Shepherd revisiting ‘Trouble Is …’ in Wabash
Blues rocker returning to area in celebration of album’s 25th year
The blues might have originated in the South, but it definitely has fans in northern Indiana.
An online search of modern blues guitarists reveals names you might have recently seen around town, including Buddy Guy, Samantha Fish, Anthony Gomes, Eric Gales, Jared James Nichols, Jimmie Vaughan, and, of course, Kenny Wayne Shepherd.
“I remember going back to early days of my career, the first time we came into Indiana, we had a strong fan base,” Shepherd said in a recent phone interview with Whatzup. “We’ve just built on that over the years.”
Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band will continue to build on that base when they bring their Trouble Is … 25th Anniversary Tour to Honeywell Center in Wabash on Wednesday, March 22.
Breaking onto scene
Shepherd was in our area last year, celebrating his 45th birthday at Sweetwater Performance Pavilion alongside Fish and Ally Venable.
Despite being just 45, he’s a seasoned veteran after breaking onto the blues scene with 1995’s Ledbetter Heights when he was 18 years old. The album reached No. 1 on Billboard’s blues chart, his first of 11 No. 1 albums, the latest being 2022’s Trouble Is … 25.
Two years later, Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band released Trouble Is … with the breakthrough, crossover hit “Blue on Black.” The song found its way onto rock stations, reaching No. 78 on the Billboard 100. The song was given new life in 2018, when Shepherd revisited it with Five Finger Death Punch, Brantley Gilbert, and Brian May, reaching No. 66 on the Billboard 100 in 2019.
On the strength of “Blue on Black,” Trouble Is … spent 104 weeks on the blues charts, making Shepherd “the next big thing.”
“It was pretty exciting,” Shepherd said about that time in his life. “I think because I was so young, I was somewhat oblivious to how unusual it all was, but it was pretty cool for sure.
“It was just, ‘This is my life,’ so it was kind of normal,” he added.
His third straight No. 1 blues album came with 1999’s Live On, and the momentum has continued.
While continuing to make successful albums, he and the band decided to revisit Trouble Is … for its 25th anniversary, re-recording it while adding Bob Dylan’s “Ballad of a Thin Man” for Trouble Is … 25, released in December.
“It was a real special album for us,” Shepherd said of Trouble Is … “It was significant, both for us as a band as well as for the genre, really. We just wanted to do something special. Most bands just package the same record with some different artwork, but we really wanted to do something different, special, and unique for it. We kind of went all out.”
Teach your children well
Growing up in Shreveport, Louisiana, Shepherd’s life has been devoted to music.
“My dad was a disc jockey, so he played music around the house all the time,” he said. “It was always in the car, everywhere we went. He would listen to all types of music, and blues was one of those genres. Also, that music was born out of area in which I was born. So, you hear it a little more down there, but I just identified with it — with the emotion and the music.”
Along with being inundated with it on the radio, he also got an early start in making his own.
“I got my first little toy guitars when I was 4 years old,” he said. “I was playing little acoustic guitars with nylon strings, playing ‘Smoke on the Water’ and stuff like that. But I got my first real guitar at age 7.”
And after getting that first “real” guitar, there was no turning back.
“I just enjoyed it,” Shepherd said. “It gave me focus and I was just self-motivated to do it. I got a lot of real pleasure out of sitting for hours and hours just trying to get the thing to sound good. That’s what it takes. It takes a lot of hours of practice and effort.”
He says he received tips from a family friend and others but learned to master it on his own, noting there was a guitar class in his middle school, “which is probably a rarity nowadays.”
Despite his young age, his playing was beginning to gain attention.
“People were kind of making a big deal about it,” he said. “Yeah, I had practiced a lot and maybe I had some accelerated learning going on, but also I think it was kind of compounded by the kind of music I was playing. It was kind of unusual to have a young person playing the blues.”
Recording some demos to cassette tape at 14, Shepherd says there were some guys in town from Los Angeles on other business. His name was mentioned to them, which led to a call to his father. After they returned to LA with his demo tapes, things took off.
“Word started spreading out there, and the next thing you know, all these record companies are calling,” he said.
And the rest is history.
Changing with times
While he might have mastered songwriting and guitar playing, there is no mastering the music industry.
He is among the last musicians to break onto the scene ahead of online streaming. At the time Trouble Is … was released, Napster was about to take off, changing the industry forever.
“The whole thing is different, really,” he said. “From streaming to radio and stuff like that. You just learn to adapt. I feel like I got in at the end of what I believe is the Golden Era of the music industry, the old ways of doing things and being able to put your record out and watch it run up the charts on radio and sell millions of records and have platinum albums hanging on the wall. That’s more and more of a rarity now because of the whole streaming thing.”
And for many, streaming means finding the song you want instead of soaking in the art the musician is trying to present.
“You don’t listen to the whole album,” Shepherd said. “They search for the song. I still make albums with the intention of people listening to the whole body of work.”
What has not changed is live shows like the one that will be at Honeywell Center.
“It’s good to be busy,” Shepherd said. “It’s great to be back at work and out on the road doing the thing we love. This tour is going really well. The first couple weeks of the year, almost all the shows were sold out. So, we’re looking to continue on that.”