'If you are a blues fan or if you are a fan of the guitar, this concert will be for you'
Blues guitarist Kenny Wayne Shepherd has made no secret of the fact that his greatest inspiration was the legendary player Stevie Ray Vaughan, who died in a helicopter crash at the age of 35.
Indeed, Shepherd was probably still in short trousers when he first met Vaughan at a musical festival organised by his father, a local radio personality and concert promoter, in Shreveport, Louisiana.
“I was seven years old and it changed my life,” he recalls. “I was very young so I don’t remember the entire experience, but I do remember him picking me up and putting me on an amp case and watching the entire concert from there. I was mesmerised.”
Yet, when it came to making an album of covers of his greatest blues influences, he wasn’t initially planning to include a track by Vaughan, until, that is, his band’s drummer changed his mind.
“Some people have said at points in my career, ‘He is trying to fill Stevie Ray Vaughan’s shoes. It was never my intention. Ever,” he insists. “There will only be one Stevie Ray Vaughan.”
So, when it came to Shepherd’s latest album Goin’ Home, which he describes as “some of the songs I spent hours as a child learning to play note by note on my guitar”, he was reluctant to stir up that particular criticism.
“But (drummer) Chris Layton, who used to play with Stevie Ray Vaughan, looked at me and said, ‘How can you make an album of your biggest influences and not have him on your album?’ Shepherd reveals.
“He’s probably the best authority beyond Stevie Ray Vaughan himself, so I thought, ‘If he says it’s OK, then it’s OK.”
The album was recorded as live in his home town of Shreveport during an 11-day break from touring and features guest appearances by the likes of Ringo Starr, The Eagles guitarist Joe Walsh and Warren Haynes of the Allman Brothers.
“We had a great time, probably the most fun recording that I have ever had,” says Shepherd.
And so, as well as a short but sweet rendition of Vaughan’s The House Is Rockin’, the album’s 12 songs plus three bonus tracks include a storming version of Freddie King’s Palace Of The King, a more mellow recording of Muddy Waters’ I Love The Life I Live and an epic eight-minute plus rendition of BB King’s You Done Lost Your Good Thing, all with sumptuous solos. Ringo provides the beats on Buddy Guy’s Cut You Loose, while Haynes plays some tasty licks on Albert King’s Breaking Up Somebody’s Home.
Shepherd is touring with his band, the Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band, made up of himself, singer Noah Hunt, drummer Layton, bassist Troy Franklin and keyboard player Riley Osbourn. They come to Leamington Spa Assembly on November 1.
“The last time I did a proper tour of the UK was about 12 years ago,” he says. “There’s been a significant gap in my trips.”
As for the show, he says: “It’s going to be very blues-orientated concert.
“If you are a blues fan or if you are a fan of the guitar, this concert will be for you”
Singer Hunt has been with the band for the past 14 years. Many vocalists would have been itching long before now to take centre stage, I suggest.
Shepherd says: “Here’s the thing about that – Noah and I are like brothers. We’ve been together for 14 years, which is longer than a lot of marriages.
In the early days, Shepherd says he kept away from the mic as much as possible.
“My guitar playing was beyond my singing,” he states bluntly. “On my first album I was 17 years old and I sounded like 17 years old.”
Over the years, though, he has found his voice. In 2004, he recorded the rock album The Place You’re In and found that the more rock-orientated songs suited his vocals more.
And, more recently, he has teamed up with fellow guitarist Stephen Stills, of Crosby, Stills And Nash fame, and keyboardist Barry Goldberg to form The Rides, on which he shares the lead vocal duties with Stills.
Another thing Shepherd has always been candid about is that he is completely self-taught and can’t read music.
“I think, for the kind of music I like, it hasn’t been a hindrance. In fact, it may even have benefited me,” he insists.
“All I have to draw on is my heart and soul. I can’t put a sheet in front of me and play what’s on the paper. I have to play what’s on the inside, but that’s how blues is supposed to be played.”
The Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band plays The Assembly, in Spencer Street, Leamington Spa, on November 1. For tickets, call 0871 220 0260. www.leamingtonassembly.com.