Louisiana bred guitar-slinger, singer and songwriter Kenny Wayne Shepherd has sold millions of albums worldwide, shining a light on the rich blues of the past and forging ahead with his own modern twist on a classic sound he has embodied since his teens. The Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band may be coming to Australia in October with the focus on his current album Lay It On Down (released in August 2017) but he’s already got a follow up record well and truly in motion. Kenny also isn’t ruling out another record from his side project The Rides, which features Kenny, Stephen Stills and Barry Goldberg.
Australian Musician’s Greg Phillips caught up with Kenny recently for a pre-tour chat

Hi Kenny, where in the world are you at the moment?
I’m at home with my family right now, we have a couple of gigs in June but I have been taking it easy the last couple of months and spending time with my family before we hit the road and really start touring hard in July.

You recorded your current album Lay It On Down in your hometown of Shreveport Louisiana. Are you involved with that studio at all? Is it a facility that you could access at any time?
Unfortunately I didn’t own it and there’s no way that could have happened and since the then, the people who owned it have closed it down. That’s the last record that will ever be made there. I loved it and thought it was a really great place. It was very convenient for me to go and record music in my home town. I have a home there next to my father. This is where I learned to play guitar and started cultivating my love for music in the first place. It felt so good and right to make music there, which had never been possible before because there wasn’t a top shelf recording studio in Shreveport. It’s kinda bittersweet but I really enjoyed making the album there. But even if you don’t have your own studio at home, with an album… once you have started recording something, it is always there until you finish it. So whether you own a studio and are able to go in and work or you have to book one, if you are in the midst of recording and something needs to be done, you’ll wind up in the studio doing it.

It’s a very big, full sounding album. Was that goal going into the studio?
Absolutely. Sonically I have always made it a priority that my albums sound as good as possible and we go to great lengths to achieve that and use 2 inch tape. I mean, we still use Pro Tools but we don’t depend on Pro Tools, we use it for its advantages like editing primarily. We get human beings all in the same room together, playing music at the same time with the tape rolling the way records were originally made. That’s the way I believe they were intended to be made, rather than putting down a click track and then mailing a track to a drummer and mailing it to a bass player and then a guitar player, and however many people just layers their parts on top of each other. There is no human interaction there, no human element and whoever gets their hands on the song first gets to dictate the entire song to everybody else. When you are playing with people in a studio at the same time there is an opportunity for spontaneous moments to happen that would not happen otherwise.

Are there any tracks from the album which are sounding particularly great on stage and you are enjoying playing?
We’ve put about half of the record into the show and all of the new songs are going over very well. Right now one of my favourites to play is Down For Love because it’s one of those aggressive Texas blues shuffles and that’s always fun to play. We do Nothing But The Night, Diamonds and Gold … that one is always a big crowd pleaser… Hard Lesson Learned, just a beautiful song which has been going over really well with the crowds. Unless there is a curfew which limits the amount of time we can play, our shows are generally lasting around two hours, so we are able to put a lot of catalogue material in there as well. We can touch on many of the different records we have put out over the years and play as many of those songs the fans are going to want to hear as well.

Are you finding that these songs are growing and changing as you tour them?
Yeah, they definitely do because with the live show we use the opportunity for us to change direction and explore an idea or jam on something to see what might come out of it. There have definitely been some things that have happened over the past 6 to 9 months of us playing these songs live, where you will hear some subtle differences in some and more obvious differences in the arrangements of others.

How many guitars do you generally travel with?
When we do something like this and I am flying over a huge portion of the ocean to get somewhere … trusting the airlines with my equipment … I will generally fly with the most minimal amount of guitars possible to still get the job done. You can’t necessarily trust baggage handlers and things get lost. I would say we would probably be travelling with between 5 and 6 guitars. Some artists will even ship their gear over prior to getting there, but some of my stuff is hard to let our of my sight. We scale back under certain situations just out of necessity, so nothing important gets lost or damaged.

