In 2013, Kenny Wayne Shepherd was part of a blues-rock tour de force called the Rides that featured his expert fretwork along with the artistry of Stephen Stills and Barry Goldberg.
The trio released a single album, the acclaimed Can’t Get Enough, and played a few tour dates to showcase the all-star project.
But even before then, Shepherd had his own blues compilation in the works with his group, the Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band.
Joining forces with vocalist Noah Hunt, drummer Chris Layton, bassist Tony Franklin and keyboardist Ray Osbourn, Shepherd decamped to Shreveport, La., to create an album that harkens back to the blues greats who shaped his career. In addition, Shepherd recruited friends like the Rebirth Brass Band, Keb Mo, Warren Haynes and Robert Randolph to join in on the fun.
Fender.com caught up with Shepherd to discuss Goin’ Home (due out May 19 in the United States) and how it pays homage to his favorite blues artists such as Stevie Ray Vaughan, Albert King, Muddy Waters and B.B. King with new renditions of some of their time-tested classics.
Was doing an album like Goin’ Home on your mind for a long time?
Well, when the Rides album happened, I put Goin’ Home on hold so I could write and tour with those guys. But even prior to that, I’d been mulling over doing something like this record for a while.
Fender.com: What was the impetus behind Goin’ Home?
Shepherd: It was just another opportunity to revisit the music that spoke to all of our roots in this group – the songs that inspired us to play music in the first place. Obviously, I was focusing on the musicians who inspired me to play, but I did take some cues from the other guys in the band, too. The goal was to pay tribute to the blues that have influenced me my entire life. That’s why I picked up a guitar in the first place.
How did you choose the songs?
I really tried to dig deeper into some of these catalogs to find songs that wouldn’t be too obvious. The most mainstream song that we covered on the record is probably “Born Under a Bad Sign” by Albert King. It was important to find songs that weren’t covered all the time, but also that were still relevant lyrically today. I think the end result is a great record that really pays homage to the blues.
Still, that list of great blues tracks is seemingly endless. How hard was that to sift through?
The challenge was searching for the hidden gems that have been overlooked by the mainstream blues bands that have covered songs before. It was a challenge getting that list down to a single album, to be honest. We started with 22 songs and had to narrow it down to what we put on Goin’ Home.
I didn’t approach this like a cover record. To me, it was more of just another record we were doing, but we happened to choose other people’s songs. I picked the songs on the record like I had written them. Each one had to have a different vibe and contribute to the piece as a whole. That’s why there are two Muddy Waters songs and two Albert King songs and two Freddie King songs. The performances were so great, the lyrical content was great, and what they contributed to the album was different. We actually recorded two B.B. King songs, but we ended up with only one on the record. I felt like the song selection and what each song brought to the table was more important than having one song by each artist, which most cover albums do.
You have so many great guests on this album, like Robert Randolph, Warren Haynes, etc. How did you incorporate everyone on the different tracks?
Robert’s great. He and I go back many years and we’re good friends. We had a lot of great people play on the record, but it’s not like one of those duet records, or only a guest appearance record. It just so happened that I talked to some of my friends and asked them if they wanted to play on some tracks. Each one brought something different. Every time someone said yes, I looked at the songs and tried to figure out what best fit their style. The way we cut “Still a Fool,” it was apparent immediately that it was a song for Robert. It gave him an opportunity to do his thing, but one thing that I appreciate about Robert is that when he and I jam together, we do this interesting call-and-answer thing. That really inspires us to go in different directions than if we were just by ourselves. He played some Albert King-style licks on the lap steel, which was amazing. That’s one of my favorite performances on the record.
What type of gear did you mainly use on Goin’ Home?
I used some of my vintage Strats, like my ’61, ’58 and ’59 hardtails. But I definitely used my signature Strat on some songs and got some really great sounds out of it. Really, some of my favorite tones on this record came from my signature Strat. I was really happy about that. I also borrowed a Strat from a friend of mind that had a P-90 in it. I used that on “You Can’t Judge a Book By Its Cover,” because it had an interesting sound.
For more information, visit Shepherd’s official website.