KWS Gets A Little Help From His Friends!

NINETEEN years ago, in the liner notes of his bestselling debut album, Ledbetter Heights, teenage guitar prodigy Kenny Wayne Shepherd publicly thanked the blues greats who had inspired him:

Stevie Ray Vaughan, BB King, Albert King. Muddy Waters, Huddie 'Lead Belly' Ledbetter and more.

Now, all these years later, Louisiana-born Shepherd, still only 37, has released Goin' Home, an album of songs associated with many of his blues heroes. It was recorded two years ago, and is the first album he has ever made in his home city of Shreveport.

"I just thought it was an opportunity for me to do another very cool, traditional blues album, to go back and revisit some of the songs I listened to as a kid and inspired me to play," says Shepherd, who plays Queen's Hall, Edinburgh, tonight, and who is currently part of an all-star Experience Hendrix tour in America. "I wanted to pay tribute to some of my biggest heroes and show my appreciation for them and their music."

The 15 tracks on Goin' Home range from Muddy Waters' Still A Fool and I Love The Life I Live to Freddie King's Palace Of The King and SRV's The House Is Rockin'. In addition to Shepherd's regular band, the album boasts guest appearances by such luminaries as Joe Walsh, Ringo Starr and Keb' Mo', all of them friends of Shepherd's.

Shepherd re-listened to a lot of his heroes' music in search of the tracks that would end up on Goin' Home.

"It was a long process," he says, "but one of the main requirements for the songs I was looking for was trying to find ones that had not been recorded a million times by people already. For the most part, the songs fell into that category."

Like many young blues guitarists, Shepherd benefited from prolonged contact with a handful of genuine greats. His notes to the new album speak of his friendships with Buddy Guy, BB King, Bo Diddley and SRV himself; the latter was a particularly strong influence.

"They don't call him the King Of The Blues for nothing," Shepherd says of the 89-year-old Riley B. King. "I have been very close to him since I was 15, and he took me on my first national tour.

"He is certainly one of my very biggest influences; he is the guy that showed me how important one (guitar) note can be if it is played at the right time, with the right amount of feel.

"As for Stevie ... he single-handedly lit a fire inside of me to learn how to play guitar. I got to meet him for the first time when I was seven. It changed my life: all I wanted to do from that point forward was to get a guitar and really learn how to play, and to try to play with that same passion and fire he played with. I learned a lot from him."

It is an interesting process, whereby blues legends go out of their way to take the time to befriend younger musicians and encourage them.

"It is kind of a tradition," says Shepherd. "We look up to them - for me, I was trying to spend every moment that I could with these kind of people, because they paved the way for someone like myself to be able to do what I do.

"They have benefited from years of experience, so I was always trying to stoke up as much knowledge and life-lessons as I could from them.

"But I also think they enjoy seeing that the music is going to carry on. They also like to spend time with the people who they believe might be responsible for continuing the music and keeping it going forward."

He, in turn, has maintained this pattern, doing what he can to encourage younger blues players.

"Just about every show I do, you will see young people in the audience, and often times you will see a father bringing his son to the show, for whatever reason.

"It might also be that they have heard all these stories about me and my father going to concerts when I was young.

"I try to go out of my way to meet the young people and to try and be a good influence on them, because I know how much I looked up to the people who were my heroes."

He adds: "It is hard for me to put myself in that position, but I just know that with what I have been given with my career, comes a great responsibility. If these kids choose to look up to me in that way, then it is up to me to set a good example."

Since Ledbetter Heights (named after an area of Shreveport associated with Huddie 'Lead Belly' Ledbetter) Shepherd has recorded a string of best-selling albums, and has received five Grammy nominations. He has also opened for such notables as Bob Dylan, The Eagles and The Rolling Stones. He is married to Hannah Gibson, one of actor Mel Gibson's daughters, and they have three children.

He also has a high-profile sideline: The Rides, a blues-rock supergroup with Stephen Stills and Barry Goldberg. Their 2013 album sold well, and the good news is a follow-up is on the way.

"We are meeting in about a week and we are going to plan out our schedule," says the hard-working Shepherd. "We have already written a bunch of songs, and we plan to go into the studio over the holidays. It will be released next year, and we hope to do a tour."

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