Kenny Wayne Shepherd has just released his eighth studio album – Lay It On Down. For this release Kenny wanted to make the best album of his career, so far. With awards, plaudits and already a 25 year career to his name that was a pretty high bar to set. Photogroupie caught up with Kenny to find out about his new album and what drives him to continue to make music and have passion for the blues.
PG: YOU'VE HAD FANTASTIC SUCCESS SO FAR. WHAT KEEPS YOU SO DRIVEN, AMBITION? UNBOUNDED CREATIVITY, A COMBINATION OF BOTH, OR SOMETHING ELSE?
KWS: Yes, I think all of those things. When you're born with music in your blood, you feel like it's your purpose: I feel like it's my purpose besides being a good husband and father to my children, one of my main purposes in life is to bring music people and try and impact music in a positive way in their lives. It's just something that I have to do and I enjoy it; I get to play music for a living, make records, get to play shows and people turn up to hear it and I really enjoy it. I've profession for 25 years and I enjoy it now more than ever before, I have more skills, more wisdom, more experience and I continue to push myself.
PG: YOU STATED WHEN YOU SET ABOUT MAKING THIS ALBUM 'LAY IT ON DOWN' THAT YOU WANTED IT TO BE COMBINED OF 'THE GREATEST SONGS OF YOUR CAREER, NO MORE, NO LESS.' DO YOU THINK YOU HAVE ACHIEVED THAT AIM?
KSW: My goal for this album was to make the best record of my 25-year career and the opinions will be subjective, some people will prefer the earlier albums, but if you don't set the bar high for yourself then I don't see how you expect to achieve greatness. So I wanted to write the best songs I've ever written and made the best album we've ever done, and I think we've done a lot of that. I think it's a fantastic album and it shows a wide range of diversity, musically for the band. I think it's fresh sounding, it's contemporary and there are some great stories being told in the lyrics, so I think I accomplished what I set out to accomplish, but whether it's my best album, who knows.
PG: YOU ACHIEVED SUCCESS VERY YOUNG AND DID NOT FALL VICTIM TO THE USUAL ROCK AND ROLL PITFALLS OF THOSE WHO OFTEN DO. HOW DID YOU MANAGE TO REMAIN SO MATURE AND GROUNDED?
KWS: My family have to take a lot of credit for that. I'm from the South and we're kind of old fashioned about respect and things like that – you don't forget where you came from. I never felt like I invented blues music, it was around long before I got here and I'm fortunate enough to be able to play it and make a living from it. I wanted to do it for the love of the music, I never even thought about the money, especially in the beginning I was just thrilled that I was playing and that people were showing up to see me do it.
PG: YOU SAY THAT THE SONGS ON THE ALBUM ARE 'A WINDOW INTO YOUR SOUL AND A WINDOW INTO INTO YOUR OBSERVATIONS.' ARE ANY OF THEM AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL TOO?
KSW: Some of them are, Louisiana Rain certainly is. I think everybody's had an experience like Hard Lesson Learned. Lay It On Down, I think we all know somebody who feels they're not good enough or doesn't allow themselves to be loved and doesn't appreciate themselves the way others do. Other songs are completely made up, which for me is a first. Usually the songs are based on my experiences or the experience of somebody I'm writing with. Ride Of Your Life was totally fabricated and that was fun to write a song that wasn't rooted in any real reality at least not for me. A guy in California running from the cops and nobody really knows what he did and he picks up a pretty lady on the way and she has no idea what she's gotten herself into, we just made it all up!
PG: YOU HAVE A VERY ENLIGHTENED VIEW ON WOMEN, YOU SAY YOU WANT TO WRITE SONGS THAT GLORIFY AND NOT VILIFY THEM. ARE YOU A FEMINIST AT HEART?
KSW: I love women, I think that women are one of the most amazing things that God ever created. The blues was rooted in suffering, it came from difficult times in American history, then it graduated to the suffering a woman put a man through – there's a lot of that. Some of the worst things that happen in life, not even relating to women, have ultimately related to to the best life lessons. So there's a positive and a negative. My wife is a fantastic woman and I'm proud of who she is and who she is to me and I look at my daughters and I want to glorify them. There's enough negativity in the world that I like to look at the positives in life. My wife and daughters are such great examples of females that I want to represent in my music.