So does your famous ’61 Strat get a seat next to you?
When I travel with that, it either rides on the plane with me inside or I wouldn’t go. I also have a clone that Fender made for me at their custom shop, where they took my 61 Strat and they had it for about a year and a half and they duplicated that guitar to every little nick and scratch on it. If I am the least bit worried about something potentially, I will take that with me because that one can always be replaced. It still has the spirit of my original guitar and although I can tell the difference between the two guitars, it still has the essence of the original … it’s all there.

Your signature Martin JC16 acoustic is available in Australia to buy. Was there much back and forward with Martin in the creation of that guitar?
We made a few prototypes and I can’t remember exactly how long the development process took but yes there were prototypes made, samples, different woods tested. Ultimately the end result was something I am very proud of. I think it is a beautiful guitar. They made a limited quantity of them and I think I own ten of them personally. When you are an artist and you have a company like Martin or Fender asking you to do a signature guitar for you, as a guitar player that’s the pinnacle. It’s truly an honour to have that guitar made. I remember when Martin unveiled that guitar at the NAMM convention and they had me and Merle Haggard both in their booth at the same time unveiling our signature acoustics. Also later that night they threw a big dinner for us and it was a pretty memorable moment. At the time I got up and made a comment … they wanted each one of us to get up and speak and I just told them that I had always wanted to have a Martin guitar but the ones that I wanted were always way too expensive for me to be able to afford them and now I own my first Martin guitar, which also happens to have my signature on it. I just thought it was incredible.

What’s the chance of a new recording from The Rides?
It’s highly likely. Stephen has been busy out on the road with Judy Collins, so they’ve ben doing a tour for their album and I have been out with my band touring this record. We haven’t had a chance to regroup and discuss making another record but I don’t see why we wouldn’t make another one. Everybody enjoys doing it, we have a lot of fun, so I don’t see why it wouldn’t happen, it’s just a matter of when.

You are married to Mel Gibson’s daughter Hannah. I’m wondering how much Australian music you have been exposed to?
Well they listen to all kinds of music. They are are a very worldly family. When I first started dating her, on any given weekend when we would go and spend time at her parents’ house, they would have on music from all over the world, whether it be Australian music or Scottish or classical, they are a very well rounded family musically. I grew up listening to all kinds of music as well. Her dad had already been turned onto my music before I ever met his daughter.

Do you have many bucket list projects that you want to get to one day?
Not so much a bucket list, I just take things day by day and see what opportunities pop up. My goal nowadays is to keep making the best music that I can and put on the best shows that I can. If something pops up that sounds like a cool collaboration, like what I did with Stephen Stills and Barry doing The Rides … we’ll take it as it comes. I am very open to doing what makes sense and makes for great music.

It’s getting on to a year now since the release of Lay It On Down… any thoughts of a new one?
We were in the studio in March and we have almost completed another new album. I am really trying to stay ahead of the process and continue writing and recording and always be in that creative mode. I have found over the years that it can become difficult if you step away from it for too long, it’s hard to get the ball rolling again, get the wheels greased. Writing songs is like working a muscle and if you stop doing it for a while, you have to rebuild that strength. I’ve really got it on the last couple of years and I want to keep it going, so we have already finished a new record and putting the finishing touches on it now.

Would you say it is an extension of Lay It On Down or moving in a different direction?
I haven’t chosen the final tracks because we generally record much more songs than those which appear on the records. It’s a little early to tell completely what the entire album is going to consist of but we have cut several songs which have more of a rock edge to them. I don’t know how many will make it onto the record. I would say it’s somewhat of an extension to Lay It On Down but definitely has its own identity. We’ll see what the end choices are for the sequencing of the record.

Thursday 4 October  Enmore Theatre, Sydney, NSW
Friday 5 October  Eatons Hill Hotel, Brisbane, QLD
Saturday 6 October Forum, Melbourne, VIC