When blues guitarist Kenny Wayne Shepherd appeared two years ago in Flint, Mich., the city was at the depths of the Recession. But the concert was sold out weeks in advance, and the audience rocked with the performers for three solid hours. He’s looking for the same reception in unemployment-battered Rhode Island when he comes to the Park Theatre on Oct. 23.
“Blues is kind of a misnomer,” says Shepherd, who, at 32, has already had a 20-year career composing and performing. “The music comes out of the depths of human spirit. It’s about overcoming problems and celebrating life.
“I get up on stage every night to play my heart out and to try to turn people on their ear. I want to bring light into people’s lives with my music. If I can make people feel good for two hours and forget about whatever might be stressing them out, then I’m doing my job.”
As well as selling millions of albums and consistently getting singles into the Top 10, the youthful Shepherd has spent his already lengthy musical career shining a light on the rich blues of the past and forging ahead with his own modern twist on a classic sound he has embodied since his teens. Guitar World has placed him right behind B.B. King and Eric Clapton on their list of blues guitarists.
His Park Theatre performance will feature his deeply soulful and impassioned takes on classic material like Bessie Smith’s “Backwater Blues,” Albert King’s “Oh, Pretty Woman” and The Beatles’ “Yer Blues.”
“At this point, most people who know about me know I can play guitar,” Shepherd says. “My approach to guitar is not about showing people how much I can play. It’s about really choosing the right notes and playing them at the right times so that every note penetrates people. They feel it inside and it’s not just some fleeting thing that just goes right by them.”
“I want to be conservative and selective and tasteful in the solos that I do,” he adds. “I wanted to concentrate on the song as a whole: the vocals, the arrangements, so every instrument that is being played contributes to the song and takes it to a better place.”
Shepherd’s albums over the past decade and a half illustrate his evolving style. Where “Ledbetter Heights” (1995) was more bluesy, “Trouble Is…” (1997) offered more blues-based rock as did “Live On” (1999). “The Place You’re In” (2004) went straight ahead rock and the “10 Days Out” (2007) documentary exemplified the best of straight blues; Shepherd says this one “falls right down the middle between blues and rock.” “Never Lookin’ Back” is a rocking song that sets the tone for the album, with lyrics about moving on and rolling with life’s punches. The song “Cryin’ Shame” has that straight Texas shuffle longtime fans love to hear from Shepherd and his band. “Show Me The Way Back Home” is a powerful blues ballad for the ages.
“We hit a really great balance,” he says of the album, which he co-produced.
“Who’s Gonna Catch You Now?” is a very personal song. “I’ve become a father over the past couple of years. It’s about a parent accepting what it’s like to be a parent and having to accept a certain degree of powerlessness. It’s just learning about acceptance. If you’re a parent, it will pull on your heart strings for sure.”
Tickets may be purchased at the Park Theatre box office via phone (467-7275) or online at www.parkTheatreRI.com.