3 #1 Blues Albums
A few years ago, Kenny Wayne Shepherd took a well-deserved vacation after touring for eight years to support his previous three albums. And the eleven blazing tracks that comprise The Place You’re In, his long awaited new Reprise Records release, are proof that it’s been worth the wait. One of the most acclaimed guitarists of his generation, Kenny Wayne Shepherd reveals intense musical passion in this new recording, the first to feature his soulful vocals. In the process, he’s proven conclusively that originality, authenticity and the restless urge to grow are never out of date.
Produced by Marti Frederiksen, The Place You’re In spotlights a stunning stylistic shift from an artist who almost single-handedly introduced Blues/Rock to a new young audience. “It was a natural progression,” remarks the Shreveport, LA native. “Although I established myself in the blues, my music has always had rock elements. When I started writing for this album, I just went where the songs led me and found myself opening up to another side of my music.” But it isn’t simply the impressive leap into rock and roll realms that marks The Place You’re In as the most explosively innovative album of Kenny Wayne Shepherd’s career. From its opening notes, the artist reveals a fresh new dimension of his multi-faceted musical talent—that of an assured and accomplished vocalist.
His untapped singing abilities came to the fore in a single auspicious moment in early 2003. “I had a real moment of clarity, “ Shepherd recounts. “I suddenly saw myself up on stage, fronting the band, singing and playing guitar. I finally locked in on how those two elements can work off each other. All of a sudden, I understood how making the songs my own as a vocalist would give so much more passion to my guitar playing and vice versa. From that moment, I knew I had to take the chance and give it everything I’ve got.”
Giving it all he’s got has been a trademark for Kenny Wayne Shepherd. At 13 years old he was earning critical acclaim as a guitar wunderkind in clubs throughout the Deep South, and while still in high school, he recorded his first album Ledbetter Heights in 1995 which was certified gold by the RIAA.
It was followed, two years later by the platinum selling, Grammy® nominated Trouble is… which featured such blues-drenched chart toppers as “Slow Ride” and “Blue On Black.” 1999 saw the release of his third best seller and Grammy nominated, Live On, while his reputation as an incendiary live performer was consolidated with a virtually endless round of international touring that earned the young prodigy a fanatic following across North America, Europe, Asia, and Australia.
It was in 2000 that Shepherd took a well-deserved respite to recharge his creative batteries, relocating to Los Angeles to avail himself of the city’s thriving music scene. He was soon back at work, writing new material and developing his vocal skills. “The songwriting really flowed, “ he says, recounting his instant affinity with producer Frederiksen. “Marti understood exactly what I was going for and what it would take to get there. He just stepped back and let it happen.”
Over eight months, Shepherd reached the requisite level of confidence to step forward as a vocalist. When asked why he never sang on his previous three albums, he explained, “I sang on a few tracks on my earlier albums, but I was a lot younger then and the voice I was hearing in the vocal booth wasn’t the same one I was hearing in my head. My songs have always been highly personal, but the last thing I wanted to do was sacrifice my sound for the sake of singing lead vocals. It just took a while for them to match up.”
Helping maintain the standard that his fans have come to expect has been Noah Hunt, lead singer on Shepherd’s previous two albums. “Noah is still very much part of my music, “ the artist insists. “He helped write a song on the new project and sings vocals on two cuts.”
Recording began in earnest earlier this year. “Once we got everything up to speed, “ says Shepherd, “it really took off. At the same time, I wanted to leave room for spur-of-the-moment inspiration. At least half of the new songs were written in the studio in the heat of the moment. Once I had the musical direction and the confidence to sing what I had written, it was like nothing could stop us.” It was that spirit of energy and enthusiasm that drew close friend Kid Rock into the mix to co-write and record “Spank.”
“So much of what I’m hearing today draws from the negative, “ Shepherd concludes. “There’s just a lot of bad energy floating around. This music is hopefully putting something positive out there; a little hope and optimism for the future. We’re all growing and changing. Nothing stays the same. We might as well get behind it and enjoy the ride.