Kenny Wayne Shepherd: the soundtrack of my life

Kenny Wayne Shepherd headshot
(Image credit: Mark Seliger)

Kenny Wayne Shepherd is not only a blues player, he’s also a blues scholar. “I’ve really dug deep,” he says. “Thoroughly researching the blues, tracing the lineage back to the early origins.” 

This obsession started early. Born on June 12, 1977 in Shreveport, Louisiana, he fell in love with this music when he was just a toddler. And in a 25-year recording career begun at 18, he has remained faithful to what he calls “my brand of blues rock”. But the soundtrack to his life is not one-dimensional. It also features Nirvana, Ozzy Osbourne, Johnny Cash, James Brown and Barry White.


The first music I remember hearing

My dad was a disc jockey on the radio in my home town, so I’ve been surrounded by music my entire life. The first concert my dad took me to see, when I was three years old, was Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker. I firmly believe that was instrumental in cultivating my appreciation for blues music at such a young age.

The first song I performed live

In middle school I played a talent show with a couple of other kids, and we played Crazy Train by Ozzy Osbourne. We didn’t play the whole song, only that main guitar riff, over and over again.

The greatest album of all time

In my opinion, Hard Again by Muddy Waters. Johnny Winter produced it and played guitar on it, and Muddy had this Who’s Who band… You can tell the whole album was cut live, no fancy overdubbing, just the band firing on all cylinders.

The guitar hero

Stevie Ray Vaughan changed my life. He was the spark that lit the flame in me to want to play guitar with that kind of passion and intensity that he played with. But the greatest of all time was Hendrix. That guy was doing things back then that have yet to be outdone today. And what he accomplished in such a short amount of time…

The songwriter

Lennon and McCartney consistently turned out incredible songs with amazing vocal melodies, and I love McCartney’s stuff beyond The Beatles, with Wings and solo. But if I’m talking about blues, Willie Dixon is the man. He wrote many of the most popular blues songs ever written.

The singer

I have to go back to Muddy Waters again. I always wanted to sound like him. He had such character in his vocal delivery. It’s like he’s having a conversation with you as he’s singing a song, which makes the music sound more personal, and as a listener it brings you more into the music.

The best record I've made

I like what I did with my second album, Trouble Is… [1997], and it sold millions. But my goal every time I go into the studio is to make the best album of my life. 

The worst record I've made

I’m not going to throw any of my records under the bus, but if I could do one over again it would be the third one, Live On [1999]. It was kind of a hectic time making that record, and I feel like I could have been more focused.

My Saturday night party song

I have children, the youngest is a year and a half, so when I’m at home, the last thing I’m doing is throwing parties. But in my younger days – I’m a product of the nineties – I was into Nirvana and Pearl Jam and, at the opposite end of the spectrum, Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg. So for me, Smells Like Teen Spirit was a party song.

My 'In the mood for love' song

Maybe it’s the old soul in me, but the minute I’m in a mood for love I think of Al Green, Love And Happiness. Or if I’m really going all the way, straight-up cheesy, I’ll put on some Barry White, like Can’t Get Enough Of Your Love, Babe.

The anthem

For me, the greatest guitar anthem is Hendrix’s Voodoo Child (Slight Return). If there is one song I wish I’d written, that’s it. A close second would be We Will Rock You by Queen. That’s as big an anthem as there has ever been.

My cult hero

Not a lot of people know about Son House. He had one of the most haunting voices I’ve ever heard in my life. He was really able to convey the pain and suffering in his music.

The best live band I've seen

I was part of James Brown’s band a few times. One time he brought some of his former band members – Maceo Parker on saxophone and Bootsy Collins on bass – and I was playing guitar. And that was the hottest band I’d ever physically been a part of.

The song that makes me cry

I’m not a big crier. You should talk to my wife about that, ha ha. But I find myself getting emotional with my own music when a song comes from personal experience. I’ve written a song for my next album – it doesn’t even have a title yet – which is about my kids and how blessed I am. That makes me tear up.

The song I want played at my funeral

A funeral can be a celebration of life, so I would like something upbeat, maybe Gonna Have A Funky Good Time by James Brown, something to lift people’s spirits. It goes: ‘We gonna take it higher!’ It’s like the ascension to the next life, so it would be really appropriate.

Kenny Wayne Shepherd tours the US from June - tickets are on sale now.

Paul Elliott

Freelance writer for Classic Rock since 2005, Paul Elliott has worked for leading music titles since 1985, including Sounds, Kerrang!, MOJO and Q. He is the author of several books including the first biography of Guns N’ Roses and the autobiography of bodyguard-to-the-stars Danny Francis. He has written liner notes for classic album reissues by artists such as Def Leppard, Thin Lizzy and Kiss, and currently works as content editor for Total Guitar. He lives in Bath - of which David Coverdale recently said: “How very Roman of you!”