The American Blues/Rock guitarist extraordinaire talks to Bluebird Reviews about the making of Pierced Arrow, the new album with the supergroup The Rides and also about his future with The Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band
(Photo by Greg Logan)
Two decades in the music business and Kenny Wayne Shepherd, one of the most iconic blues and rock and roll artists worldwide, sounds and looks as in great shape as ever.
Shepherd is one of the architects of the contemporary blues/rock renaissance and it is not a surprise to see his artistic path often crossing with giants of the music business, going through the re-discovery of the traditions and the history of the last half a century of American music.
In this respect, by working with the supergroup The Rides, Shepherd has been able to explore even further, together with his fellow bandmates Stephen Stills and Barry Goldberg, his love and passion for American music at 360 degrees, something that Stills and Goldberg share too with the Louisiana-born artist.
Pierced Arrow is the band's second album and is the ultimate America's songbook. The record is a true homage to this great country, celebrating half a century of music history. From Rockabilly to R&B, blues and soul, the album takes an impressive turn to the band's highly acclaimed debut album Can't Get Enough. Bluebird Reviews is wondering whether taking such turn was the the plan all along for Pierced Arrow or did the new songs changed their shape during the recording process. "Well, we didn't really have a plan, except that we wanted to go ahead with The Rides and make another great album together. The songs got their shape at Stephen's house, just like what we did on our first album. We wrote the songs over there between myself, Stephen and Barry and we brought also in Kevin McCormick (rhytm section bassist) to join us on some of the songwriting sessions. We never meant to steer the album towards one direction or the other and as a result, you can hear many different musical influences on Pierced Arrow. I think that this new record really further defines the sound of The Rides. It's the sound of a true American band that started as a blues band and then gradually spread its wings towards the genres that made the music history of our country, just like you mentioned. In Pierced Arrow there is blues, there is some old school, vintage rock and roll and much more. Our goal was fundamentally to do a great album and to be able to follow the lead that the songs we were writing were taking us to".
When listening to Pierced Arrow, there is a real feeling that Shepherd, Goldberg and Stills were having a real good time recording the album and letting it loose. A sign that, perhaps it didn't take long for The Rides to write and record the new album. "Well, it took a little while, to be honest but not because it was hard to make it but because of our personal schedules. We finished our first Tour in November 2013 and got back together, at Stephen's house, around the end of January 2014. We immediately started writing songs for the follow-up of the Can't Get Enough album but my schedule and Stephen's schedule with Crosby and Nash was so busy that we had to search for opportunities to reunite over the course of 2014, when we were at home in the same time. That is what we did and since then, at any possible opportunity we got together every few months and wrote new songs at Stephen's place. We gradually wrote Pierced Arrow over the course of 2014 but, by the end of that year, we figured that we had enough material and songs to go into the studio and record the new album. The recording process started at the end of January 2015 and then we mixed the album in March 2015. Our hope was to get the record out in 2015 but the mixing process took a little bit longer then we had expected. Stephen had to leave in the middle of the mixing process to go to Japan with Crosby & Nash and during that time I was offered to go on Tour with Van Halen in the United States for the entire summer, offer that I accepted. Those circumstances forced us to postpone the release of this album until this year. It took a while to get us finally here and to be able to release Pierced Arrow but if you would have taken all the obstacles out of the equation, to write and record the album happened relatively fast. We normally like to record our songs on the first or second take and we still approach our music that way. We tried to record everything in the most authentic and organic way as possible, with very minimal overdubs, which is always the way in which we like to make records".
Pierced Arrow is an album that took many fans by surprise in a great way. Bluebird Reviews doubts that this new record carries any "leftover" track from the recording session of the first album. "You are correct, there were not. There were some ideas that came up, on the first album, by jamming together that then developed further in the studio when we finished the first album. The outcome of those jams though did not make it on the Can't Get Enough album and we did not think they were worth revisiting, while making the second album. There were, however, some songs that we recorded for our new album that were not included on this record. There were a couple of extra songs that I am not sure whether in future they will show up or not on one of our next records, you never know".
The Rides - (From L to R) Stephen Stills, Barry Goldberg & Kenny Wayne Shepherd
By the sound of what Shepherd just said, such songs that did not make it for the album's final tracklist may see the light of the day, perhaps, on a possible live album in future. "Maybe, why not? We are recording all the shows that we are doing on the current Tour and we did the same with all the shows we did on the first Tour together too. I have been thinking about, maybe, putting together some performances from this Tour with some from the first Tour and perhaps releasing one live album or maybe two live albums, which would be very interesting".
Pierced Arrow, among many highlights, also unveils a phenomenal delivery of Gladys Knight & The Pips' classic I've Got To Use My Imagination but in the version made by the great Bobby "Blue" Bland. "Well, that was certainly my most favourite version of that song. I mean, I just love the way that Bobby Bland recorded that song. It is my personal preference, I just love his take even more than the Gladys Knight's one. When we did the first Tour, that's when we started playing that song at first. As you may understand, on our first Tour, at that time we had only one album to play and there was obviously not enough material to carry a show for an hour and a half. So we had to look into each other's catalogues to find additional songs to help and fill in the set every night. We did some of Stephen's songs, some of my songs and then I started looking for some songs that could have been good enough and fitting enough for the live shows. When I heard the Bobby Bland's version of I've Got To Use My Imagination, I thought "This would be a great song for us to do". So we did that on the first Tour and we realised that it worked very well with the audience. So much so that we decided that we were going to record our version of that song on the second album and that's what we did".
