Take 5 With Kenny Wayne Shepherd
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