Bluesman Kenny Wayne Shepherd to play Belly Up Aspen
If You Go …
Who: Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band
Where: Belly Up Aspen
When: Sunday, July 19, 9 p.m.
How much: $40-$65
Tickets: Belly Up box office; www.bellyupaspen.com
Kenny Wayne Shepherd was born to play the blues.
The Louisiana-bred guitarist’s career — from self-taught preteen wunderkind to standard-bearer of American blues guitar — is the stuff of legend. With his technical skill, Shepherd and his guitar probably could have done anything. But he chose, and has stuck with, the blues because of the raw emotion he felt in the music of forebears such as Stevie Ray Vaughan.
“I could feel what the musicians were playing because they were putting their heart and soul into it,” Shepherd said from a tour stop in Bakersfield, California.
Just 18 when his first album, “Ledbetter Heights,” was released in 1995, Shepherd quickly became a generational torchbearer for the form with songs such as “Blue on Black” and “Never Lookin’ Back,” a relentless touring schedule and memorable shows that often include inspired takes on songs such as Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child (Slight Return).”
Shepherd and his band are opening up for Van Halen this summer but splitting off for occasional headlining gigs such as the one at Belly Up Aspen today. Shepherd plays Red Rocks Ampitheatre with Van Halen the day after the local show.
In the headlining concerts, Shepherd is playing a mix of material from his seven-album catalogue along with songs from last year’s “Goin’ Home.” That record literally brought him home to Shreveport, Louisiana to make it.
Looking back on his two-decade recording career, Shepherd was drawn home to where it all started.
“I started reflecting on my life over the past 20 years and everything that got me to where I am now,” he said. “So all these memories of being a kid in Louisiana and being inspired by blues music, wanting to play guitar, that’s how the idea of that record and those songs came about.”
Shepherd is playing Aspen with his longtime band, including lead singer Noah Hunt. His career has seen him collaborating with blues greats from Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown to B.B. King, and touring alongside rock legends such as Bob Dylan and The Eagles. Good friendships make good collaborations for Shepherd.
“Usually it’s about people, and if the chemistry is there between personalities and their musical abilities, great music can be made,” he said.
Most recently, he’s been touring and recording with Stephen Stills and keyboardist Barry Goldberg in The Rides. Their muscular take on traditional blues rock debuted in the 2013 album “Can’t Get Enough.”
“Getting to write songs with Stephen and Barry — and perform and get into the mind of somebody like Stephen Stills, in particular — has shown me a lot about the songwriting process,” he said. “I’ve been doing this for a while, but he’s been doing it a lot longer. I’m always open to learning. And I’m certainly not one of these people that feel like I’ve got it all figured out. When I’m around him, I just try to be a sponge.”
Shepherd recently finished making a new record with The Rides, which he expects to release early next year. The Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band also has a concert DVD they plan to release in 2016.
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