Center Presents: Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band

The Palladium // Saturday, April 16, 8 p.m. ET

March 2022

Guitar phenom Kenny Wayne Shepherd signed his first recording contract at 16 and quickly became one of the most successful blues-rock artists of his generation, as well as a prominent champion of the blues tradition. . The Louisiana native’s releases have regularly topped Billboard’s blues album charts, and he has collaborated or toured with names including BB King, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, Robert Randolph, Stephen Stills, Ringo Starr, the Rolling Stones and Van Halen. Along the way, he earned five Grammy Award nominations, two Billboard Music Awards, and the Blues Foundation’s Keeping the Blues Alive award, among others.

The Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band’s current tour celebrates the 25th anniversary of their second album, “Trouble Is…”, which sent three singles to the Top 10 on the Mainstream Rock charts: “Blue on Black”, “Everything Is Broken” and ” Somehow, somewhere, somehow.

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Janelle Morrison: Before we get to the 25th anniversary of “Trouble Is…”, tell me, does it feel good to be on tour?

Kenny Wayne Shepherd: It’s pretty amazing. Obviously no one saw all of this coming – to be closed for as long as we have been. There have been so many false starts. We would have a tour booked, and we would have to cancel and reschedule. We had shows that were rescheduled four times.

The shows we do this year are probably about half of what we would do in a normal year. Not knowing if we had to reschedule everything, it was better to reschedule half the dates instead of the whole tour. Obviously, it’s our job and how we support our families, but it’s also what we love to do. So to be there, to be able to serve that purpose, is good. My goal, when I go on stage every time, is to try to bring light and joy into people’s lives through the gift of music and to give them the opportunity to forget all the bad things, the things that bother them, and give them something to dig into. And being able to fulfill this objective is very satisfying.

JM: From an audience perspective, it’s been really cathartic to return to a more natural habitat and come together as a community to listen to songs that take us back to a simpler time. From a singer-songwriter’s perspective, what can music do to help us at this time?

KWS: I have to say that music is definitely a healer. I did a show recently, and someone in the audience yelled, “Kenny Wayne Shepherd for President!” I was like, “Hey man, thanks, I appreciate the sentiment!” But, in today’s world, politics only divides people. It’s so divisive and so polarizing. Music brings people together. So I’ll stick to the music. I want to bring people together. I don’t want to fight with people. I don’t want to participate in any of this. Going to a show like this is an opportunity for people to come together, regardless of their belief system, politics, or how they choose to live their lives. They can all enter the same building, under the same roof, stand side by side and enjoy a moment in life without all of this being discussed, between us. And that’s what we aim to provide.

JM: Well, you’ve been doing this for over two decades now. When I think of the first release of “Trouble Is…” [1997], life was very different. Since then, you have managed to engage and attract another generation of blues-rock fans. I’m curious, when you think back to that album and how it propelled your career, is there something that strikes you like “I didn’t really think about THAT at the time, but am I thinking about it now?”

KWS: I would say that every time you release a record, you don’t know what to expect. You do the best you can with it and hope for the best. But it’s up to the person you trust to help spread the music and do their job, and then it’s up to people to respond and tune in or not. We didn’t know what we had when we released this record. We thought we had something special, especially with “Blue on Black” in particular. We knew it was a special song. But we didn’t know what it would really accomplish. Looking back, we go “Wow” to everything we’ve accomplished, and not just with this particular song. We sold over a million copies of the record, and the song “Blue on Black” topped the charts and was – at the time – the longest running No. 1 single in Billboard Rock chart history. And then a few years ago it started again and was #1 when Five Finger Death Punch did a version of it with me, Brian May and Brantley Gilbert.

JM: How has the recording industry changed since you were at the top of the charts and ‘going platinum’?

KWS: Looking back, we were at the very end of what I think was really the “golden age”, where you put out a record, radio stations got copies of your music where it was heard for the first time and then you watched it go up the charts, sell a million copies of that record and have a platinum disc on the wall. All of that is kind of a bygone era for most people these days. You don’t even count the success in album sales anymore. It all depends on how many streams you have. It’s like the whole industry has been turned upside down and settled into this new way of doing business, and we’ve had to navigate it all.

JM: Of course, it’s not like you started [in this career] thinking you were going to have to engage and manage your social media.

KWS: No, not at all. And frankly, I’m not wired that way. In theory, you’re supposed to have that direct connection to your audience. It was a big bait and switch. Because Facebook and all these platforms are like, “Come here and build an audience, and you can connect with them directly.” Then they stifle it and they make you pay for the audience YOU HAVE built to actually see what you are broadcasting. It’s kind of a racket, but we had to deal with it.

I’m kind of a dinosaur in some ways in this world of social media because I’m not wired to be there, constantly pumping up what I’m doing. I’m kind of a private person offstage, so having to reassess how business is going is interesting, to say the least.

JM: Well, thank you for not posting your breakfast, lunch and dinner. As fans, I think most of us care what you work on, but we really don’t care what you eat.

KWS: [Laughing] Is not it?

JM: Share with me a bit of what’s going on with this anniversary tour, some of the things you’ll be sharing with the audience when you come to the Palladium in Carmel and if there’s a stash of songs you may have been seated , waiting to come out and try us?

KWS: Just before it all stopped, we had just finished recording a brand new record. So I’ve been sitting on this for two years. I didn’t think it was appropriate to release a new record when we couldn’t release and support it. I have a bunch of new material, but I’m a bit old school when it comes to this. I don’t like playing new songs until the record is out so people can really hear it. I don’t want someone’s first impression of a song to come from a cell phone. I don’t mind cell phone videos at all, but I don’t want it to be the first impression because it may not be the best quality and the sound may not record well. So all the new stuff will be out soon, but right now we are focusing on the 25th anniversary of “Trouble Is…”. We’ve never played the whole album in a gig before. We play the whole album, counting down from the last song to the first, during these anniversary concerts. Then when we come back for the encore, we play newer material so people who haven’t seen one of our shows in a few years can hear some of the music we’ve been putting out since then. We have always been very active. It was a really fun opportunity to revisit all those songs on the “Trouble Is…” record. We haven’t played them for a very long time, so rediscovering the album live was quite interesting and fun.

Evelyn C. Tobin