Shepherd, Kenny Wayne
KENNY WAYNE SHEPHERD
Born: Shreveport, Louisiana, 12 June 1977
Best-selling album since 1990: Live On (1999)
Hit songs since 1990: "Blue on Black," "In 2 Deep"
Along with Jonny Lang and Mike Welch, Kenny Wayne Shepherd was part of a wave of teenage blues performers who achieved notable commercial success during the 1990s. Only eighteen years old when he released his first album, Shepherd was immediately hailed by critics as a worthy successor to Stevie Ray Vaughan, the influential blues guitarist and vocalist who was killed in a helicopter crash in 1990. Like Vaughan, Shepherd has cultivated the support of a young, rock-oriented fan base, thereby increasing popular exposure to blues music. An energetic, dexterous guitarist, Shepherd plays with a fire and maturity beyond his years. While some critics complain that his sound is all style and no substance, others applaud the life he infuses into a valuable idiom—the blues—that many feared would be lost with the passing of time.
Raised in Shreveport, Louisiana, Shepherd began playing guitar at the age of seven, inspired by the blues artists—in particular, legendary Chicago performer Muddy Waters—in his father's record collection. Shepherd's life changed soon after when his father, who worked in radio, took him to see Vaughan in concert. Watching Vaughan's performance from the top of an amplifier, Shepherd was so inspired that he immediately began practicing in his family's garage. At age thirteen, he was invited onstage to perform with blues singer Brian Lee during a family trip to New Orleans. The success of that appearance—Shepherd remained onstage for several hours—encouraged him to form his own band shortly thereafter.
Signing a deal with Giant Records, a subsidiary of the major label Warner Bros., Shepherd released his debut album, Ledbetter Heights (1995) when he was only eighteen. Sparked by Shepherd's youthful energy and drive, the album was applauded as a powerful homage to the style and spirit of Vaughan. "Born with a Broken Heart," one of the highlights, sports Shepherd's raging guitar solos, underscored by a throbbing bass and heavy drums. On "I'm Leaving You (Commit a Crime)," a classic blues song originated by legendary performer Howlin' Wolf, Shepherd spices his performance with blistering guitar runs. While acknowledging that Shepherd's style is imitative of Vaughan's, Blues Access magazine commended the "passion and sincerity with which he approaches his craft."
Trouble Is (1997), Shepherd's follow-up, largely follows the same format as its predecessor, yet displays an increased sense of artistic assurance. Inspired on the album by the furious electric guitar playing of late rock legend Jimi Hendrix, Shepherd, now twenty years old, displays his precocious mastery of rock-oriented blues on tracks such as "I Don't Live Today" and "Slow Ride." Featuring lead vocal duties by group member Noah Hunt, the album stands as an engaging continuance of Shepherd's modern blues style. In 1999 he released what many critics consider his finest album, Live On. Shepherd sounds most vital when working in front of an audience, and the album features compelling live versions of songs such as "Oh Well," first recorded by rock group Fleetwood Mac, and "In 2 Deep," which earned substantial airplay for Shepherd on rock stations.
While his style is heavily indebted to blues masters such as Vaughan, Shepherd is a unique, powerful artist in his own right. Characterized by writers as a prodigy due to his youth and startling talent, Shepherd can be credited with exposing a new generation of fans to blues music.
Ledbetter Heights (Warner Bros./Giant, 1995); Trouble Is (Warner Bros., 1997); Live On (Giant, 1999).
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