and go but the Blues lives-on, spawning a succession of fabulous guitarists like Kenny Wayne Shepherd.
Levi Clay

Fashions come and go but the Blues lives-on, spawning a succession of fabulous guitarists like Kenny Wayne Shepherd. Stuart Bull meets the Strat-wielder familiarly abbreviated to just KWS. Levi Clay delivers a career profile.

Just when you think there can't be any more Blues players treading in the footsteps of players from Robert Johnson to Stevie Ray Vaughan, along comes another. Take Kenny Wayne Shepherd, for example. While in his homeland, the US, he's a huge deal, with scores of adoring fans, best selling albums, chart records, award nominations and his own signature Fender. For some reason, while in Europe and the UK he can sell out shows, he's still overlooked by all facets of media, which we at GI insist is a gross injustice - not just for Kenny, but for the endless number of Blues guitar lovers this side of the pond who may never have heard this superstar of the genre.

Born in Louisiana back in 1977, Shepherd picked up the guitar at a very young age, seven in his case. Being completely self taught (he's a non-reader), the young Kenny would sit down with his cheap Yamaha faux Strat and a cassette tape to studiously try to copy licks, a note at a time, by players like Muddy Waters, Albert Lee and Stevie Ray Vaughan.

The Stevie Ray influence cannot be ignored in Kenny's playing. In fact, that alone will be enough of a reason to run out and check this guy out. Your first point of call should be Kenny's cover of the classic Blues tune Backwater Blues, from 2011's How I Go. A great example of Kenny grooving along with a Texas shuffle feel before launching into a solo which would be perfectly at home on Texas Flood. That said. KWS is no SRV clone.


It was at the tender age of 13 that he got his first break, appearing with blind New Orleans Bluesman Bryan Lee. Prior to this Shepherd had had a hard time trying to get anyone to take him seriously, but as Bryan Lee later said, “I think what did it was that I didn't see you, as a blind person I only heard you” going on to make the poignant remark, “A lot of time with music, people should just close their eyes, and forget all the visual aspects of it.”

At the age of just 18 KWS recorded his debut album, Ledbetter Heights. The album was a huge hit, shifting half a million copies in its first year and going platinum just a few years later. The album sat at the top of the top of the US Blues chart for an astounding 20 weeks. It's full of great songs and is a must own for any fan of the Blues, a quick listen to tunes like Shame, Shame, Shame and Everybody Gets the Blues should have you on Amazon in seconds.

From there, Shepherd has gone on to record five more albums, 1997s Trouble Is..., 1999s Live On, 2004s The Place You're In, 2007s 10 Days Out: Blues From The Backroads and 2011s How I Go. Of this impressive list, every single one reached number one on the US Blues charts, three went platinum and one went gold and he earned himself an impressive five Grammy nominations. All this along with opening slots for the likes of the Rolling Stones, Aerosmith, Bob Dylan, the Eagles, Van Halen and many more!

When it comes to gear, as we've already mentioned, Shepherd has his own line of signature KWS Fender Stratocasters, though he also has a Jimi Hendrix Monterey Pop limited edition which he likes to use too and an SRV Strat - but in short you're going for a Strat for sure to cop his tone. Let's be honest - he's most famous for his original '61 and '59 Strats and how many of us can afford one of those? For amps, Shepherd uses various Fender models, including a blackface Vibroverb, a '57 Tweed Twin reissue, a Supersonic and an Alexander Dumble modded Deluxe Reissue. He's big on effects pedals too, using a host of drives, fuzz, a univibe, phaser, wah, chorus, octavias and delay with a collection that would make your eyes water. You could look for old TS 808s, Klon pedals, Analogman mods and originals, vintage fuzz pedals etc, but on a budget though, a nice multi effects unit would do the job.

Kenny Wayne Shepherd is currently out on the road promoting 2011's How I Go, with Noah Hunt on vocals, Tony Franklin on bass, Chris Layton on drums and Riley Osbourn on Hammond and keys, which is when GI's Stuart Bull caught up with him. Watch the video for some words of wisdom!

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