Kenny Wayne Shepherd Interview

Kenny Wayne Shepherd has been a mainstay on the blues rock scene for years and now is a part of the newly formed supergroup The Rides, featuring Stephen Stills and Barry Goldberg. We caught up with Shepherd to discuss how the group came about, The Rides’ debut album Can’t Get Enough, touring, the upcoming Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band album, and the future of blues rock.

How did you get involved with The Rides?

Stephen [Stills] and I have known each other for about ten years, but the whole thing came about really when his manager Elliot and a friend of ours, Bill Bentley, who I’ve known for a long time, he used to work at Warner Brothers when I was an artist there. They were just having dinner and talking around the idea of would it be cool to do like a modern version of the Super Session record that Stephen was a part of with Michael Bloomfield and Al Cooper, and Barry Goldberg that played piano on all those records. And then Mike Bloomfield died a while back, so they think they needed to find another guitar player and my name came up, and Stephen, like I said, have known each other for about ten years and we jammed together several times, so I think it was a natural fit. It was somewhat of an aha moment telling each other, Stephen and I in particularly, like man why haven’t we been thinking about this sooner, you know?

Was there much preparation before heading into the studio?

We got together and we started about a week maybe at the most at Stephen’s house writing songs together and then coming up with some cover songs because we had a very short window of opportunity in my life and I was expecting our fourth child, and Stephen had some other things going on, so we had a very narrow window to make this happen. Otherwise we would have written an entire record of original material. We spent about a week at Stephen’s house writing and a few days rehearsing, but then we went into the studio and recorded the album in I think less than a week, and then we mixed it, so it all came very quickly and very naturally.

What was the chemistry like on this album?

It was really fantastic. When we walked in the room together if there were any egos that did exist they were left at the door and just a lot of mutual respect for one another and treating each other as genuine equals. And I didn’t know what the songwriting process was gonna be like. You never know. You can’t force chemistry. You really can’t, but I figured we’ll just see what happens and thankfully it was like really great. We wrote some really great songs together and it came together really quickly. We’re already writing songs for our next record and then that chemistry translated into the studio as well, and I think you can hear it in the end result.

Is there a Rides tour in the works?

Yeah, I think there is. The album is gonna come out at the end of August and here in the States I think it’s like the very last week of August and September 1st over in Europe. And the tour is being booked right now for September, October, November.

The Rides featuring Stephen Stills, Barry Goldberg, and Kenny Wayne Shepherd.

The Rides featuring Stephen Stills, Barry Goldberg, and Kenny Wayne Shepherd.

How would you compare your work with The Rides to the Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band?

Well, it’s a different project. It’s a different group. I mean this is the first time in my history that I have ever actually been part of a real band where everybody contributes equally in every part of the process, so this is a completely new experience for me. And it’s different, it’s a very bluesy band, which is certainly in my comfort zone musically, but it’s cool because I’m sharing the vocal responsibilities. Stephen and I are both sharing the vocal responsibilities about 50/50 and the guitar responsibilities, and it’s been a completely new experience for me and a very exciting one at that.

What’s the latest on the upcoming Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band album?

That one is almost finished. Right now we’re just having guest artists do their tracks on the record, but it’s an all blues record. It’s basically me going back and really exploring my early influences and recording some of their material. There’s some obvious influences like we did some Freddie King stuff, some Albert King stuff. There’s also a little more obscure influences like Johnny “Guitar” Watson and a Lee Dorsey song, but anyways it’s a cover album of sorts but generally when I do cover songs I dig deep to try and find songs that haven’t been worn out and covered a million times. We do them in such a way that to the listener we want them to sound like a brand new record, you know? It’s been really cool. Most of it was done live. It was recorded in my hometown of Shreveport. It was the first album I ever recorded there. We’re having some guest artists play on the record. Ringo Starr played drums on a track. Joe Walsh played guitar on a track. Warren Haynes played guitar on a track. There’s a bunch more artists that are still gonna perform on other songs, so as soon as we get that finished then the album will be done. And right now it’s projected to be released in the first quarter of next year.

How do you feel about blues rock as a genre right now and where it’s headed in the coming years?

Blues music is a hundred years old now and it’s certainly not going away. It’s always relevant in my opinion. It just has moments where it surges in popularity and times where in just like any musical genre, it’s all cyclical, and to have waves of more popularity and then times where the hardcore fans carry it through. Right now I think it’s surging in popularity again. There’s no shortage of young people interested in playing blues guitar, and there’s good turnouts at the concerts and the good thing about the music is it’s timeless music. It’ll always sound good, so it has that going for it. And you look at artists like myself, there’s Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi, and Jonny Lang, and Joe Bonamassa, and people like that, and my generation of the blues musicians that are helping to keep it alive. And there’ll be a whole ‘nother wave of young people that will come along and continue to keep it relevant as well. So I feel like it’s in good hands and it will continue to be a relevant form of music.

Interview by Pete Francis

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