Since bursting onto the scene with his debut smash ‘Ledbetter Heights’, guitarist Kenny Wayne Shepherd has sold millions of records, received five Grammy nominations and scored six #1 blues albums, including his acclaimed CD/documentary project ’10 Days Out: Blues from the Backroads’. In 2010, Shepherd even had the rare opportunity of playing the same Fender Stratocaster Jimi Hendrix most notably made famous during his performance at the Woodstock Festival in August of 1969.
For Shepherd’s new album, “Goin’ Home” (Release date: May 20th) we find the blues wizard returning to his hometown of Shreveport, Louisiana to revisit a dozen vintage blues classics. Songs that first ignited Shepherd’s passion for guitar as well as his desire to make music his life. Shepherd’s guitar prowess brilliantly shines through on songs originally popularized by such Blues icons as B.B. King, Albert King, Muddy Waters, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Buddy Guy and Junior Wells.
In addition to contributions by Shepherd’s electrifying band, which consists of singer Noah Hunt, ex-Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble drummer Chris Layton, former Firm bassist Tony Franklin and keyboardist Riley Osbourn; Goin’ Home also features performances by Joe Walsh, Warren Haynes as well as Shepherd’s longtime friend, Ringo Starr.
I spoke with Shepherd about the new album and what he loved most about goin’ home.
What made you decide to do a record like this?
Over the course of my career I’ve always tried to give a special nod to my Blues roots. Projects like ‘Ten Days Out’ and even my ‘Live! in Chicago’ record where we had Hubert Sumlin and Willie “Big Eye” Smith playing on them were all about me showing my love and appreciation for the Blues. The whole point of ‘Goin’ Home’ was me returning to my musical roots. Listening to and playing the music by the artists that inspired me and made me want to play guitar. Literally going back to my hometown where I first heard all of this music and making a record there. It was a musical homecoming for me and one of the most enjoyable studio experiences I’ve ever had.
Tell me a little bit about the way you recorded the album.
For this album, I really wanted to do it old school. We didn’t have anyone sit isolated in booths. Everyone sat in a big room in the studio and we did it together. There were even times when the guitar amp would bleed over into the drum mics and the drums would come through on the vocal mic, but that’s the way they did it back in the day. We did everything the old-fashioned way in order to maintain a level of authenticity to the music.
What was your criteria for choosing songs?
I wanted to be sure that we didn’t make an album full of songs that have already been recorded a million times. In fact, the most mainstream song on the entire record is the Albert King song “Born Under A Bad Sign”. From a lyrical perspective, I also wanted the lyrics to sound relevant and current. The grooves and musical structure was important as well. I really wanted to choose songs where you would have to dig deeper into these artist’s catalogs in order to find. Hopefully, that will inspire the people who listen to the album to do a little digging of their own.
Did you try to stay true to the original versions of the songs when you recorded them?
We wanted to keep the spirit and intention of the original versions but also took a few creative liberties to add a little bit of our own personality. The sounds in the song ‘Palace Of The King’ are very similar to the original whereas Muddy Waters’ song ‘Still a Fool’ is the one we ventured the furthest from the original on. We really electrified it and took it in more of a Blues Rock direction.
There’s no shortage of special guests on this album (Ringo Starr, Joe Walsh, Warren Haynes). What was it like working with them on this project?
It worked out really well. Everyone who played on this record is a friend of mine. They’re all huge fans of the Blues and each one of them really contributed something significant. They took the songs to a whole other level.
What inspired you to pick up the guitar?
I’ve always been drawn to the guitar from as far back as I can remember, but it wasn’t until I met Stevie Rae Vaughan for the first time that everything changed. I remember he sat me up on an amp case and I got to watch him play his entire show from the side of the stage. Watching him perform is what really motivated me. I saw him and it made me want to play with that same passion and intensity.
A few years ago you had the opportunity to play Jimi Hendrix’s “Woodstock Strat”. What was that experience like?
It was amazing. Every guitar player on the planet would die to get their hands on that guitar even for just a minute. It’s one of the most iconic guitars ever made and it was an honor and a pleasure getting to have that opportunity. The guitar itself had tons of vibe. It was just incredible.
What advice would you give to up and coming guitarists?
Ultimately, practice is the best thing but in my opinion the best practice you can get is by playing on a stage with other human beings. Sitting around your house playing along to records is great but it can only take you so far. It’s a whole different story when you can get on a stage and interact with other musicians. Even if you don’t have a band, just put yourself out there. Go find a local open mic night or a blues jam and play with other people. It will really take your playing to a whole new level.
What makes the blues so special?
To me, it’s the honesty and self-expression of the music. It comes from a very organic place and is something that everyone can relate to. It’s not always about how flashy you can be or how fast you can play or how odd or unexpected the arrangements are. It’s really all about playing the right notes at the right time and trying to touch someone’s soul. It’s real salt of the Earth music that crosses all boundaries. That’s what makes it so special.
For more on Kenny Wayne Shepherd: http://www.kennywayneshepherd.net/