Take 5 With Kenny Wayne Shep­herd

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Kenny Wayne Shep­herd is a gear­head at heart who keeps his fin­ger on the pulse of all things au­to­mo­tive and is known widely as one of the most piv­otal young blues rock gui­tarists to come on the mu­sic scene since the 1990s. With eight chart-top­ping blues al­bums and mul­ti­ple sin­gles reach­ing into the top 10, he is no stranger to the spot­light. His mu­sic ca­reer has funded his car ad­dic­tion, and he has ac­quired quite a col­lec­tion of Mopars over the years. Each ve­hi­cle has been cus­tom­ized by Kenny to make them fit his unique style, and when he builds a car, he tries to in­cor­po­rate the lat­est and great­est from the au­to­mo­tive mar­ket­place. In this in­ter­view, we learn a lit­tle bit about Kenny’s mu­si­cal and ve­hic­u­lar past as well as the di­rec­tion he sees hot rod­ding tak­ing in the com­ing years.

hHOTROD. COM/ Ja­cob-Davis

HRM] When did you re­al­ize you first wanted to be a mu­si­cian?

KWS] I knew I wanted to play mu­sic since I was a lit­tle kid be­cause I grew up around mu­sic my en­tire life and I was al­ways drawn to the gui­tar. I was 13 years old the first time I got on stage. In New Or­leans, this guy gave me the op­por­tu­nity to get on stage and jam with him and his band, and for me that felt like a make-it-or-break-it mo­ment. I played till like 4 a.m. with him and his band and walked away think­ing maybe I could ac­tu­ally do this.

HRM] When did your ca­reer re­ally start to take off?

KWS] The short of it is, at 13, I was on stage for the first time; at 14, I went into the stu­dio and recorded my first demos; at 15, I formed my own band; at 16, I signed my record deal; and at 17, I re­leased my first record. By that time, it was 1995 and I had just grad­u­ated high school, the record came out, the first sin­gle went to num­ber five on the rock charts, catch­ing ev­ery­body by sur­prise. The al­bum sold over half a mil­lion copies al­most im­me­di­ately and went on to be cer­ti­fied plat­inum, and that be­gan what has now been a 25-year ca­reer for me.

HRM] How do you feel when peo­ple tell you, “You’re so lucky to do what you do”?

KWS] I ab­so­lutely con­sider my­self to be very for­tu­nate—some peo­ple say lucky. I just say I’m very grate­ful and for­tu­nate to be able to do what I love for a liv­ing. They call it the mu­sic busi­ness for a rea­son, so there’s a lot of hard work and dues that have to be paid on the way up, but ul­ti­mately, I have my dream job, which has al­lowed me to pur­sue other pas­sions along the way.

HRM] What’s the thing that first drew you into cars?

KWS] I feel like it’s been in my blood my whole life, just the same way mu­sic has been. It’s some­thing I grew up around, you know. We didn’t re­ally have video games early on in my child­hood, and my par­ents would al­ways make us go out­side and tell us not to come back till din­ner­time, so many times I’d end

up play­ing in Mom’s car pre­tend­ing I was driv­ing. TV also had a lot to do with it— The Dukes of Haz­zard, Smokey and the Ban­dit, Knight Rider, Mag­num,

P.I., The A-Team— all these big shows and movies that had hero cars in them. I loved The Dukes of Haz­zard, and that re­ally ce­mented my pas­sion for cars, es­pe­cially Mopars, with­out a doubt.

HRM] Tell us a lit­tle more about your ob­ses­sion with Mopars.

KWS] My grand­fa­ther had a Po­lara when my dad was a kid, my mom was driv­ing a Gold Duster when she met my dad, so I’ve kind of pur­sued Mopars be­cause of that fam­ily con­nec­tion. Make no mis­take, though, I like all cars—all brands; if it looks good and hauls ass, I’m all about it, but I’m re­ally tied into the Mopar stuff ’cause it’s what I know the most about and what I grew up around.

HRM] What is your fa­vorite car you’ve ever owned?

KWS] Ugh, that’s like ask­ing which child of mine is my fa­vorite child. It’s one of those im­pos­si­ble ques­tions be­cause I’ve had dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ences with each of them. My Charger is the car that put me on the map, so it’s prob­a­bly the most de­serv­ing of that award, but my Duster has been the most re­li­able car, and I’ve taken it on Power Tour eight times with­out giv­ing me any ma­jor prob­lems. I wouldn’t be scared to jump in that car right now and drive all the way across the coun­try, so with­out a doubt for that rea­son it would be my pick.