PG: I GET THE IMPRESSION FROM YOUR MUSIC THAT YOU ARE A GREAT OBSERVER OF PEOPLE AND LIFE, IS THAT SOMETHING THAT YOU CONSCIOUSLY DO OR DOES IT HAPPEN BY OSMOSIS?
KWS: I don't know, I think a lot of people like observing people; human behaviour is fascinating – why people do the things they do, their reaction to similar situations, it's very interesting. There's a lot of common threads in our lives, there's a lot of things that we all go through and those are the things I like to write about so that people listening to can relate.
PG: THE BLUES HAS BEEN AROUND FOR A LONG TIME AND IS USUALLY ASSOCIATED WITH SAD STORY SONGS. YOUR WRITING HAS GIVEN A LOT OF DEPTH AND HELPED WITH REINVENTING THE GENRE, WAS THIS INTENTIONAL?
KWS: Yes, but I love blues music. I love what some may call stereotypical blues music, I love it all, it just speaks to my soul. When it comes to me trying to create new music and take blues music and create something new and different I choose to write about things that I find interesting. Even in some of the most difficult things in music, it can be done tongue in cheek. There's a BB King song called Baby, You Done Lost Your Good Thing Now, it's all about how his woman's done him wrong but it's done with humour in mind. “the way that I love you is the way I hate you now. Everybody cheers when they hear that because it might be low. But it's so creative. There's a bit of a misconception that the blues is about negativity and self-loathing but blues is a celebratory music: it's about celebrating life's good times and bad times. Even with the bad stuff, eventually, the healing process takes place with the music. My goal throughout my entire career has been to dispel some of those misconceptions. One of those is that blues is for old people; I was bringing teenagers into the blues just because I was a teenager playing it. Other ones too like it only has one subject matter or it only has three chords. Blues is a very diverse and flexible genre which has basically spawned every popular music genre that has come after. Every time it comes back there's something different and we are going through another resurgence now, it's very exciting. It's nice to see new people coming to it, they are searching for something real. We are getting over supersaturated with – for want of a better term – crap. People are tired of disposable music and a lot of people find their way back to blues as a result.
PG: WHAT WAS IT LIKE GOING ON THE ROAD, MAKING THE 10 DAYS OUT: BLUES FROM THE BACKROADS DOCUMENTARY?
KWS: It was one of the best experiences of my professional life for sure, so much so that we are planning another one. I'm really excited about it. It was one of the most significant blues projects I've been involved with, not because it was mine, but because of the people who were involved and featured in it made it so. We didn't know how timely it was because a lot of them are no longer with us, so the goal is to appreciate that generation now and for this generation to help continue the sound for future generations.
PG: FAMILY LIFE IS OBVIOUSLY IMPORTANT DOES YOUR CHILDREN AND WIFE INSPIRE ANY OF YOUR SONGS.
KWS: Absolutely. There are many songs on my fourth album that are all about my wife – at the time she was my girlfriend. There's a song from 2011 rcalled Who's Gonna Catch You Now which was all about me being a father. They inspire me and find their way into my lyrics, they certainly inspire me to be a better man and a musician because they will have to deal with that when I'm gone and I want to make sure that everything I've done is done with integrity and respect.
PG: HOW IS IT HAVING MEL GIBSON FOR A FATHER IN LAW?
KSW: He's great and he's a great Grandfather to my children. I'm very proud to be part of the family. My wife and I have been together almost 15 years and we've been married for 11 of those, so this is my family and I appreciate all of them.
PG: DID YOU EVER THINK OF GOING INTO ACTING?
KWS: I had a lot of movie opportunities come my way and I could never do them because I was touring. I had taken a break from touring and music and I'd made up my mind to try acting and then I met my wife and found out who her father was and I thought 'it's is probably not a good idea to peruse an acting career when I'm starting to date this woman.' I knew the moment I met my wife that I was going to marry, I knew that wouldn't be the best thing to do to for the relationship to pursue an acting career.
PG: DO YOU EVER THINK IT WILL HAPPEN?
KWS: It might happen, but I don't know many people who have break out careers in acting in their 40's.
PG: WHAT NEXT IN YOUR CREATIVE TRAJECTORY?
Another album with my band and another album with The Rise, a new version of The Ten Days Out Documentary. A live DVD concert too, there's a lot of things on the table right now.