Kenny Wayne Shepherd started teaching himself guitar at an age when most kids are still focused on recess and lunch boxes. And he was just thirteen when New Orleans bluesman Bryan Lee brought him onstage to showcase his innate talent and already precision honed chops. Four Grammy nominations, two Billboard Music Awards and millions of albums later, life came full circle when Shepherd and his band assembled several generations worth of blues legends, including Lee, at the House Of Blues in Chicago, captured for posterity on the brand new Live In Chicago album.
Shepherd released his first in a string of platinum albums while still in high school, but the Shreveport, Louisiana born guitarist / singer / songwriter has never forgotten his roots nor his influences. Placed behind only B.B. King and Eric Clapton in a Guitar World list of blues guitarists, and a guy who also specializes in rock, Shepherd has graciously utilized his own stature, acting as a gateway for younger fans, to shine a spotlight on the great bluesmen of the past—most notably on Live In Chicago, the penultimate culmination of a multi-faceted, unprecedented project.
The landmark concert was part of a nationwide tour Shepherd put together in support of the award-winning 10 Days Out: Blues from the Backroads project. The DVD / CD documentary shows Shepherd, whose own Trouble Is... album boasts the longest run in Billboard Blues Chart history (hitting the 2 year mark), traveling around the country on a ten day trek interviewing and jamming with icons from the blues scene, including the surviving members of Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf's bands.
"We played with these guys on their front porches, in their backyards, stuff like that," Shepherd, now 33, explains. Directed by Noble Jones, 10 Days Out was nominated for two Grammy Awards. Kenny soon devised the idea of taking some of these guys on the road with his band - vocalist Noah Hunt, drummer Chris Layton, bassist Scott Nelson and keyboardist Riley Osbourn. They toured for two months, joined by Hubert Sumlin, Willie "Big Eyes" Smith, Buddy Flett and Bryan Lee.
"We had such a great time that I decided we should capture some of it," Kenny says. "I first intended on recording this just for my own private, personal benefit - just to have it for myself. It was just a real special experience for me. We recorded a couple of nights of the tour."
Tommy Shannon, who with Layton formed the rhythm section in the late / great Stevie Ray Vaughan's band, flew in for the Chicago gig, which cemented the evening as one for the record books. Kenny was extremely sick that night and worried that he may not even be able to perform. Thankfully, adrenaline took over as he stepped onstage. A breathtaking performance followed.
Live in Chicago features well-known staples from the Kenny Wayne Shepherd catalog alongside a batch of classic material chosen specially for these onstage collaborations. "The music we played with these special guests actually isn't even the music from the 10 Days Out project," Kenny says. "It's a good balance.”
The respective résumés of the guests on Live in Chicago read like a history book of blues and rock n' roll. Hubert Sumlin joined Howlin' Wolf's band in 1949 at the age of eighteen. Hailed as one of the greatest guitarists of all time by Rolling Stone, he's beloved by everyone from Jimmy Page to Carlos Santana. "He's influenced people like Clapton and Keith Richards," Kenny says.
Willie "Big Eyes" Smith, like Sumlin, played with Muddy Waters. He co-founded the Legendary Blues Band with Pinetop Perkins, Louis Meyers, Calvin Jones and Jerry Portnoy, racking up six Grammy Awards and memorably playing John Lee Hooker's backup band in "The Blues Brothers."
"We also had two people I looked up to tremendously growing up and learning to play guitar," Kenny says. "Buddy Flett is from my hometown. He's one of the hottest guitar players from my area." And of course Bryan Lee, who gave Kenny Wayne Shepherd that big break early on.
With Kenny's strongest tunes from his best loved albums, his scorching band, that pedigree of guests and one of the most noteworthy performances in any genre in recent memory, Live in Chicago is truly something special. "Usually a live record is just live versions of all of your old stuff," Shepherd rightly points out. "This collection is a great, diverse combination for the fans."Check out the first track from the upcoming live set, "I'm a King Bee" below, and go RIGHT HERE to pre-order your copy of blues history in the making: Live in Chicago.