Photo by Mark Seliger
It's always refreshing to see renowned Blues/Rock superstars like the American guitarist and singer-songwriter Kenny Wayne Shepherd putting so much craft, attention and dedication to their music, despite his undisputed fame and success, accumulated during almost 30 years in the music business.
Shepherd had reached global stardom already in the early stages of his career, thanks to the hit single Blue On Black, included in the Trouble Is.. album, a body of work that has smashed several record selling figures and had a special celebration in 2022, for its 25th Anniversary since its release date. Shepherd's drive and genuine love for music still inspires the American artist to continue writing and recording albums of remarkable beauty and lyrical depth, as confirmed, once again, by his brand new record called Dirt On My Diamonds Vol. 1, recently released and reviewed also by our website.

Together with his trusted band, with whom Shepherd has been recording since the late 90's, with very few changes in personnel occurring throughout, the American Guitar Maestro and winner of a Bluebird Reviews Award, back few years ago, has most certainly consolidated once again, through the release of Dirt On My Diamonds Vol. 1, his position as one of the highest authorities in the contemporary Blues and Blues/Rock scene and Bluebird Reviews has been delighted to be talking once again with one of America's most treasured and respected artists, about the making of Shepherd's new album.
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BR - Hi Kenny, thank you for taking the time to talk to us at Bluebird Reviews, about your exciting new record called Dirt On My Diamonds Vol. 1. To start our conversation, we were wondering how pleased are you, about the outcome of the album.

KWS - Well, I think it's great. I'm very excited. I mean, all the reviews so far have been great. The fans' reactions all seem to be very positive. I mean, the next step now is to get out there and play the music live and see which songs are really connecting to the audiences in the live performances. 

BR - We understand that your new album has been for a little while put aside on the shelves, purely because  you had the big 25th anniversary celebration and the consequent Tour of the Trouble Is.. album, happening towards the end of 2022. With that in mind, we were wondering,  about the genesis of Dirt On My Diamonds Volume 1, how far the new songs go back in time. 

KWS - Well, the songs were written in 2019. We started recording, in that time, this album, well, both Volume one and Volume two, to be honest, with the latter coming out in the next year. We recorded the whole of the new material prior to COVID, but we didn't finish the record. Then, it became a question of just waiting for the right time to come and, as you know, we put out the Straight To You Live DVD and CD, during COVID, so to give people a way to see us playing live anyway, although only on DVD. When we finally got back to work, it was time for the 25th anniversary of the Trouble Is.. album, as you said, so we had to finish that thing up first, get it out and release it. And then we did the Tour and then, in the meantime, we finished up both Dirt On My Diamonds' volumes, with the first one out now and Volume 2 out next year. On top of that, I have two or three other records that I'm currently working on as well. So, I'm trying to find the time to do all and, I have to say, to be this busy, it's kind of a nice problem to have for an artist (smiles).

BR - Kenny, there seemed to be a bit of uncertainty running, through your fanbase on social networks, in view of the controversy that some of the music websites have initiated, perhaps involuntarily, by posting the album cover of your new album in different ways, some with Kenny Wayne Shepherd name only, others with Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band printed on. Can we reassure all your fans that Dirt On My Diamonds Vol. 1 is indeed a KWS Band album and not a solo album?

KWS - Man, I gotta tell you.. (smiles wryly) So, here's the thing; the first album I published, it stated Kenny Wayne Shepherd and my 2nd album said Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band on the cover. Then the 3rd one, Live On,  I think it said just Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band, then the 4th album, The Place You're In, it said just Kenny Wayne Shepherd.. so, it's like, there's not been a whole lot of consistency and there's not a lot of thought put into it, to be honest with you. I think it just ends up happening and it's nothing intentional. We're not trying to send any particular message, but it's a frustrating thing for me, actually,  because you know, all that stuff happened long before the digital age started. Now, what happens, as a result, it is that if you go to a platform like Apple's iTunes, for example,  there's two different search results, when you write my name in, which is Kenny Wayne Shepherd or the Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band. Basically, you can search just my name, which I think most people do anyway. If they're looking for my music, they're just gonna put in Kenny Wayne Shepherd. They're not necessarily gonna put "Band", in the search engine, I mean, that's the dilemma, fundamentally, right? It's  a bit like "What do people think of and what are they gonna be searching for?" Well, they're probably just gonna put in Kenny Wayne Shepherd. But, as a result of putting "Band" on some of the records, if you don't type Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band,  that record you are looking for, it might not come up, so it absolutely complicated things, by having it done two different ways. I guess we just need to figure out one way to do it right for the fans.. In answer to your question, this is indeed a Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band album. I mean, just listen to the record, right? It's like Chris Layton is playing drums, Noah's singing about half the songs, I'm singing the other half of the songs, which is the same thing that's been happening for the past several albums, Kevin McCormick's on bass.. It's just the same old band of brothers, we can reassure all the fans that they don't have to read so much into things (smiles).

