Arts & Culture » Arts Stories & Interviews

Trouble in mind



Kenny Wayne Shepherd, House of Blues, March 26, 1998

You're young, you're white, you play electric guitar like nobody's business and you have a bit of Texas-fried soul incorporated into your sound. One way or another, you're going to have to deal with the inevitable Stevie Ray Vaughan comparisons.

Most young blues-rock guitarists, from teen agers like Jonny Lang and "Monster" Mike Welch to more experienced rookies such as Tab Benoit and Derek Trucks, avoid that comparison like the plague. Twenty-year-old Kenny Wayne Shepherd addressed the challenge head-on by hiring the surviving members of the late guitar hero's backup band, Double Trouble, to play on his latest album, 1997's "Trouble Is " The follow-up to the Shreveport, La., guitar prodigy's gold-selling 1995 debut, "Ledbetter Heights," features drummer Chris Layton, bassist Tommy Shannon and keyboardist Reese Wynans (as well as harmonica legend James Cotton).

The connection runs deep. Vaughan plucked the 7-year- old Shepherd from the audience for a ringside view atop an amplifier case during a Double Trouble concert. The experience sparked the youngster's desire to play guitar, but Shepherd's own material (with lyrics provided by vocalist Noah Hunt) isn't exactly a Vaughan retread. "My music has a little more hard rock than Stevie Ray, but not as much as Jimi Hendrix," Shepherd says. "It's somewhere in the middle."

His other major influence came from his father. A radio-industry veteran, Ken Shepherd (who now manages his son's career) regularly took junior to concerts in Dallas, Austin and New Orleans. "I guess I got exposure to a lot of music that way," says the younger Shepherd. "I was around jazz and zydeco and Cajun music and Texas blues.

Shepherd's debut disc led to invitations to open for the Eagles and Bob Dylan. He feels the new album amply displays his growth as a musician after two years of touring. "I know when to lay back and when to hang loose," he says. "I make a better choice of notes."

This confident attitude was recognized by established guitar virtuosos Joe Satriani and Steve Vai, who invited the young musician to play their recent G-3 tour. Shepherd was flattered. "These guys asked me to be one of the headliners on the bill," he says. "That was a pretty good compliment."

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