It was at the tender age of 13 that he got his first break, appearing with blind New Orleans Blucsman Bryan Lee. Prior to this Shepherd had had a hard time trying to get anyone to take him seriously, but as Bryan Lee later said, “I think what did it was that I didn’t see you, as a blind person I only heard you” going on to make the poignant remark, “A lot of time with music, people should just close their eyes, and forget all the visual aspects of it.”
At the age of just 18 KWS recorded his debut album, Ledbetter Heights. The album was a huge hit, shifting half a million copies in its first year and going platinum just a few years later. The album sat at the top of the top of the US Blues chart for an astounding 20 weeks. It’s full of great songs and is a must own for any fan of the Blues, a quick listen to tunes like Shame. Shame, Shame and Everybody Gets the Blues should have you on Amazon in seconds.
From there, Shepherd has gone on to record five more albums, 1997s Trouble Is…, I999s Live On, 2004s The Place You’re In, 2007s 10 Days Out: Blues From The Backroads and 201 Is How I Go. Of this impressive list, every single one reached number one on the US Blues charts, three went platinum and one went gold and he earned himself an impressive five Grammy nominations. All this along with opening slots for the likes of the Rolling Stones, Aerosmith, Bob Dylan, the Eagles. Van Halen and many more!
When it comes to gear, as we’ve already mentioned, Shepherd has his own line of signature KWS Fender Stratocasters, though he also has a Jimi Hendrix Monterey Pop limited edition which he likes to use too and an SRV Strat – but in short you’re going fora Strat for sure to cop his tone. Let’s be honest – he’s most famous for his original ’61 and ’59 Straus and how many of us can afford one of those? For amps, Shepherd uses various Fender models, including a blackface Vlbroverb, a ’57 Tweed Twin reissue, a Supersonic and an Alexander Dumble modded Deluxe Reissue. He’s big on effects pedals too, using a host of drives, fuzz, a univibe, phaser, wall, chorus, octavias and delay with a collection that would make your eyes water. You could look for old TS 808s, Rion pedals, Analogman mods and originals, vintage fuzz pedals etc, but on a budget though, a nice multi effects unit would do the job.
Kenny Wayne Shepherd is currently out on the road promoting 201 l’s How I Go, with Noah Hunt on vocals, Tony Franklin on bass, Chris Layton on drums and Riley Osbourn on Hammond and keys, which is when GI’s Stuart Bull caught up with him. Watch the video for some words of wisdom!