BR - Listening to the new album's songs, to our website, it really feels, just like you stated to the Press Release, that Dirt On My Diamonds Vol. 1 is indeed a true snapshot in time of an artist and all little life's imperfections, just as you very aptly quoted. We were wondering whether, off the new album, which song was the most challenging to write for you, both from a lyrical perspective and a musical one.

KWS -  You know, the truth is I don't really know, to be honest with you. A lot of these songs came really quickly. I mean, we didn't struggle with a lot of these songs. There were some other songs that were more challenging to write, but they didn't make it on the record, which kind of goes to show that, if you happen to try too hard, then it's probably not right in the first place, you know. But I would say that, out of everything that made it to the record, I guess, probably Best Of Times was the slightly trickier one. Just to try and get everything right, on that song, to really portray the image of that experience and to get the story and the point of the story across. And then all the musical elements, because there's a lot of different parts in that song, a lot of different sounds. And there's also like, space in-between notes and in-between parts, which is all very strategic as well. I think there was a lot of effort put into that song for sure.

BR - One thing that we frequently get asked, on our website, given the huge amount of Kenny Wayne Shepherd fans we can count among our readers, it is related to the method you use to choose the covers that, from time to time, end up on your records, whether you follow a specific criteria or not, when choosing said songs.

KWS - It's much more simpler than anybody can guess. Say I could be driving, for example and a song would come on the radio, a song that I might have heard a million times before and never thought about it, and then, this one time, I'll be like "Oh my gosh, I think we could kill that song, we could do a great version of it". I have an ongoing list of covers written down that I keep and I would add that specific song on that never ending list. So, what happens next, it is that when we are in the studio and maybe we just finished recording one song and there's a little bit of a break in the recording process, that would be the moment when I kind of feel like "Hey, let's do something easy, something different, like a cover song and see what it sounds like.." Which is exactly what happened with Elton John's song Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting, on the new album or like what happened with The Traveler album, when we did the Buffalo Springfield song (Mr. Soul).

BR - Kenny, was that any particular reason on why you named the album after the Dirt On My Diamonds song? Was it because that song was talking to you especially, on many different levels?

KWS - I think so, yes. That and also because musically, that song has all the right elements for the Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band. You can hear the obvious Blues influence and it really rocks. I mean, it's a rocking song, it has aggressive guitar and has a really a pretty good vocals on it, if I do say so myself, the band sounds great.. all the elements are there. It's like, "Hey, this is Kenny Wayne Shepherd, this is what we do, right? This is what I do". About the message of the song, Marshall was the one that felt strongly that that should be the title track on the record. And the song's message is relevant too. In today's world, with social media, it feels like everybody encourages everyone to portray this perfect existence that really doesn't exist, with all those filters that you can put on your pictures, to make it look different from what everything really looks like. It's like taking a picture in front of, you know, some amazing background, just to show to everybody the great time you're having. It's all like a mass portrayal of perfection that doesn't exist. It's impossible and it's unrealistic, because this is the world where we live and that portrayal, it's unobtainable. Those flaws in ourselves, in our lives, that's what makes things beautiful, that's what makes people unique. The difference I wanted to highlight into the song, it is that we have the flaws that we grow from and that is what the song is about. So that's kind of the deeper message in that song, to embrace our imperfections, which is, I believe, a relevant message for today's world and society.

BR - You just mentioned Marshall Altman, somebody you have been working with on a regular basis, since the Lay On Down album, especially from a record production perspective. Are you able to tell us, please, what is the the magic that happens between you and Marshall, every time you start working together on an album?

