US singer-songwriter and son-in-law to Mel Gibson, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, is one of the international acts fronting Bluesfest this year. Mandy Nolan caught up with Kenny on the eve of his Australian visit.
What influence did your father’s job as a music promoter have on your musical development? I was exposed to many different genres of music and live shows. As a result it all played a role in influencing my musical identity.
Can you tell me a little about the effect meeting Stevie Ray Vaughan had on you as a kid? Meeting Stevie was profoundly inspirational. From that moment I was driven to learn how to play guitar with fire, intensity, passion and feeling.
You were self taught – how did you do this? You were very young to create a strategy for learning an instrument. I play by ear, so I would listen to songs and sound them out one note at a time. It was a very tedious process, but it worked.
How does playing the greats help you become a better player? Every time I have the honour to share the stage with great musicians it inspires me to play better and push my limits. I always try to learn something from the greats so that I can continue to progress.
When did you make the jump from other people’s compositions to your own? Somewhere between the ages of 11 and 13 I began writing original songs. I knew that in order to have my own identity as an artist I would have to make the transition from playing other people’s music to creating my own.
What is it about blues music that ignited the passion in your playing? The passion and feeling that is necessary to play the blues is what drew me to it. When I listen to the blues I feel something deep inside and it feels good.
I’ve never seen ‘Blues from the Backroads’, but can you tell me a little about what inspired that project? Were you trying to archive great players that could be lost once they pass on? How successful was it a project for you? Were there still people you wanted to hunt down? ‘10 Days Out: Blues From the Backroads’ was a project born out of my love for blues music, its artists that have inspired me, and the blues fans that continue to support the genre. The idea was to play with some of my musical heroes and also play with some other artists for the first time… To give a unique project to the blues community as a thankyou for the inspiration and support it has provide me for so many years. It was extremely successful and I believe it will continue to be a relevant piece for generations to enjoy. There are always more artists out there to seek out and play with, and we have considered doing a follow-up to it maybe one day.
What for you are your three most memorable live performances?
1. The first time I played with BB King at age 15.
2. Playing to 80,000 people every night while on tour opening for the Eagles’ ‘Hell Freezes Over’ tour in Europe.
3. The ‘Howlin’ for Hubert’ show we just did in New York at the Apollo Theatre. I was paying tribute to a mentor and a dear friend, and also got to share the stage with Eric Clapton for the first time.
How I Go was released last year – as a seventh album. What are the places that you go now that you wouldn’t have dared 10 years back? I don’t know really. I feel that I have always been willing to experiment with my music and take chances while always maintaining the integrity of the music. I feel like the biggest difference is maturity that has come with playing live concerts and recording albums for 20 years.
And can you tell me what we can expect for your 2012 Bluesfest performance? There will be a mix of songs from most of the records we have put out over the years, along with some cover tunes that we love to play.
Easter long weekend in Byron Bay. For more program details and ticketing info go to www.bluesfest.com.au.