There are few people in the world with real class and elegance playing blues at the very best and one of these very few belonging to this category is Kenny Wayne Shepherd. Kenny has kindly accepted to talk to me about his latest project to date, The Rides, recorded together with two legends of the music establishment, Stephen Stills and Barry Goldberg and to talk about his solo career.
The Rides have published their debut album Can't Get Enough at the end of August 2013, and they are looking already at the possibility of recording a second album. Kenny on the other end, as a solo artist is due to release a cover album later this year with a lot of very special guests.
BR - Kenny, many thanks for being with us tonight. Can't Get Enough is a phenomenal album covering different decades of blues and rock'n'roll mixed with brand new material; how easy has been handpicking the tracks that ended up on the album?
KWS - Actually the entire process went very quickly. There were 5 new songs on the record, which we wrote relatively fast even though we never wrote any songs together before; everybody was very surprised to see how well we worked together and then, once we were in the studio, everything went very quickly. We had already chosen several tracks before going to the studio and as we were recording the album, we added additional songs. It was indeed a very straight forward process from the beginning to the end. There was a lot of chemistry between the three of us and, you know, many times, you can't fake that; we didn't know what to expect but thankfully there was a lot of chemistry and we worked very well together, that made the writing and the recording so much easier.
BR - Has this project been in the air for very long time or is the result of a genuine combustion of three different generations that just clicked with one another when you three met?
KWS - The idea for this project started several months before we actually recorded the album; the original idea was for us to go and do a new version of the Super Session record that Stephen did back in the 60s with Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper, in which Barry played the piano as well in a couple of songs in the original recording. But all changed as we started writing songs.. The concept changed and we decided to form a band and to make a debut album for this band so it ended up really in a slightly different way of the original idea behind it.
BR - Kenny, which has been in your opinion, the most challenging aspect in recording this album?
KWS - Well, there wasn't really any challenging aspect in recording this album; we recorded the whole record in one week and we were surrounded by great musicians like Chris Layton on drums from Stevie Ray Vaughan's band and Kevin McCormack on bass that plays with Jackson Browne and Crosby, Stills & Nash so, you know, the fact we had great musicians involved and everybody got along so well, it made for an effortless recording process.
BR - How I Go has been your most recent album released in 2011 as a solo artist; when can we expect your next solo album? We have heard that you are planning a cover album for 2014 with many special guests, is that right?
KWS - Yes, it's true; it's actually going to be an all-blues music record from a lot of my musical influences and heroes; we are covering their material and is going to come out this year, I'm hoping by the end of spring and the beginning of summer. It's really an exciting record; we have some special guests that play on the record, like Ringo Starr playing drums on one track, Joe Walsh playing guitar on another song, Robert Randolph, Warren Haynes from Gov't Mule... So we have some really good special guests and is going to be a very bluesy album; I am sure our fans are going to be very happy with it.
BR - Kenny, this generation has produced some unbelievable blues guitarists like yourself, Joe Bonamassa and Jonny Lang, among others; how difficult is it within the current music industry to maintain a hundred-year old genre like the blues alive?
KWS - Well, there is a lot of interest in the blues right now and you know, the music itself, like you said, has been around for a hundred years now and it continues to show how relevant this music genre is and how timeless it is. So the blues is not in jeopardy of disappearing anytime soon but I think that with each generation, there is some fresh blood coming in and recording the blues, bringing in a little bit of different approach to it, which I think it's great, 'cause it allows the blues to continue to flow and become even more relevant as a result of that. So, it's not really challenging right now, the biggest challenge right now is to continue to give your audience what they want because in this modern day and age, the fans want a continuous stream of new contents so the only challenge is to try and keep up with the interest of the fans and to continue to give them new music as often as they want.
BR - The Rides were born as a sort of continuation of the Super Session concept of Bloomfield & Kooper from many years ago; how tough has it been for you to record the album at the same time that your fourth child was being born?
KWS - Well, that was challenging and one of the reasons why we had such a tight schedule; you know, I was a little worried in the back of my mind that in any moment I could get a phone call and have to run out the door but actually everything worked out well because we managed to finish recording the whole record and then my child was born even after that so the baby came something like 14 days await. Everything was accomplished and all worked out well in the end.
BR - Due to tight recording schedules were there any songs left off the album? We have heard that you, Barry and Stephen have started working on a second album in December last year, is that true?
KWS - Yes, there were songs that we started to write and we didn't finish writing and there were some instrumental songs that we jammed on but they didn't make it to the record. We have also already starting writing new songs for another record so the plan is definitely to make another album together.
BR - You are a true believer in your work and would never record a track in which you don't believe in. How difficult is it to maintain the purity and integrity of your work in the highly compromising world of the music industry?
KWS - Well, I just rely on my instinct; I know immediately if I like a song or not the minute that I write it or that I hear it, I know whether or not it would be something I would record. I just continue to trust my instinct because I feel it got me this far and this is all I really need to do. There is always someone, especially with record companies, that constantly try to talk to you into doing something the way they wanna do it but I always try to do things in the way I want to do it because I am the one that has to live with it. You know, at the end of the day, I am the one that has to play the music every time!
BR - Kenny, you must have a very large wardrobe at home.... A pair of shoes for your solo career, a different one with The Rides... What kind of different funky shoes are you going to pull out next ?
KWS - (Chuckles) I don't really know! We will see but I feel I am a fan of Italian fashion and most of my stage clothes are made in Italy too! So it is an excuse for me to come back in Italy whenever I can; that and the amazing food you guys have!
BR - I am not sure I would quite agree with an old quote by Jimi Hendrix, who once said: "Blues is easy to play but hard to feel". What are your views on this statement, Kenny?
KWS - I think I know what he meant; when he says "hard to feel" he means "hard to play with feeling". The reason is because most people think they can play the blues because they know the basic but it's challenging to play it properly; and to play it properly, you have to play it with some kind of raw emotions and I don't think that is something that everyone can do, otherwise it wouldn't be so amazing when you can hear somebody doing it right. So I kinda know what he meant when he said that and I do think that blues is often underestimated by musicians; they think is very easy and simple to play and I think that if they sat down and try to play it properly they would realize that it's not so easy.
BR - The Rides have been touring the United States for a while; is there any plan to bring The Rides' Live Tour in Europe anytime soon too?
KWS - Well, we tried to bring the tour to Europe at the end of last year but there were complications and obviously it didn't work out and now we are looking at the possibility to come to Europe this year for a tour, we will see.
BR - Kenny, you have been sharing the stage with many music legends all your life, you are a happily married man with children and inspire many people throughout the world through your music. Does life get any better than that?
KWS - You know, I am very grateful; I have got a beautiful family and my career has gone on for 20 years already and I am only 36-years old. I have been fortunate enough to be able to play all over the world and I hope I have been able to touch some people through my music. I have a lot to be grateful for and, you know, if it was all done today, I would be a very happy person.
(Photo Credit: Greg Logan Photography)
To learn more about Kenny Wayne Shepherd and his music, as well as The Rides blues project, visit his website at:
Giovanni "Gio" Pilato is Italian music writer, who has been living in UK since 2002. With an enormous passion for music, and life in general, his interest in the communications began at 11 years old. He worked briefly for local radios in his youth and did a one-off radio show on 2007 on the glorious BBC 6 Music Radio station. Gio started his freelance journalist career in 2012, with Italian artists, and is now focusing on blues artists mainly. He was kind enough to publish his interview with blues woman, Beth Hart, reported from the Hampton Court in London, earlier this year.
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