Friday, 30 March 2012

A Bolt From The Blues

Published in the EG section of The Age (Friday March 30)
For online version, click here.

Kenny Wayne Shepherd

“I’d probably be behind the wheel of a race car,” states Kenny Wayne Shepherd emphatically when asked where he’d be if he’d never heard the blues growing up.  “I love automobiles, so I always felt if I wasn’t doing music, I’d be doing something with cars.”  It’s almost the quintessential childhood answer to the ‘What do you want to be when you grow up’ question – a race car driver, or a blues/rock guitar shredder.  Not an easy choice.

Luckily for himself perhaps, and certainly for fans of modern electric blues, the now 35-year-old Shepherd made the right decision.  Despite his young age (compared to the giants of the genre like Buddy Guy, BB King, Taj Mahal, Keb’ Mo’, Joe Louis Walker et al), Shepherd is a much respected player, and indeed, interpreter of this oldest of forms.

“Yeah, the blues is in everything I do, it’s the foundation of all my music,” he concurs, and he needn’t say more than that, as it shows – from debut record Ledbetter Heights (released in 1995 when Shepherd was just 18), to ‘Blue On Black’ the song on which he properly rose to prominence in 1997, to now releasing his sixth record, How I Go, Shepherd wears it, proudly, on his sleeve.

Having said that, How I Go, released late last year, sees this omnipresent guitarist in a state of flux.  Yes, the blues forms a base from which this music launches, but overall, the album is more considered, more mature perhaps – less shred, more thought.  “Yeah, I think so,” he muses.  “I mean, I’ve been touring and recording for two decades now and with that comes a bit of maturity.”

“It’s more [me broadening my songwriting and arranging] skills, and production skills,” Shepherd expands.  “I was really involved in this album, it’s the first one where I’ve been actually listed as a co-producer.”  He goes on to say that being “so immersed” in the record saw it move from him “constantly soloing” to “playing the right notes at the right time”, less flash, so to speak.  Playing the producer role was obviously a cathartic moment for him.

“Well yeah, I put a lot of work into this record, and I think the end result is really good,” he says, and it is.  For not only is it more mature, it’s a mark of the continuous evolution Shepherd has always strived for, within the blues he holds so dear.  Surely far more satisfying than driving a race car.

Samuel J. Fell

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