Center Presents: Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band
The Palladium // Saturday, Apr. 16, 8 p.m. ET
Guitar phenom Kenny Wayne Shepherd signed his first recording contract at 16 and quickly became one of the most successful blues-rock artists of his generation, as well as a prominent champion of blues tradition. The Louisiana native’s releases have routinely topped Billboard’s Blues Albums chart, and he has collaborated or toured with such names as B.B. King, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, Robert Randolph, Stephen Stills, Ringo Starr, the Rolling Stones and Van Halen. Along the way, he has earned five Grammy nominations, two Billboard Music Awards and the Blues Foundation’s Keeping the Blues Alive Award, among others.
The Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band’s current tour celebrates the upcoming 25th anniversary of his sophomore album, “Trouble Is…,” which sent three singles to the Top 10 of the Mainstream Rock chart: “Blue on Black,” “Everything Is Broken” and “Somehow, Somewhere, Someway.”
For tickets, visit thecenterpresents.org.
Janelle Morrison: Before we get deep into the 25th anniversary of “Trouble Is…,” tell me, how good does it feel to be out touring?
Kenny Wayne Shepherd: It feels pretty amazing. Obviously, nobody saw all that coming—being shut down for as long as we were. There were so many false starts. We would have a tour booked, and we would have to cancel and reschedule. We had some shows that got rescheduled like four different times.
The shows that we’re doing this year are probably about half of what we would do in a normal year. Not knowing if we’d have to reschedule it all over again, it was better to reschedule half the dates instead of the entire tour. Obviously, this is our job and how we support our families, but it’s also what we thrive on doing. So, to be out there, being able to serve that purpose is good. My goal, when I walk out on stage every time, is to try and bring some light and joy into people’s lives through the gift of music and give them the opportunity to forget all the bad stuff, the stuff that’s bothering them, and give them something to kind of dig into. And being able to fulfill that purpose is very satisfying.
JM: From the audience’s perspective, it’s been really cathartic to get back out into a more natural habitat and come together as a community to listen to songs that take us back to a simpler time. From the singer/songwriter’s perspective, what can music do to help us right now?
KWS: I have to say music is most definitely a healer. I did a show recently, and somebody in the audience yelled, “Kenny Wayne Shepherd for president!” I was like, “Hey, man, thank you, I appreciate the sentiment!” But, in today’s world, politics just divides people. It’s so divisive and so polarizing. Music brings people together. So, I’m going to stick with music. I want to bring people together. I don’t want to fight with people. I don’t want to participate in all of that. Going to a show like this is an opportunity for people to come together, no matter what their belief system is, what their politics are or how they choose to live their lives. They can all come into the same building, under one roof, stand next to each other and enjoy a moment in life without all that stuff being brought up, coming in between us. And that is what we aim to provide.
JM: Well, you’ve been doing that for over two decades now. When I think about when “Trouble Is…” first came out , life was very different. Since then, you’ve been able to engage and attract another generation of blues-rock fans. I’m curious, when you reflect back on that album and how it propelled your career, is there anything that strikes you as, “I didn’t really think about THAT then, but I’m thinking about it now?”
KWS: I will say that every time you put out a record, you don’t know what to expect. You do the best that you can with it and hope for the best. But it’s up to whoever you trust to help get the music out there and to do their job, and then it’s up to the people to react to it and to connect to it or not. We didn’t know what we had when we put that record out. We thought we had something special—especially with “Blue on Black” in particular. We knew that was a special song. But we didn’t know what it was going to end up really accomplishing. In retrospect, we go “Wow” at all of what we’ve accomplished, and not just with that particular song. We did sell over one million copies of the record, and the song “Blue on Black” sat the top of and was—at the time—the longest running No. 1 single in the history of the Billboard Rock charts. And then a few years ago, it went on to do it again and was No. 1 when Five Finger Death Punch did a version of it with me, Brian May and Brantley Gilbert.
JM: How has the recording industry changed since the days of topping the charts and “going platinum”?
KWS: Looking back, we were at the very end of what I think was really the “golden age,” where you would put out a record, the radio stations would get copies of your music where it would be heard for the first time and then you’d watch it run up the charts, sell a million copies of that record and have a platinum record on the wall. All of that stuff is kind of a bygone era for most people nowadays. You don’t even count success in album sales anymore. It’s all about how many streams you have. It’s like the whole industry was upended and has settled down into this new way of doing business, and we’ve had to navigate all that.
JM: Sure, it’s not like you started out [in this career] thinking you were going to have to engage and manage your social media.
KWS: No, not at all. And frankly, I’m not wired that way. In theory, you’re supposed to have this direct connection with your audience. That was a big bait and switch. Because Facebook and all those platforms are like, “Come over here and build up an audience, and you can connect with them directly.” Then they choke it off, and they make you pay so that the audience that YOU’VE built up actually sees your stuff that you’re putting out there. It’s kind of a racket, but we’ve had to navigate it.
I’m kind of a dinosaur in some respects in this social media world because I’m not wired to be on there, constantly pumping out what I’m doing. I’m kind of a private person offstage, so having to reassess how business is being done is interesting, to say the least.
JM: Well, thank you for not posting your breakfast, lunch and dinner. As your fans, I think most of us care about what you’re working on, but we really don’t care what you’re eating.
KWS: [Laughing] I know, right?
JM: Share with me a little bit about what’s going on with this anniversary tour, some of the things that you’ll be sharing with the audience when you come to the Palladium in Carmel and if there’s a cache of songs perhaps that you’ve been sitting on, waiting to get out there and try on us?
KWS: Right before everything shut down, we had just finished recording a brand-new record. So, I’ve been sitting on that for two years. I didn’t feel like it was appropriate to put a new record out when we couldn’t go out and support it. I do have a bunch of new material, but I’m kind of old school when it comes to that. I don’t like to play new songs until the record is also out there so people can really hear it. I don’t want somebody’s first impression of a song to be from a cell phone. I don’t mind cell phone videos at all, but I don’t want that to be the first impression because it might not be the best quality and the sound might not register right. So, all the new stuff will be coming out soon, but right now we’re focusing on the 25th anniversary of “Trouble Is…” We’ve never played the whole album in a concert before now. We’re playing the whole album, backwards from the last song to the first, on these anniversary shows. Then, when we come back for the encore, we play some more recent material so that people who haven’t seen a show of ours in a few years can hear some of the music that we’ve been putting out since then. We’ve still been very active. It’s been a really fun opportunity to revisit all of these songs on the “Trouble Is…” record. We haven’t played these in a really long time, so getting reacquainted with the album in a live setting has been pretty interesting and fun.