For the first time in his career, Kenny Wayne Shepherd enjoyed the opportunity to take a “finish no record before its time” approach to making his latest studio CD, “How I Go.”
That’s one reason the gap between his studio albums grew to seven years.
Of course, Shepherd hadn’t spent those years loafing. In 2006, he released “10 Days Out,” a combination DC/DVD that involved Shepherd (along with drummer Chris Layton and bassist Tommy Shannon, from Stevie Ray Vaughan’s old band, Double Trouble, traveling to locations around the United States to record and film collaborations with a host of veteran blues artists, including Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, Etta Baker, Pinetop Perkins (Muddy Waters’ pianist) and Hubert Sumlin (Howlin’ Wolf’s guitarist).
Then in 2010, he released his first concert CD, “Live in Chicago,” a release that featured primarily material Shepherd had not put on his five studio CDs.
Considering the gap that had developed since Shepherd released his last studio CD, 2004’s, “The Place You’re in,” one might have expected him to feel a sense of urgency to finish and release his new studio CD, “How I Go.”
Instead, Shepherd took his time. Some of it was a necessity.
With the gap between studio albums, he had accumulated roughly 300 to 400 guitar riffs, rhythm tracks and song ideas.
Shepherd couldn’t just stop on a dime and instantly turn those ideas into songs. He has always favored cowriting, and decided to work with several of his favorite collaborators, Mark Selby, Tia Sellers and Zac Maloy, which meant multiple trips to Nashville for writing sessions.
Shepherd then decided not to rush the recording process, either.
“I was able to do it at somewhat of a leisurely pace,” he says. “We went in the studio over the course of the past year and made this record. … It enabled me to live with the material for long periods of time and really analyze it and listen to it. And that way I was very sure when I went back in the studio what needed to be done to make it better.”
This made for a whole different experience for Shepherd compared to his other studio albums.
“In the past, we’ve done records, we’ve written an album in a matter of a couple of months, gone in and recorded in a matter of a couple of months, then hit the road for a year and a half and then jumped right back into the studio and did it all over again,” Shepherd says. “So this is a little bit of a new approach to making this record, and I really enjoyed it.”
A native of Shreveport, La., Shepherd started playing guitar at age 7, and as he moved into his teens, it became apparent that his playing was far more advanced than his years.
His talent got noticed, and when Shepherd was just 17, he came on the national scene in 1995 with the CD, “Ledbetter Heights,” which included the hit “Blue on Black.” The album became a hit, and Shepherd’s guitar skills and blues-rooted sound drew the obvious talk that he’d be the next Stevie Ray Vaughan.
The praise for Shepherd continued, as he cranked out two more CDs in quick succession (between a heavy duty schedule of tour dates) — the Grammy-nominated “Trouble is …” in 1997 and “Live On” two years later.
Since then, though, Shepherd’s recorded output has slowed to deal with a drinking and drug habit.
In addition, Shepherd gained other priorities in his life besides recording and touring. In 2006, he married Hannah Gibson (daughter of Mel Gibson), and over a period of four years, they have had three children, which has made family time a priority.
Shepherd has been working on a new studio CD that should see release by summer.
With “How I Go,” Shepherd — who feels he re-established blues as the foundation of his sound with “10 Days Out” and “Live in Chicago” — was eager to reassert the rock facet of his sound.
“I wanted there to be a nice mix between blues and blues-based rock, or contemporary blues or whatever you want to call it, just getting back to that middle road between the rock and the blues, which I think is what people have come to expect from me and my band,” he says.
The rock side emerges right away, however, with “Never Lookin’ Back,” a driving track that is arguably the best song on the new CD.