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Bio : Kenny Wayne Shepherd
"We're all fellow travelers in this thing called life," asserts Kenny Wayne Shepherd. "We've been around the world many times over, and it's the music and our fans that have taken us there. We've been able to do things and see things and go places that were just a dream at one point, and it's all because of the music and the people who support it."
Indeed, the Louisiana native has covered a lot of ground in his near-quarter-century career, and his new album The Traveler, set for release on May 31, 2019 via Concord Records, is a consistently compelling manifestation of Shepherd's multiple talents. Both a world-class guitarist with deep roots in the blues, and a singularly charismatic songwriter and performer, Shepherd has built an incredibly accomplished resume that reflects his lifelong love for the blues.
Along the way, he's sold millions of albums worldwide and received five GRAMMY® nominations, two Billboard Music Awards, as well as a pair of Orville H. Gibson awards, the Blues Foundation's Keeping The Blues Alive award, and two Blues Music awards. He's scored seven #1 blues albums and a string of #1 mainstream rock singles.
The ten-songs on The Traveler feature some of the most distinctive and resonant music of Shepherd's career. Such new originals as "Woman Like You," "Long Time Running," "I Want You," "Gravity" and "Tailwind" (whose heartfelt lyrical metaphor provides the album's title image) offer a scintillating balance of finesse and firepower, while the artist pays tribute to his influences with a pair of inventive cover versions. The seed for Shepherd's menacing take on Buffalo Springfield's classic "Mr. Soul" was planted when he performed the song at a benefit show with Springfield founders Stephen Stills and Neil Young, and his epic reading of Joe Walsh's "Turn to Stone" was first performed by Shepherd at a fundraising concert honoring Walsh.
"I like albums to have their own identity, and I don't want to be one of those artists where you know what it's going to sound like before you even hear it," Shepherd notes. "I want the new material to be original and give the listener something different. A lot of these songs represent stories I’ve picked up on the road, and the experiences we’ve had along the way."
The Traveler once again showcases some world-class musicians: vocalist Noah Hunt, drummer Chris "Whipper" Layton (formerly of Stevie Ray Vaughan's Double Trouble), bassist Kevin McCormick, and keyboardists Jimmy McGorman and Joe Krown.
Making this album was an interesting process," states Shepherd. "I was home for a few months, and I wanted to spend some time with my family and not do any work for a while. But then we had a run of ten shows on the West Coast, so I figured, while I've got everybody out there, let's be productive and make another record. As usual, I tracked more songs than we needed, but the good ones usually rise to the top, and those are the ones you finish."
That restless creativity has driven Kenny Wayne Shepherd ever since he taught himself to play guitar at the age of seven. He was just 16 when he burst onto the national scene with his platinum 1995 debut album Ledbetter Heights and the subsequent Trouble Is…, Live On and The Place You're In. For 2007's ambitious CD/documentary project 10 Days Out: Blues from the Backroads, for which Shepherd and his band traveled throughout the American South to record with a roster of blues icons.
2010 saw the release of Shepherd's first live album, Live! In Chicago; it debuted at #1 on Billboard's Blues chart, as did 2011's How I Go. Shepherd then delivered one of his most personal projects to date with 2014's Goin' Home, on which he revisited a dozen of the vintage blues classics that had originally inspired him to pick up the guitar. Goin' Home and 2017's Lay It On Down were Shepherd's first albums recorded in his hometown of Shreveport, Louisiana.
"The main thing is to catch the essence of the live shows," Shepherd says of his recording philosophy. "We're a live band, and when people listen to our records, I want them to hear what we sound like when we play live. As far as my playing goes, I'm still refining my approach, and learning that it's not about showing off or how flashy you can play. It's about serving the song and playing what's right emotionally. I want to move people in the depths of their souls, and to stir my own spirit. The only way I know how to do that is to get everyone recording together in the same room, and everyone's making eye contact. That's how spontaneous moments happen."
In 2013, Shepherd and classic-rock legends Stephen Stills and Barry Goldberg formed the blues-rock supergroup The Rides, releasing the album Can't Get Enough in 2013 and the follow-up Pierced Arrow three years later, and toured widely to support both releases, the bandmates rising to the challenge of balancing the band with their individual careers.
That sort of flexibility has served Shepherd well, in a music industry that's changed drastically in the time that he's been making music.
"You always have to adapt," he says. "The industry is completely different now than when I started making records. But ultimately, it's still about moving people, and about getting better at communicating with the listener. The fact that the longtime fans still show up for my concerts – and new ones are joining us for the journey – that's the biggest measure of success for me. That makes me feel like I'm on to something."