Coronavirus is bringing chaos to the national music scene. Many national acts have begun to cancel tours with upcoming festivals left in limbo as to if they will happen, and Mobile is no exception. Buddy Guy and Kenny Wayne Shepherd were scheduled to play the Saenger until the Jewel on Joachim announced the show’s postponement last week.
Before the show was postponed, Lagniappe Music Editor Stephen Centanni talked with Shepherd about the show and his latest album. At that time, Shepherd was more concerned for his health after a recent surgery than the coronavirus pandemic.
Steve Centanni: You just recovered from a surgery not too long ago. How does it feel to get back out on the road?
Kenny Wayne Shepherd: Well, I’m looking forward to it. I love playing music. I’m waiting to find out how animated and mobile that I can be. I’m taking it easy right now and walking slower than I normally would. It remains to be seen how I can adapt on stage. Eventually, I’ll be back at 100 percent. Thankfully, I didn’t have to have surgery on my hands or any other part of what it takes to play guitar. So, that’s good.
Centanni: You’re not a stranger to touring with Buddy Guy. What’s it like going out on tour with him?
Shepherd: Man, it’s amazing! He’s really a living legend. In my opinion, he’s a real national treasure for us. He’s one of the last direct links that we have to the Chicago blues era and the first generation of electric blues musicians like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf and B.B. King. He’s an incredible guy and a great musician. He’s well into his 80s and has more energy than a lot of young people have. Anytime that we get to do something with Buddy, it’s an honor and pleasure.
Centanni: You released your first album before you were out of your teens. One thing that I notice about blues fans is that they tend to go crazy for the young teen blues guitarist. After they get older, they tend to be shuffled to the side and lose their novelty. You haven’t experienced that. You continue to have success. How does it feel to still be doing this?
Shepherd: For me, it’s a testament to the genre and the fans that we have. You can get interest being a young artist and having the whole child prodigy label. Initially, that would generate some interest in an artist that they wouldn’t get otherwise. Ultimately, the talent has to speak for itself. Thankfully, when I was a kid, it wasn’t all just hype. The music and the writing and the quality was there to back it up.
If you’re a real artist and love what you do with this music, there is a potential to have a lifelong career. Buddy Guy is a perfect example. He’s in his 80s and playing blues to a lot of people every night. You can’t do that with every genre. I’m thankful that I chose the blues, and the blues chose me. I’m really thankful for the fans that we’ve had that have supported us for so long.
Centanni: Speaking about the quality of music, every album that you have released has hit the number one spot on the “U.S. Blues” chart, including your latest, “The Traveler.” What do you think it is about your style of blues that has continued to bring you success?
Shepherd: I don’t know, man. I think that we just try and do something that’s new and try to infuse a fresh take on the genre. At the same time, we’re trying to stay true to the roots and all the artists that have inspired me to do the things that I do. I’ve gone into the studio and written the songs that I have been inspired to write and recorded the albums that I’m inspired to record. That’s worked for us, so far. So, that’s what I keep on doing.
Centanni: What made you want to call this one “The Traveler?”
Shepherd: The title came from the song “Tailwind.” We took it from the lyrics in that song. The message in that song is about universal acceptance and love. Ultimately, the journey that we’re traveling is life. We come from different backgrounds and places, but we’re all still people trying to get through life one day at a time. The chorus says, “Hey, fellow travelers, keep traveling.” It represents who I am as an artist.
Since I was a kid, I’ve been making music and traveling the world and bringing my music to people. That’s pretty much what my life is all about. There’s family, and then there’s the fans. We’re bringing this music to the fans. We’ve been around the world several times as a result of me picking up my guitar as a kid. I thought it was representative of not only me but also all those people in the band and organization that travel with me as well.
Centanni: This one is filled with that signature Kenny Wayne Shepherd blues rock. What do you think people are going to get off this album that they haven’t gotten from previous releases?
Shepherd: I think there’s new material and new sounds. Every time we do a record, we try to do something different. We don’t want to keep putting out a different version of the same album. Every record is unique and stands on its own. It’s got a nice balance of contemporary blues and also has a nice balance of a little more aggressive blues rock. Ultimately, there’s solid songwriting and top-shelf musicianship. The performances are up there with anyone that you’d want to compare it to. It’s us doing our best, which is what we do.
Centanni: You brought producer Marshall Altman into the studio, who you’ve worked with before. What did he bring to the table that made you want to work with him again?
Shepherd: Marshall and I have a solid working relationship and a great amount of respect for each other, which I think is key. He brings certain elements to the table, and I bring other elements to the table. Combined, we have a winning combination. He’s there every day in the trenches.
Centanni: What’s next for Kenny Wayne Shepherd?
Shepherd: You know, we’re just hitting the road and bringing music to the people. We’ve already been in the studio and putting the final touches on a new record. I don’t know when we’re going to release that yet, whether it will be this year or next year, but it’s happening. We have the entire year booked full of dates already. We’re looking forward to more of the same, which is making music and bringing it to the people.
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