Kenny Wayne Shepherd Talks "Live! In Chicago," Favorite Live Records and More
Mon, 14 Feb 2011 11:55:11
Kenny Wayne Shepherd Photos
Jimi Hendrix Videos
"If I was going to do a live record, I always wanted it to be unique and special," says Kenny Wayne Shepherd with a smile. "I didn't want it to be just any live album."
Shepherd's Live! In Chicago is far from "just any live album." In fact, it's a sprawling blues epic that's on par with Jimi Hendrix's Band Of Gypsys (Live At Fillmore East). Shepherd's impeccable, impenetrable phrasing practically melts his fretboard during the likes of "Blue On Black" and "Deja Voodoo." On stage, his playing conjures Stevie Ray Vaughan and Buddy Guy, while maintaining a distinct fire that's undeniably his. Live! In Chicago is everything the blues should be.
Kenny Wayne Shepherd sits down for an exclusive interview with ARTISTdirect.com editor and "Dolor" author Rick Florino about Live! In Chicago, "Blue On Black," some favorite live records, and so much more.
What was particularly special about the gig you recorded for Live! In Chicago?
Well, I got to play with a bunch of my heroes, and we're in Chicago—which is a home of the blues. We have a huge fan base there, and we always have a great time at the House of Blues. It's just a wonderful venue. I've got the guys from The Double Trouble, Hubert Sumlin, Willie "Big Eyes" Smith, Buddy Flett, and Brian Lee there. It's also the culmination of all this work over the previous couple years doing the Ten Days Out project and finally taking it out on the road and supporting it. This was recorded during the home stretch of the tour. It was towards the end, and every night we were having so much fun. While we were out on the road, I made the decision to record this even if it was just for me to have. I had such a great time that I had to have it on tape. This was too special not to share with the rest of the world though.
You can hear the energy coming off the stage.
That was a big goal of ours when we were mixing it. I've got to give credit to E.T., our engineer. He did a wonderful job. He puts you in the audience for the show. If you close your eyes, it's almost as if you're there.
What moments were most special for you from that show?
I go through phases in terms of which songs are my favorites. One of my favorites to listen to is "Sell My Monkey" with Buddy Flett. Actually, it's his playing that blows me away. Listening to him play over that swinging shuffle that Chris is laying down so well knocks me out every time. Buddy's got great chops, and his phrasing is really impressive on that one. "Dance For Me" with Buddy is another song that I like. It's gritty, down-n-dirty blues. Playing "Rocking Daddy" and the songs with Hubert that he helped make famous and legendary with his guitar playing—standing there shoulder to shoulder with man himself—was just an incredible experience too. As far as my own material goes, I think that was a really great version of "Blue On Black." Being as important as it is to my career and fans, I wouldn't want to put a live version of it out that wasn't really great. I think that we got a good one on that.
Has the meaning of "Blue On Black" changed for you over the years? What's the story behind it?
Obviously, it's about a broken relationship. Actually, it's all about experiencing loss—whether it's a relationship, a love one passing, or whatever. Most great songs are left open for the listener to interpret. That's one of the things I love the most about music and songwriting. Most of the time, if it's a good song, people can apply it to their own experiences and lives. That song is left up to you to decide.
Do you think of lyrics and music at the same time?
Yeah! First of all, I contribute to all aspects of the music, whether it's producing, writing lyrics, or whatever. A long time ago, we set a goal to make quality music that could stand the test of time. We tried to write things we feel people can relate to. They're things we've all experienced and gone through. We also try to write stuff that's not too trendy so ten years from now it doesn't feel dated. The blues doesn't observe any limitations as far as time goes. Blues music sounds just as good today as it did when it started about 100 years ago.
What are some of your favorite live records?
I like B.B. King's Live At The Regal and Live In Cook County Jail as well as Muddy Waters' Breakin' It Up, Breakin' It Down. I think ZZ Top's Fandango is a freakin' incredible live record! I had the album version. I'd crank it, and I'd jump up and down on the bed playing air guitar to whole the record [Laughs]. Then, there all of the live recordings from Woodstock. Jimi Hendrix's performance there is pretty spectacular as well. When artists play live shows, they stretch certain songs out or they change up the arrangement. It gives the listener a different perspective on the song and a new experience. Having these guest artists play with us enabled us to do a bunch of material that we never recorded before. Essentially, half of this record is material I've never done before. For the listener, it's a brand new experience for half the album, which I think is unique. Most of the time, when people do live records, there's not really any new material on them. When I put together a set for a live concert, I think about the flow of the show. You want to pick the right tempos and songs. You don't want to play anything that seems like it doesn't fit in. I constantly think about that. The way the show is on the CD is almost exactly how it went down that night. We didn't really change up the lineup of the songs. The only thing we changed is we put "King Bee" at the end of the physical CD, when it was actually like the fourth or fifth song of the set that evening.
Do you watch a lot of movies?
I'm into art and movies. I dig any kind of entertainment. I'd say the visual aspect of my playing really comes from watching my heroes. Jimi Hendrix had a tremendous influence on my playing and my presence on stage. He was about as much of an entertainer as anybody. James Brown is a perfect example of somebody I watched for his performance on stage. He not only worked the stage but the crowd as well. He was so visually compelling and exciting. That had a huge impact on who I am as a performer and a showman.
What's next for you?
I got one of the first rough mixes of the next studio project. We're in the mixing process, just wrapping it up. We're going to master it and put out a brand new studio album with all new material. We're shooting for May right now. I'm really excited about it! We've written a lot of great songs, and we've covered some interesting songs by other artists.
Have you heard Live! In Chicago yet? What's your favorite Kenny Wayne Shepherd song?