The band's name perfectly defines the musical journey The Rides are on and the love for vintage cars that Shepherd shares with Stephen Stills. The guitarist and singer/songwriter, among many cars he owns, has got also a couple of splendid vintage Dodge in his eclectic collection. BBR is wondering, using a language close to Shepherd's heart, whether The Rides pushed enough the accelerator on this album as much as the artist would do on one of his Dodge's. "Yes, I would say so (chuckles). The music, the concerts, our whole relationship and cameraderie as artists, it all takes you on a journey that it's pretty much comparable to an experience one can have by driving a fast car, just as you said. It's that special feeling of having your foot firmly planted on the floor of your car, shooting away on the highway and watching the world go by. I would certainly say that this experience with The Rides resembles for me that type of wonderful feeling. We are a high energy band and there may be times when we push hard on the accelerator, while playing or some other times we can slow down a little but the engine of our band would always remain as smooth as one of the cars you just mentioned".
Life In The Fast Lane is a song from the glorious band The Eagles that sums up well the rhythm of Shepherd's career in the music business. An unstoppable musician, Shepherd always works very hard and tour relentlessly for the best part of every year. After The Rides Tour is over, will this hugely talented artist release new material as The Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band anytime soon? "I have been writing songs and making several trips down to Tennessee over the past several months, writing with new songwriters that I have never written with before and working with some of the people that I have been writing with my whole career. So, in answer to your question, yes, I have been writing songs and a new album is in the making. At the moment, I am not exactly sure how the next album it's going to sound like, to be honest with you. We have been writing different kind of songs, some of which sound like nothing I have ever done before and I am not trying to steer the album in any direction in particular. I am just writing songs and going where the music takes us while we are writing. I would anticipate that by the end of this year, I'll be in the studio recording the new album, which should be probably coming out by some times next year".
The new The Rides album sees also Shepherd harmonizing with Stephen Stills on a couple of songs. In BBR's view, one of such songs, Virtual World, represents one of the most intense musical moments on Pierced Arrow. An experience that must have been truly special for the blues/rock titan. "It has been amazing. It was something I would have never expected to do in this band. I figured that, within the band, I would have been singing just lead vocals, just as Stephen would have but I didn't really anticipate us becoming a harmony group. When that happened on a couple of tracks of the album, it really felt like a truly remarkable experience. I mean, Stephen is legendary when it comes to harmonize. When I think about the great artists he has been harmonizing with throughout his career, people like Neil Young, David Crosby, Graham Nash, just the idea that my name is now added to that fantastic list, makes me feel really happy and proud".
The Rides are currently touring the United States (see the band's full schedule on their website http://www.theridesband.com/) but on their schedule there is no mention of touring European countries or any other part of the world so far. "Well, I wish that there was the chance to tour out of the States but I can't say that there is. I have been trying to push for an European Tour schedule at least but it is a little bit complicated to do that, with this band and this organisation. I don't know whether that might happen, I wish that would really happen but at this moment in time, I couldn't possibly say".
Kenny Wayne Shepherd is not just a phenomenal and versatile musician but also somebody with a deep knowledge and understanding of the roots of one of the music genres that he loves the most, which is the blues. The Guitarist released, almost a decade ago, a wonderful live album and music film about the tradition and the history of the blues through the tales and the songs of some of the most influential blues artists. The CD/DVD is called 10 Days Out: Blues From The Backroads and it is one of the most impressive music documents of the last century on the importance and the influence that blues had and still has in contemporary music. BBR is hoping that Shepherd, one day, will be able to do a follow-up of that memorable project. "Well, it is my intention to release a follow-up to it. The plan was to have much more work accomplished on this project than we have but honestly, with my band, with touring and now having a second band with The Rides and touring with them too, I have not had a lot of extra time, lately, to work on the next 10 Days Out Mach II. It is still something though that I intend on doing and hopefully, soon, I hope to find the right time slot to allow me to pursue this project so close to my heart".
The Maverick guitarist from Shreveport has played and still does with the elite of blues and rock, from BB King to Eddie Van Halen, not least his fellow compadres in The Ride's project. Before parting company, we ask Shepherd whether there are any musicians, of the past or present, that he would have loved to record with in his splendid career. "Well, to be honest, I don't sit around thinking about stuff like "I want to work with this guy or this other guy". I just let things happening and see, in the end, with which artists I was meant to play with, you know? For the longest time, I never had the opportunity to play with Eric Clapton until several years ago, when I was able to play with him on stage. I mean, to record with him, that would be fantastic but, I reckon is hardly ever going to happen because he is very focused solely on doing his own albums. Basically, I am open to make music with anyone that really makes sense to me and I can make some great music with. I think that as long as I remain open to that idea, you never know what it might happen!".
Giovanni "Gio" Pilato
Pierced Arrow is out now and it can be purchased via Provogue/Mascot Label Group