HRM] If you were to build an­other car, what would it be?

KWS] Right now, I have two that have been sit­ting wait­ing to be done, and I think I’m about to get the ball rolling. One is a 1970 Bar­racuda con­vert­ible— I’m hop­ing to put one of the new Hell­crates in it—so mod­ern driv­e­train, Pro Tour­ing, all that. I also have a 1974 Ram Charger four-wheel-drive with a lift-off top be­cause I think trucks are com­ing back. So those are my next two project cars.

HRM] So you work on your own cars some­times and ob­vi­ously have a part in de­sign­ing them. What do you like more, work­ing on them or de­sign­ing them?

KWS] I like both, but I can only do so much. While I’m very me­chan­i­cally in­clined with cars, I have lim­its. I’ve never welded. I’ve torn an en­gine apart, but never ac­tu­ally got around to putting it back to­gether, so I haven’t re­built an en­gine yet and don’t re­build trans­mis­sions. I have lim­its, so prob­a­bly de­sign­ing the ve­hi­cle is a lit­tle more sat­is­fy­ing be­cause you lit­er­ally get to see an idea in your mind turn into re­al­ity.

HRM] You’ve taken a car on Power Tour ® a few times now, what’s your fa­vorite part about that event?

KWS] The first thing that at­tracted me to Power Tour ® was just get­ting be­hind the wheel and driv­ing my clas­sic car ’cause that’s what I built them for, but now I have friends that do the event every year, so the trip has be­come as much about hang­ing out with them as it has about the cars. There’s plenty of cars to look at, but see­ing them all go down the road is not some­thing you see every day. It’s not about point A to point B. We have a great time, there’s a lot of ca­ma­raderie, and life­long mem­o­ries made along the way.

HRM] What’s play­ing on the stereo when you’re on the road?

KWS] This year—and I’m not try­ing to do a shame­less plug here—ob­vi­ously, one of the first things I did when I got in the car was put my new al­bum in and lis­ten to it. I hadn’t heard it on a road trip, and I like to make al­bums that are good for road trips be­cause peo­ple have sound­tracks just for those. So I wanted to see how it per­formed on the drive and I was thrilled with it, but af­ter that I pretty much lis­tened to the sound of Amer­i­can V8 mus­cle the rest of the trip.

HRM] Are cars meant to sit there and be looked at or are they meant to be driven?

KWS] Ab­so­lutely meant to be driven. It’s an au­to­mo­bile. It’s meant to go down the road. I re­spect peo­ple who want to re­store his­tory and have these mas­sive car col­lec­tions for peo­ple to ap­pre­ci­ate, but at a cer­tain point if you’re a guy who wants some­thing shiny to look at, just take a pic­ture of it, hang it on the wall, and let some­body else drive it.

HRM] We heard you’re get­ting the new Dodge De­mon. What sold you on that car?

KWS] Ev­ery­thing. Ev­ery­thing about it. So I have a Tesla and I wanted to ex­pe­ri­ence own­ing an elec­tric ve­hi­cle and what the per­for­mance was like, but my heart lies with Amer­i­can mus­cle cars. The sound of that su­per­charged De­mon en­gine speaks to my heart, speaks to my soul. The Tesla is fast and it’s fun at first, but when you hit the go-pedal—’cause it’s not a gas pedal— you start to lose the con­nec­tion.

HRM] Where do you see the fu­ture of hot rod­ding go­ing with elec­tric cars and other al­ter­na­tive fu­els?

KWS] Hot rod­ders are al­ways go­ing to tin­ker with any­thing that might help them go faster, so if you’re look­ing at raw power and num­bers, it’s go­ing to get harder and harder to com­pete with elec­tric mo­tors and their in­stan­ta­neous torque. If you just want to sit around and bench race, even­tu­ally gas en­gines are go­ing to start los­ing, but old-school hot rod­ders are al­ways go­ing to want to hear that en­gine.

HRM] If you could give one piece of ad­vice to the next gen­er­a­tion of hot rod­ders, what would it be?

KWS] It’s up to us to in­tro­duce young peo­ple to the hobby. We have to en­sure that the torch is car­ried. Ex­plore ev­ery­thing and learn ev­ery­thing that you can. A lot of times peo­ple don’t want to be teach­able, but if some­body knows some­thing I don’t, I want to hear it so that I can learn some­thing I didn’t know be­fore. Just learn and soak up ev­ery­thing you can rather than think­ing you know more than you ac­tu­ally do.

“The first thing that at­tracted me to Power Tour ® was just get­ting be­hind the wheel and driv­ing” — Kenny Wayne


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