Kenny Wayne Shepherd
Great songs are not set in stone. Since he burst from the blues clubs of Louisiana onto the global music scene with 1995’s breakthrough first album, Ledbetter Heights, followed by his career defining second album, Trouble Is...in 1997, Kenny Wayne Shepherd has twisted those classic cuts into bold new shapes each night on the stage. Led by the pulse of the crowd, every last note alive in his hands, the Trouble Is...tracks have always been on the move, never settling into museum pieces.But to give a quarter-century-old album a second birth is another matter. And in more recent times, as the five-time-Grammy-nominated, multi-platinum-selling artist looked up the road and saw the 25th anniversary of Trouble Is...on the horizon, he hatched an audacious plan. To join the dots from the hungry 18-year-old gunslinger who caught lightning in a bottle in 1997 to the still-questing master musician, with a lifetime’s soul under his fingers. To assemble the old crew from the original TroubleIs...sessions at the Record Plant in Sausalito, California and attack the track listing afresh. And to remind seasoned fans and new listeners alike how this album struck the match that reignited modern blues.“One of the coolest things about re-recording Trouble Is...has been finding out –or verifying –how timeless this album really is,” says Shepherd, who also is leading a triumphant worldwide anniversary tour in 2022 and 2023, performing the album in full. “I’m so proud of what we accomplished, and also the fact I was just 18 years old when I did it. I mean, I had an experience with this album that most musicians can only dream about. Trouble Is... sold millions of copies. There’s validation in all of that for me.”Even before Trouble Is...put him in the fast lane, Shepherd had ripped through his fledgling career like a street racer. Shown the path by his dad –a renowned Louisiana radio personality and promoter who spun classic blues at home and introduced his son to the legendswho made it –Shepherd was soon displaying his own peerless skill with a Fender Stratocaster, fusing a scholarly appreciation of the genre with his own rip-it-up modern attitude. Having pricked up ears with 1995’s sparky debut Ledbetter Heights, TroubleIs...hurled Shepherd headlong into contention. These were songs and performances that shouldn’t have been feasible from a teenager barely out of the classroom, yet the bandleader was already standing shoulder-to-shoulder with a veteran studio band that included the iconic Double Trouble lineup (drummer Chris Layton, bassist Tommy Shannon and keys man Reese Wynans). And while he had yet to find his own singing voice (then, as now, Noah Hunt handles powerhouse lead vocals on Trouble Is...) Shepherd’s precocious guitar work was in a different class to the fading grunge scene, one moment white-hot on originals like Slow Ride or the title instrumental, the next rivalling Jimi Hendrix himself on a wiry cover of I Don’t Live Today. Underpinning the technical dazzle and old-soul touch were the mature songwriting smarts that meant Shepherd was already shaking off the tedious ‘teenage sensation’ tag. Blue On Black –the rootsy fan favorite that hit #1 on the Mainstream Rock chart, set a new record for its 104-week tenure and still blares from stateside radios today –might have been the flagship hit, but there was poignancy and poetry here in spades. “King’s Highway is about a blow-up in a relationship, the guy throwing his belongings into a bag and just walking out the door,” explains Shepherd. “True Lies is the classic infidelity song, a guy suspecting his woman is cheating on him, finding the evidence and confronting her about it. (Long) Gone is that common theme in blues music of moving on.”
Yet Shepherd was always sure to leave room for interpretation. “Blue On Black is obviously about a relationship and the many futile attempts to salvage it,” explains the songwriter. “But the beauty of that song is that the lyrics just conjure upimagery for the listener to apply to their own experience. Some people tell me it helped them through a breakup, or the loss of a loved one, or they were suffering domestic abuse and that song spoke to them.” In the ensuing 25 years –a period in which Shepherd has released a further seven acclaimed solo albums, not to mention two with his all-star side-project The Rides, alongside Stephen Stills and Barry Goldberg –some aspects of the reborn Trouble Is...album are unavoidably changed. The Record Plant closed its doors in 2008 (the new sessions went down at The Village in Los Angeles and Nashville’s Ocean Way), while Shannon has retired from the music scene (he’s capably replaced by Shepherd’s regular low-ender, Kevin McCormick).“Aside from Tommy, we got the whole crew back together, with Jerry Harrison co-producing once again,” reflects the bandleader. “And in the studio, it felt like no time had passed. If you play well together, you play well together. It workedback then and it worked just as well this time.It was all of us live in a room. That’s just how I do it, man. I’m old-school. Human beings need to be in the same room to be able to play music together.” Other elements of the re-recording were uncannily identical, with Shepherd digging out the exact same ’61 Fender Stratocaster model and backline that he’d used back in the late-’90s. “For amps, I had one of the very first Fender Blackface Twin reissues that was ever made. And then I had a Vibro-King –and that hasn’t really been used again since I recorded that record the first time. So we had those two amps and then a Blackface ’64 Vibroverb. I still had all the original pedals I used back in ’97 –a Uni-Vibe, a TS808 Ibanez Tube Screamer, a Klon overdrive, the Roger Mayer Octavia. I’ve never gotten rid of anything. I’ve never sold anything. So if there’s anything floating around out there that once belonged to me, it’s because somebody must have gotten sticky fingers, y’know?” Ultimately, says Shepherd, the minutiae of his rig was less important than the spirit in the air. “I didn’t want Trouble Is...25 to be a surgical process. I don’t like to overthink things. I just wanted to go in and capture the vibe.There were a couple of ways we could have