KWS - Well, with Marshall, we met several times and hung out together, before we actually started making records together. We're kind of feeling each other out. I think we instantly had a good connection and once we got into the studio for the Lay On Down album and really started, you know, making music, I realised that he has a skill set that he is able to bring to the table. Like I have a skill set myself, that I bring to the table and they really are complimentary. We work really well, together and we kind of push each other, like, I don't know, we really kind of feel each other, artistically, a lot and I think that the whole picture makes for a great album and a great experience in the studio and that's what you're looking for, as an artist.
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BR - One of the many great aspects about Dirt On My Diamonds Vol. 1, to us, it is that the record, sonically and in its entirety, gives a complete idea, especially to new fans of yours, about who Kenny Wayne Shepherd artistically was, in the early days of his career and who is Kenny Wayne Shepherd now, in 2023. Did you consciously incorporated all these element about you and your music, the growth of the music that you went through, in past years, when you put together the songs that ended up on the new album?

KWS - Basically, we write and record songs and then we choose the best of the whole we feel is right for the record. I always write more songs for an album than what really ends up on the record, because, you know, not every song we write is great, as much as I would like to say that they are (smiles). So, the best stuff tends to rise to the top and then you look at it and you go, "Okay, well, but what is the sound of this record and what songs really are meant for this album". Then all starts to take shape and it takes on a bit of a theme and a bit of a sound and then you figure out what are the songs that compliment each other most and able to take the people on the musical journey that you want them to experience and so, that's where we wind up where we're at. I intentionally put eight songs on this record, because I think that, first of all, there's so many legendary albums in music history that had 8 songs, right? Because, back in the days, when everything was on vinyl, you could only basically put about 4 songs on each side of the record, without sacrificing the sound quality. If you start putting too much music on one side of a record, then the sound quality starts to suffer and it doesn't sound as good as it should. As I said, so many legendary albums had eight songs and I also thought that, in today's world, there are so many distractions and there's so many things competing for people's attention, that the idea that I'm gonna put too many songs on a record, in these days and age, is not feasible to me and the fans. I cannot see many fans able to sit down and listen to, say, a 60 minutes plus album from beginning to end, keeping their attention for the whole length, it's just not realistic. But an eight song record of 35 or 40 minutes long, that's doable, in my opinion, I can see somebody sitting down and listening to that album from start to finish. I like to think that I make albums that are meant to be listened to from the beginning to the end, hence the aforementioned choice.

BR - Among the really great songs off your new record, we would like to touch upon a couple of them, in particular, the first one being You Can't Love Me, to us, one of the songs with the most intense lyrics that you have ever written to date. A song about couples and the challenges arising into relationships. May we ask you please from where the inspiration of those lyrics came from?

KWS - It's just one of those things that we collectively bring into song writing. It might be coming from me or the guy or the girl that I'm writing the song with, or the whole group of writers.. I think it's just one of those messages in life, one of those lessons in life that we all end up having to learn, sooner or later. In order for you to really be able to take care of someone, you have to first take care of yourself, otherwise you're not of any use to anybody around you. And self love and self care.. I think there's a lot of awareness being brought into self care, lately. I think, which is important, I feel, that people need to try to do what they need to do for themselves in the first place, to make sure they're O. K. first and foremost. Fundamentally, the message in this song is that, no matter how much you love somebody, ultimately you have to be able to love yourself first, in order to be loved. It's hard to receive love, if you don't even think you're worthy of it. That's the message. I've seen so many people in this situation, over the years, I've known people going through this, I've seen it happen at other people's relationships where, no matter how much one person loves the other person, you can't convince them of anything, if they don't believe it about themselves already. It's a difficult subject, but it's a very important lesson to learn.

BR - A great piece of song-writing, from the new album and another incredible statement of honesty about the fragility of men, to us, it came from the closing song on the record, Ease My Mind, a marvellous, thunderous Blues/Rock tune where men's fragility is so aptly expressed through the song's lyrics. Our website was wondering whether, despite your huge fame and popularity as an artist and as a man, have you ever found yourself, at one point, in your life, in the same position of the protagonist of that song.

