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Shepherd seeking unity within blues community

Will be at Sweetwater Pavilion for show on June 11

Alan Sculley

Whatzup Features Writer

Published June 1, 2022

While on his Traveler World Tour in 2019, blues rocker Kenny Wayne Shepherd had just appeared on Germany’s Leverkusen Jazzstage for the TV show Rockpalast. Shortly thereafter, everything across the globe was shelved.

It’s possible that concert might have stayed on the shelf, too, if it hadn’t been followed just a few months later by the COVID pandemic.

“The fans have been asking for a live DVD for decades,” Shepherd said. “We record audio every night, but we’ve done a number of shows with video as well. And for one reason or another, we just never felt like we had the right night.”

 “We watched (the Rockpalast show) back and we were like ‘Wow, it’s actually a really great performance,’” he added.  “And then we really didn’t think much more about it — until COVID happened. Then we started realizing that people are not going to be able to come and see us for a while, and they’ve been asking for a live concert for years, and we have this. The audio is great, the performance is great, the camera work is great. Maybe we should put this together and get it out to them so they can watch it in the comfort of their own homes until we can get back out on the road.”

With that, Straight To You: Live was released in November 2020, with many of songs from that performance likely to reappear at Shepherd’s show at the Sweetwater Performance Pavilion on June 11.

Sending message

Joining Shepherd at the Sweetwater show, which comes a day before his 45th birthday, will be Samantha Fish, the Ally Venable Band, and Shemekia Copeland, with whom Shepherd recorded “Hit ‘Em Back” in 2021. 

Copeland, the daughter of the late blues artist Johnny Copeland, reached out to Shepherd to write music to the lyrics she and co-writer John Hahn had completed. The lyrics have a strong and multidimensional message calling for unity, respect, and cooperation, while also pointing up the divisiveness that exists in today’s society overall and the blues community in particular. Shepherd wrote muscular and soulful blues-rock music to accompany the lyrics, which was what he felt the song demanded.

“We’re making a statement, and to transmit a message, you want to transmit it as loud as possible,” Shepherd said. “So, I thought the song needed musically to be big and powerful because I feel the message is powerful.”  

Changes in community

Shepherd exploded onto the scene at 17 with his impressive 1995 million-selling debut album, “Ledbetter Heights,” followed two years later by another million-selling hit, “Trouble Is …” 

As the years have gone on, Shepherd has continued to release albums at a steady clip that have seen his skills as a songwriter and guitarist only grow stronger. He’s also shown his genuine talent, knowledge, and appreciation for the blues, not only with his music, but specifically with the 2007 CD/DVD 10 Days Out: Blues from the Backroads

The project found Shepherd traveling around to meet and collaborate with a host of blues veterans, including B.B. King, Henry Townsend, Cootie Stark, and Hubert Sumlin. The film documented the trip and the album included songs Shepherd recorded with these blues masters.

Despite a quarter-century-plus history with the blues, Shepherd said he had not encountered the kind of anger and divisiveness within the blues community that are referenced in “Hit ‘Em Back.”

“Frankly, I thought of the community having always been very inclusive just up until recently,” he said. “And a lot of things have been revealed to me that I just was unaware of, but have obviously been going on in the blues community for a while. I had no idea. So we thought it was time to address that because a lot of people are trying to use situations to divide people, and united we stand, divided we fall, right? 

“We’re all here in the same music community and we do ourselves much more of a service if we get along and appreciate one another than trying to draw lines in the sand,” Shepherd said.

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