Signed to a major-label record deal by impresario Irving Azoff at 13, blues-rock guitarist and songwriter Kenny Wayne Shepherd exploded on 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 music, 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 seen all but one of his albums top the blues charts and seven of his singles enter the Top 10. Three of his albums have been certified platinum and another 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. He has been nominated for five Grammy Awards, has received two Billboard Music Awards, two Blues Music Awards, and two Orville H. Gibson Awards.
Shepherd was born June 12, 1977, in Shreveport, Louisiana. The Shreveport native began playing at age seven, figuring out Muddy Waters' licks from his father's record collection (he has never taken a formal lesson). At age 13, he was invited on-stage by New Orleans bluesman Bryan Lee and held his own for several hours; thus proving himself, he decided on music as a career. He formed his own band, which featured lead vocalist Corey Sterling, gaining 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 Irving Azoff's 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 ones released by artists who are still in their teens. Although Shepherd -- who has been influenced by (and has sometimes played with) guitarists Stevie Ray Vaughan, Albert King, Slash, Robert Cray, and Duane Allman -- is definitely a performer who thrives in front of an audience, Ledbetter Heights was impressive for its range of styles: acoustic blues, rockin' blues, Texas blues, Louisiana blues. The only style that he doesn't tackle is Chicago blues, owing to Shepherd's home base being smack dab in the middle of the Texas triangle.
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 doing the majority of the lead vocals (singer Noah Hunt handled the lead vocals 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 before Live! In Chicago followed in 2010. That November, Shepherd joined Jimmy Fallon's house band on TV for an evening, and performed with the same Fender Stratocaster that Jimi Hendrix had played at Woodstock.
Although Shepherd had 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-Johnny Winter And, Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble), 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 debut for Provogue. Shepherd made his debut at the Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival later in the summer. ~ Steve Huey & Richard Skelly