KWS - (smiles), That song is dark, down and out, you know, a back alley Blues and it's depressing, I admit it (smiles). I think that we all had a low point, at some point in our lives, with a relationship. I can't say that, word for word, this was my experience but I can certainly relate to being in a dark place, you know, because I've been in dark places myself before.

BR - Kenny, with all the hits that you had so far in your remarkable career, plus having a new album to take on Tour, that must give you a bit of headache, in terms of choosing the setlist of your Tour. What type of show your fans can expect from the KWS Band, from January 2024 onwards?

KWS - We are certainly going to feature songs from this new record. I don't know yet how many, but they'll definitely be more than a few. But we have to work them up in rehearsal, see which ones are working, you know, from the stage. And then, even still, like, we might start off doing certain songs and then find that it's not working for the setlist, or maybe the placement isn't quite right. You know, we have to find the right tune placement as we get out on the road. So it's kind of hard to know for sure. But I would say that we'll be doing several songs off the new record for sure. We just played the Trouble Is.. album for a year and 1/2, so, we are going to put some of that too, in the setlist, I guess. I mean, we have to play Blue On Black every night, but I think we're likely to put most of the Trouble Is.. music aside and maybe revisit, you know, some material of some of the other albums. A little like we did towards the end of this year, when we started playing some of the songs from the first album, Ledbetter Heights, because we hadn't done a lot of those in a while. So maybe we'll keep a few of those in the show too. We have fans that have seen us multiple times, some people have seen us 25 times or maybe more and I want people to come and have a new experience, you know. I think about that every time I put together a set and this time, it won't be any different. We'll make sure that we give people a new experience.

BR - We can't imagine how tricky must be for a very successful artist like yourself to make everyone happy by playing every single hits of your career to date. Even the late great David Bowie, in a later stage of his career, was used to prepare about 40 songs per time to take on Tour and with all the great songs you have written in your career, you may find yourself in the same position, potentially.

KWS - Yeah, it's challenging. I mean, what I like to do is to create multiple setlists, like, I usually will try and come up with 2 or 3 different setlists and then we'll just choose one for each night, you know, not always playing the same setlist. I mean, in a 2 hour-long show, someone like David Bowie could do something like 40 songs because, I guess, his songs are 3 and 1/2 minutes long. My shows are quite different from his. I mean, I have songs that are 12-13 minutes long sometimes, with all the extended guitar solos and things like that, do you know what I mean? (smiles) So we averaged something like, I don't know, 13 to 15 songs, maybe, in a show, depending on which songs are in the set. And that's two hours, because our songs are longer. If I did a 40 songs show, I think we and the fans, we'd all be spending the night together in the venue! (Smiles)

BR - Your Tour in support of Dirt On My Diamonds Vol. 1 will start in late January 2024 in the States, with the current dates already confirmed up until springtime. Is there any plan already in place to tour Europe and other parts of the world too, Kenny?

KWS - Yes, of course. We're not going to forget about our fans over there. So, they're working on it now, they just haven't confirmed the dates yet. But, as soon as the dates are confirmed, we will announce them. That's just what we have, at the moment, I think we have the shows booked through March or May, don't remember exactly, but there'll be more, that's just what's confirmed right now. But they're working on more stuff for later in the year, for sure.

BR - This time of the year is a special one to spend with family and friends. May we ask you what are your plans for Christmas, Kenny and what do you wish most for yourself, your music, your family and for everything in general?

KWS - We'll be home in Tennessee, here, with my wife and kids. We're just gonna stay here, we won't be travelling for Christmas. But, you know, for these holidays, I'm just looking forward to the time with my family, because my kids are growing up fast and I've been really busy, lately and for this very reason, I try and make as much time as possible to be with them and spend as much time as I can with them. It's always nice, when I have several weeks off, just spending precious time with them. So, yeah, in answer to your question, I'm looking forward to that and I look forward to next year, I look forward to playing this new music for the fans, I look forward to seeing new faces in the audience and seeing some of the same faces coming back to see us again, releasing the Volume 2 of Dirt On My Diamonds, plus the other albums that we are working on now that I can't talk about. One thing that I can tell you for sure, it is that we have lots of exciting stuff happening and I'm just grateful to still be making music, feel creative and to have fans that have supported me and continue to do so, hopefully, still for many years to come.