CAN’T GET NO SAT­IS­FAC­TION

KENNY WAYNE SHEP­HERD’S LONG AND STO­RIED CA­REER COULD SERVE AS A DEF­I­NI­TION FOR THE SUC­CESS­FUL MOD­ERN GUI­TARIST. AUS­TRALIAN GUI­TAR CAUGHT UP WITH HIM TO TALK ABOUT HIS NEW AL­BUM, UP­COM­ING TOUR DATES AND FEEL­INGS TO­WARD THE CON­TRO­VER­SIAL DE­LAY PEDAL.

Australian Guitar - - Feature - WORDS BY ALEX WIL­SON.

Kenny Wayne Shep­herd doesn’t cut any cor­ners – as is to be ex­pected from the out­spo­ken blues icon as he nears his third decade in the spotlight. “I think you’ve got to aim high,” he says of his as­pi­ra­tions go­ing into the stu­dio for his most re­cent ful­l­length of­fer­ing, Lay It On Down. “You want to achieve great­ness. 20 years into my ca­reer, my goal is to make the best al­bum I have so far.”

De­spite all the al­bums that hit the charts at #1, all the top 10 sin­gles, Grammy nom­i­na­tions and a se­cure spot as one of his gen­er­a­tion’s pre­miere gui­tarists, Shep­herd won’t al­low him­self to rest on his lau­rels.

With pre­vi­ous records ei­ther pay­ing deep trib­ute to his tra­di­tional blues roots or ex­plor­ing his con­sid­er­able skills in rock, 2017’s Lay It On Down features tracks that con­tain some of his most ac­ces­si­ble and most di­verse ma­te­rial to date. Hav­ing his first taste of suc­cess as a 16-year-old Louisia­nian sign­ing an al­bum deal with Gi­ant Records (R.I.P.), Shep­herd has grown mu­si­cally at the same time as he’s racked up mil­lions on mil­lions in record sales.

Nat­u­rally, this gives him an easy and ami­able con­fi­dence about his mu­sic, mixed with the hu­mil­ity to think that his best work might still be around the cor­ner.

“We don’t re­ally have a def­i­nite roadmap when we’re go­ing into the stu­dio,” he says, “Just very ba­sic demos; an acous­tic gui­tar, vo­cals – stuff like that. But soon, ev­ery­thing comes alive, and that’s when we start dis­cov­er­ing all the di­rec­tions that the songs are go­ing to head in.”

Hunker­ing down at his home stu­dio with top-level Nashville pro­ducer Mar­shall Alt­man, Shep­herd was able to con­jure up the horn-driven soul of “Di­a­monds And Gold”, the driv­ing AOR (al­bum-ori­ented rock) of “Noth­ing But The Night” and the coun­try stylings of “A Hard Les­son Learned”.

While LayItOnDown fore­grounds his for­mi­da­ble skills as a band front­man and singer-song­writer, fans of Shep­herd’s peer­less blues gui­tar chops will not be left feel­ing empty-handed. His trade­mark so­los pep­per the record all over, with the ti­tle track in par­tic­u­lar fea­tur­ing some es­pe­cially tasty licks.

“When it’s time to solo, I just go out into the stu­dio, clear my mind and play what I feel is ap­pro­pri­ate in the song,” he tells us. “With some guys, it’s all about melody. For me, it’s about the en­ergy. It’s about what kind of vibe you want to con­vey with the song, and that can be any­thing from an ag­gres­sive shred to a ten­der strum. I’ll play to that mood.”

Shep­herd also has some ad­vice for the less ex­pe­ri­enced among us, who are still build­ing their solo chops: “I think of a solo like I’m climb­ing a hill,” he ex­plains. “I go up, I reach a peak, and then I want to get back down smoothly. I learned early that you need to take the lis­tener on a jour­ney and keep that in the back of your mind.”

In terms of the gui­tars and amps he often lays his tal­ents into, Shep­herd has a favoured ’61 Strat, but also plays mod­els from ’58, ’59 as well as his own sig­na­ture se­ries and cus­tom shop mod­els, and an as­sort­ment of gui­tars from other com­pa­nies. Im­por­tant to note as well is that many of his Fen­der amps have been cus­tom-wired by Alexan­der Dum­ble, a one-man pow­er­house be­hind some of the most prodi­gious amps in the game (all of which are 100 per­cent hand­made, of course).

De­spite hav­ing so many gui­tars at his dis­posal, it’s the di­ver­sity in amp op­tions that makes the most dif­fer­ence to Shep­herd’s tone.

“You can have one gui­tar and four dif­fer­ent amps, and you’ll get four en­tirely dif­fer­ent sounds,” he says. “90 per­cent of my play­ing is the gui­tar and the am­pli­fier.” Among the many ped­als he owns, Shep­herd sin­gles out the Ana­log Man Queen Of Tone and the Roger Mayer Oc­tavia as par­tic­u­lar favourites. But over­all, he ex­presses some reser­va­tions about the overuse of ped­als – par­tic­u­larly de­lay.

“I use it very spar­ingly,” he ad­mits. “I feel like some guys need to lay ped­als on all the time to cover things up a bit, and hav­ing that de­lay off forces me a bet­ter player.”

Com­ing to Aus­tralia later this year for some of his first shows in six years, Shep­herd will have his crack band in tow. Amer­i­can blues and Amer­i­can rock aren’t ex­actly tear­ing up the charts at the mo­ment (un­less found on Shep­herd’s al­bums, of course) but he be­lieves the live ex­pe­ri­ence can bring some­thing ex­tra spe­cial for the punter.

“We guar­an­tee a good a good show,” he as­serts, “So we hope that peo­ple will come out and we hope they’ll be peo­ple that have never seen us be­fore – maybe we can make them fans!”

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