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Kenny Wayne Shepherd

Signed to a major-label record deal by impresario Irving Azoff at the age of 13, blues-rock guitarist and songwriter Kenny Wayne Shepherd exploded onto the scene in the mid-'90s. His debut album, Ledbetter Heights, garnered massive radio airplay and media attention on its way to topping the blues charts and being certified platinum. This was a curiosity in that FM rock radio was not a reliable home for blues and blues-rock, with the exceptions being Stevie Ray Vaughan in the mid-'80s and Eric Clapton and Johnny Winter in the early '70s. Since then, his aggressive, clean, and meaty, rocking country-blues style has sent all but one of his albums to the top of the blues charts and seven of his singles into the Top Ten. Several of his albums have been certified platinum and gold. Shepherd's signature song, 1998's scorching "Blue on Black," topped the rock charts as a single. 2014's Goin' Home not only hit number one at blues but landed inside the Top 100 on the U.S. album charts. Shepherd had a string of number one albums on the Billboard Blues charts into the 2020s, a period of time where he honed and expanded his sound, leading him to the soul-injected 2023 set Dirt on My Diamonds, Vol. 1. Shepherd was born June 12, 1977, in Shreveport, Louisiana. He began playing at the age of seven, figuring out Muddy Waters' licks from his father's record collection (he has never taken formal lessons). At age 13, he was invited on-stage by New Orleans bluesman Bryan Lee and held his own for several hours, after which he decided on music as a career. He formed his own band, which featured lead vocalist Corey Sterling, and gained early exposure through club dates and, later, radio conventions. Shepherd's father/manager used his own contacts and pizzazz in the record business to help land his son a major-label record deal with Giant Records. Ledbetter Heights, his first album, was released two years later in 1995 and was an immediate hit, selling over 500,000 copies by early 1996. Most blues records never achieve that level of commercial success, much less those released by artists still in their teens. Influenced by (and having played with) guitarists Stevie Ray Vaughan, Albert King, Slash, Robert Cray, and Duane Allman, Shepherd is a performer who thrives in front of an audience. Ledbetter Heights is impressive for its range of styles: acoustic blues, rockin' blues, Texas blues, and Louisiana blues. Released in 1998, Trouble Is... earned a Grammy nomination and Live On followed a year later. In 2004, The Place You're In was released on Reprise Records, and was the first album to feature Shepherd taking on the majority of lead vocals (singer Noah Hunt handled the lead on the previous two albums). Shepherd's next project saw him traveling the American South with a documentary film crew and a portable recording studio as he backed up several veteran blues players on their home turf. The resulting album and film, 10 Days Out: Blues from the Backroads, appeared in 2007, and Live! In Chicago followed in 2010. That November, Shepherd joined Jimmy Fallon's house band on TV for an evening, performing with the same Fender Stratocaster that Jimi Hendrix played at Woodstock. Although Shepherd stayed busy in the intervening years, 2011's How I Go was his first studio album proper in seven years. In an attempt to revive the success of 1998's Trouble Is..., he once again recruited Noah Hunt on vocals, as well as former Talking Heads keyboard player and guitarist Jerry Harrison, who had produced the sessions for that platinum-selling album. Shepherd followed How I Go with 2014's Goin' Home, a tribute to his musical heroes that featured contributions from artists such as Ringo Starr and Keb' Mo'. The Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band returned in 2017 with Lay It on Down, a record cut in Shreveport, Louisiana's Echophone Studios and his eighth to top the blues charts. In late 2018, Shepherd entered a Los Angeles studio with his band, vocalist Noah Hunt, drummer Chris Layton (ex-Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble and Johnny Winter And), bassist Kevin McCormick, and keyboardists Jimmy McGorman and Joe Krown. A pre-released single, "Woman Like You," was issued at the end of March 2019, followed by the full-length The Traveler at the end of May, his first for Provogue. Shepherd made his debut at the Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival later in the summer. The following year brought the live CD/DVD combo Straight to You Live recorded in Germany. Shepherd celebrated the 25th anniversary of Trouble Is… with Trouble Is..25, a revisiting of his 1997 album with the original producer. He quickly followed the record with Dirt on My Diamonds, Vol. 1, a soulful session largely recorded at the fabled FAME studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama.
© Steve Huey & Richard Skelly /TiVo
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