Moanin’ the blues

Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band and Jonny Lang at Rose

By Rusty Pate

Photo: Blues guitarist Kenny Wayne Shepherd will perform with Jonny Lang at Rose Music Center on June 24

It may be hard to believe, but Kenny Wayne Shepherd has been making music for nearly 20 years.

He first burst onto the blues scene in 1996 with his debut, Ledbetter Heights, when he was just 18 years old. Over the years, he has released eight albums, seven of which topped the blues charts with four certified platinum.

Long known as a fiery guitar player, he backs it up with real songwriting chops, charting 13 tracks in the top 40 of Billboard’s Mainstream Rock.

Dayton City Paper recently caught up with Shepherd to talk about his upcoming tour with fellow guitar-slinger Jonny Lang, his collaboration with Stephen Still on the group The Rides and how his music has evolved.

You’re touring with Jonny Lang. How did that come about and what can fans expect as far as format of the shows?

Kenny Wayne Shepherd: This thing happened because fans have been emailing [and] messaging me on social media and writing letters for years asking me when Jonny and I are going to tour together. Finally, they kept it up and I was like, “These people seem to really want this, so we should give them what they want.” I talked to Jonny about it four years ago and then finally we were able to put it together. This is totally the result of fan’s voices being heard and us giving them what they’re asking for. As far as format of the show, I know we’ll both play the same amount of time and alternate who goes on first and who goes on last. I don’t know if there’s going to be any collaborating or jamming.

You were shot out of a cannon early in your career. Is that kind of success early on a blessing or a curse?

KWS: I don’t see any downside to my career, the timing of it or anything. I graduated high school and my path was right before me. I followed it and 20 some years later, here I am. I’m grateful. I got to do things that people dream about doing and I’m still making music and able to support my family by doing so. There are a lot of people that get a chance to do this that don’t have careers that last 20 years. I think it’s a testament to the type of music I do and the kind of fans that I have that have had my back for so long.

What’s the current state of blues today? Is it still as vibrant as it ever was, in your opinion?

KWS: There’s a group of us that kind of came along around the same time that are all doing pretty well, like Jonny Lang, Derek Trucks and Joe Bonamassa. The music has been around over a century now. It shows that it’s not going anywhere, but like most long-term viable genres of music, it has surges in popularity. The longer you’re a part of the blues community, you’ll see that. It will always be around and certainly, in my opinion, will always be relevant.

You’ve been able to play with so many legends of the genre. What is it like leading up to the first time you play with someone you admire?

KWS: It’s an honor to play with people, make music with people and share the stage with people like that. But the longer you do it, the more you realize they’re still your heroes, but they’re people just like you are. When you bring the humanity into it and just look at them like another human being, you can actually relate on a much more even level. That makes collaborating with people like that much easier because you’re not intimidated or awestruck. I’ll always admire these people. It never got old playing with B.B. King and I never looked at him any other way than “this guy has inspired me and so many other people,” but I got to know him on a personal level so well. We got so close on a personal level. It just brings a new dimension into the experience and I think is more valuable than just playing music with somebody up there.

You recently collaborated with Stephen Stills in the group The Rides. What was it like to play with one of the greatest American songwriters of all time?

KWS: He’s also consistently rated as one of the greatest guitar players of all time. What was amazing was actually writing songs and also how much he pushed me to be a vocalist in the band. He really encouraged me and pushed me harder and harder to sing more. When we did the first record, I thought I was going to sing one or two songs, but he convinced me and motivated me to sing almost half the record. We just finished a new record. We haven’t figured out the release date yet, but it’s the same thing. He’s singing half the record and I’m singing half the record. We wrote almost the whole album together—me, him and [keyboardist] Barry [Goldberg].

Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band and Jonny Lang will perform on Wednesday, June 24 at Rose Music Center, 6800 Executive Blvd, Huber Heights. The show starts at 7 p.m. Tickets range from $29.50 to $35.50 and are available through Ticketmaster. For more information, please visit or

Reach DCP freelance writer Rusty Pate at

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Rusty Pate
Reach DCP freelance writer Rusty Pate at

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