Kenny Wayne Shepherd Stays In The Tradition

By Michael Campbell

When blues guitarist Kenny Wayne Shepherd hit the stage of the Thunderdome, cranking out licks in E like Stevie Ray You-know-who, I found myself hoping that we would not hear every riff in his repertoire in the course of the first song. I'm happy to report that this was not the case, for two reasons.

The first reason is that Shepherd is in a band instead of being the band. Sometimes, as with the first two songs, he was the leader of a power trio. By the third song, a supporting cast of players, including a vocalist (whose timbre intersected that of Eddie Vedder and Jim Rosen . . . really). a keyboardist, and a singer/guitarist, augmented the trio. This enabled Shepherd (who did not sing) to not be the center of attention all the time and to shift the musical context by changing personnel, as he played in a consistent style and tone.

Reason two is partly the judicious use of effects, specifically the old reliable wah pedal, and several different and effective configurations of digital delay. It's also the inspirational source he taps. In both his own composition "While We Cry" and "What's Going Down", he quotes Hendrix, a major SRV influence, as much as SRV himself.

Kenny's playing was melodic, soulful, and intense, although not particularly innovative. The entire performance was blues tinged, but closer to blues-based rock.

By the time he got to the big finish, "Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)," the Thunderdome crowd was his. Shepherd first played the Hendrix classic faithfully, then managed to use it as an interesting jumping-off point that included quotes from "Power of Soul," another Hendrix tune. Jimi would've appreciated the enthusiasm of this nineteen-year-old playing this song, written before he was born, just as Jimi probably emulated Albert King at that age. That's how this blues music continues to evolve.