approached this new recording. We could have done a one-hundred-per-cent faithful reproduction. Or we could have done a complete reinterpretation. “What I chose to do was right in the middle,” he counters. “I wanted to recreate the vibe of each song. Because most people, they’ve been listening to this album for the past 25 years, they’re really familiar with these songs. So at points, you almost feel like you’re listening to the original version –but then, suddenly, there’s a difference that messes with your head.”As he dove into the original Trouble Is...recordings, Shepherd was often pleased to discover that the guitar work of his teenage self was still valid. “Looking back, 18-year-old Kenny Wayne was playingwhat was appropriate for the song,” he considers. “So much so that the 45-year-old Kenny Wayne didn’t really feel like it needed to be changed. But there were a few guitar solos that I took some liberties on because I was inspired in the moment. There wasa little bit of deviation in Somehow, Somewhere, Someway and Nothing To Do With Love. Maybe (Long) Gone, too.I have a lot more control over my instrument now, more intuition and more of an arsenal.”Times change. Artists evolve. Music scenes rise and fall. Back in 1997, the original Trouble Is...was embraced by a rock ‘n’ roll generation crying out for something of substance as vapid manufactured pop began its inexorable rise. “When that album exploded, it was exactly what I had worked so hard for,” he reflects. “And to be honest with you, I had faith. I just felt like there was something bigger steering the ship. I felt like there was something that was meant to happen here, and I just had to facilitate it. I just had to stay true to myself, my instincts,do the best that I could do and kinda watch it unfold.”
A full quarter-century later –with manufactured pop holding sway and humanity clawing its way back from a spirit-sapping global pandemic –the anticipation surrounding the reborn Trouble Is...album and live shows stands as testament to a collection of songs that have never sounded so thrilling, empowering, unflinchingly honest and unapologetically human. “During the Trouble Is...anniversary tour,” says Shepherd, “everybody was commenting on how this album could be released today and still be just as relevant as it was 25 years ago. Making this album in 1997 was just a really monumental achievement. The new recording was a serious trip down memory lane for me. And I’m still so proud of these songs..
A native of Cincinnati Ohio, Noah has a deep past as a musician, songwriter and vocalist. Noah's musical journey began at the age of four when he started taking piano lessons and sang in church choir. While in college he formed a very popular Cincinnati based band Uncle Six and recorded four albums. It was in 1998 that Noah was tapped to be the lead singer for the KWSBand where his signature vocals have been an integral part of the band's success.
Originally from Corpus Christi, TX, Chris moved to Austin Texas in 1975, and three years later joined the newly formed Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble. Following the tragic death of Stevie, Chris and bassist Tommy Shannon joined Charlie Sexton and Doyle Bramhall II and formed the Arc Angels. Several years later Chris and Tommy formed another Austin based band Storyville. Arguably the best shuffle drummer in the business, Chris "Whipper" Layton has been a part of the KWS family since the beginning when he joined Kenny in the studio to record Ledbetter Heights. Chris began touring with the KWSBand in 2006.
Kevin McCormick has served as a producer, co-writer and bass player for Melissa Etheridge as she emerged as a world class artist with her self-titled 1988 debut, along with such acclaimed albums as Brave and Crazy (1989), Never Enough (1992) and her massively successful Yes I Am (1993). Kevin’s resume only grew from there as he started producing, writing and performing with an impressive list of artists such as Nils Lofgren, Jackson Browne, Robben Ford, John Mayall, Keb’ Mo, Crosby Stills & Nash, and The Rides, featuring Stephen Stills, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, and Barry Goldberg – to cite a very select few.
Joe Krown is a resident and is based in the city of New Orleans. He is a New Orleans styled piano and Hammond B-3 player. Joe's played the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival every year since 2001 and the French Quarter Festival every year since 1998. He has been nominated twice and won a 2000 New Orleans Big Easy Award in the Blues category. His trio with Johnny Sansone & John Fohl won a 2004 New Orleans Big Easy Award in the Blues category.
Joe held the keyboard chair with Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown & Gate’s Express from 1992 until Gatemouth's passing in the fall of 2005. Joe is featured on the chart topping albums The Man (1993), Gate Swings (1997), American Music, Texas Style (1999) and Back to Bogalusa (2001) CDs and Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown - In Concert: Ohne Filter (2003) DVD. Joe is also featured in Gatemouth's band on Carlos Santana's Carlos Santana Presents Blues At Montreux 2004 (2006) DVD.
In June 2017 Joe joined the Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band as the full time piano/organ player. The Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band has been nominated five times for a Grammy Award, has received two Billboard Music Awards, two Blues Music Awards and two Orville H. Gibson Awards. The band has had 3 platinum (1 million sold) selling CDs and 1 gold (500,000 sold) selling CD. The Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band is a headline act on the modern blues scene, has made appearances on late night TV and been an opening act for major acts like Van Halen, the Rollings, Bob Dylan, Aerosmith and Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Joe has performed with Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, Johnny Adams, Marcia Ball, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Mavis Staples, Allen Toussaint, the North Mississippi All-Stars, Charlie Musselwhite,.J. Chenier, Leo Nocentelli , Nicholas Payton and Marva Wright.