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Kenny Wayne Shepherd's 10 Days Out


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As many of you know, I've spent some time as a journalist in my life. Writing is something that used to be a passion of mine, especially writing about music and the musicians. I still love it and if I could make a living at it and only it, I'd do it all the time.


Here is the last interview I did before leaving the profession to work as a substitute teacher. Hope you enjoy it.


Avila Beach gets the blues: Kenny Wayne Shepherd in the spotlight on Sunday


By Todd Cralley/Staff Writer

Kenny Wayne Shepherd, who will join Los Lobos and Dave Alvin & The Guilty Men on stage Sunday at the Avila Beach Blues Festival, has been a student of the blues ever since he first picked up the guitar at the age of 7.


By time he was in high school, the Shreveport, La., native had already figured out what he wanted to do with the rest of his life — play the blues.


Immersing himself in the classics, he listened to and figured out the guitar parts to songs by the great blues legends of the past— men like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf.


He released his first record, “Leadbetter Heights,” at the age of 18, and to this day, the two-time Grammy nominee continues to tap into a style of music that has stood the test of time.


His latest project, “10 Days Out, Blues from the Backroads,” is a must-see documentary for anyone with an appreciation of the blues. The DVD also comes with a 15-song CD of live music from the documentary.


Shepherd, along with a film crew, a portable recording studio and producer Jerry Harrison (Talking Heads), embarked on a journey into the American South, capturing memorable performances by an impressive lineup of blues veterans, as well as some lesser-known talents.


The goal of “10 Days Out” was to produce intimate recordings in intimate settings and to maintain authenticity — no overdubs were used. What you see is what you get.


“What happened is what you hear,” said Shepherd. “We kept it as real as possible.”


Featured performances are by some of America’s best-known blues artists, including B.B. King, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown and Honeyboy Edwards.


The documentary culminates with a once-in-a-lifetime performance at a church in Salina, Kan., where Shepherd and his friends were joined by the remaining members of Howlin’ Wolf’s and Muddy Waters’ bands at the aptly named Church at Blue Heaven Studios.


“I wanted to do these musicians justice, especially the ones that are no longer with us,” he said.


Since the making of “Ten Days Out,” six of the featured musicians — Etta Baker, Henry Townsend, Wild Child Butler, Neal Pattman, Cottie Stark and Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown — have passed away.


“It’s just a reality check, man,” Shepherd said. “It’s a generation of musicians from a genre of music that’s going to stand the test of time. They’re a generation of people who date all the way back to the origins of the blues.


“They’re not going to be here forever, and this is just a reminder that they need to be appreciated while they’re still here.”


The documentary features many moving and memorable moments that will, with out a doubt, go down in music history.


One in particular is when Shepherd and 91-year-old Etta Baker are sitting in her kitchen playing “Knoxville Rag.” Baker recounts how she first learned to play guitar at the tender age of 3.


Shepherd says the time with Baker was very memorable for him and believes the overall experience from “10 Days Out” has deeply impacted him.


“That experience with Etta definitely left an impression on me,” he said. “She reminded me of my grandmother.


“I feel like the entire experience helped me mature even more as a musician, as a player and a performer,” Shepherd admitted. “I feel like I’ve grown leaps and bounds in my playing — matured a whole lot.


“Every night, watching guys like Hubert Sumlin, Pinetop (Perkins), and Brian (Lee), you can’t help but absorb a lot of that. I was watching Hubert and stole some guitar riffs from him — or borrowed some from him,” he laughed.


Shepherd said he realizes it was important to feature those pioneers of a musical style that is uniquely American. But more so, it was important to feature the men and women behind the music. “Like I said before, they need to be appreciated while they’re still here, and I wanted to show my appreciation for them,” he said. “Many of these people in this project inspired me to play this instrument. They inspired me to pick it up and try and learn notes on the guitar, aspire to be a better person and musician.


“Many of these people made a solid contribution to the blues scene, but a lot of people don’t necessarily know it,” Shepherd continued. “Some of these people have been playing the music their entire lives but never busted out into the main stream. That’s not to say that they didn’t make a significant contribution to the music.


“The blues is something that is 100-percent American. America can truly call the blues its own. I think that needs to be recognized, and it was just my way of paying my respects to these people.”


Much of that respect and admiration goes to a man that Shepherd has played with many times in the last 12 years, B.B. King.


Every June for the last 41 years, King has gone home to Indianola, Miss., to play in one of the last, true juke joints left in America. It’s homecoming at Club Ebony, and in “10 Days Out,” Shepherd is there to perform with the legendary bluesman.


In one of the best performances of the entire documentary, Shepherd, plays the classic B.B. King song, “The Thrill is Gone,” with King and his band.


With a vintage, scarred-up old Fender Stratocaster and a Fender Twin Reverb amplifier, Shepherd takes the first guitar solo. His sound is rich and velvety, as the guitar cries out through the 12-bar blues solo, clearly showing the student can toe the line with the master.


King uses his trademark Gibson 335 semihollow-body guitar. When it’s his turn to solo, the master bluesman unleashes a deeply resonant and soulfully sonic tone, matching Shepherd’s solo note for note before moving back into the song’s lyrics.


The exchange is something every musician can learn from.


As often as Shepherd has played with King, he admits he is still intimidated by the man. “I just never really come out of my shell when I play with him,” Shepherd said. “It really has to do with the tremendous amount of respect I have for him.


“I see a lot of guys who get the opportunity to play with somebody like him and use that opportunity to play every note that they ever learned on the instrument — as if they’re going to prove something to somebody, show B.B. King up, which is impossible.


“I just have never been that type of guy, especially when it comes to playing with these guys. I’m not there to show them everything I know or to try and say I can play more or better than they can,” he added. “I’m just there to play with them and contribute something to the music.”


Kenny Wayne Shepherd’s deep respect for the blues and his overall contribution to the music has likewise earned him the admiration of King.


In a quiet moment in the documentary, when the two artists are relaxing backstage, King tells the young guitarists, “There’s a great weight on your shoulders,” alluding to the responsibility that comes with the calling.


“I guess a lot of people feel that that was his way of passing the torch,” Shepherd said. “I accept that responsibility willingly.


“Since I started playing and I put my band together, I made up my mind in the early days, when I was just a teenager, that I was going to play and make my contribution to this music no matter how big or how small,” he explained. “I was going to try to make a solid contribution to this music.


“If I’m the one that B.B. thinks can carry the weight of the responsibility of the future of the blues, then so be it.”

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