At 6 years old, Kenny Wayne Shepherd began learning the guitar after being inspired to play by Stevie Ray Vaughan. At 13, he was signed to a major label and at 18, he released his debut album. That debut ended up topping the US blues charts and certifying platinum, sending the teenage Shepherd’s career into orbit. Over 25 years later, his exceptional technique and beefy, country-blues style has sold millions of albums, won over armies of fans, and earned him a reputation as one of the greatest blues guitarists of his generation (and anyone else’s, for that matter). Here’s our pick of the 10 best Kenny Shepherd songs of all time.
10. Déjà Voodoo
Shepherd may only have been 18 at the time of releasing his debut album, Ledbetter Heights, but his exceptional technique marked him out as something special right away. The album was an immediate hit, topping Billboard’s blues album chart for a massive 20 weeks and eventually certifying platinum, a remarkable achievement for a debut and an even more remarkable one for a blues album. If you want to understand how it’s managed to sell over 1 million copies in the US alone, point your ear in the direction of its phenomenal lead single, Déjà Voodoo.
9. Somehow, Somewhere, Someway
Two years after his debut, Shepherd returned with another serving of high voltage blues rock with his sophomore album, Trouble Is… It might not be a perfect album, but it is an enjoyable one, full of good time vibes and featuring some sensational guitar work from Shepherd. One of the album’s chief highlights is Somehow, Somewhere, Someway, which rose to number 3 on the Mainstream Rock Tracks chart and helped sell enough copies of Trouble Is… to earn it gold status.
Of all Shepherd’s albums, 10 Days Out: Blues from the Backroads is perhaps the most intriguing, with Shepherd stepping back from the spotlight and letting his guests (who include blues legends Henry Townsend, Etta Baker, Pinetop Perkins, Cootie Stark, and Henry Gray) do all the talking. On U-Haul, blind guitarist Cootie Stark takes the lead, turning in a joyous performance that only the stoniest heart could resist. The improvised rap over the run-out coda is particularly sensational.
7. I Don’t Live Today
Unsurprisingly, Shepherd credits Jimi Hendrix as one of his key influences. “Jimi Hendrix was instrumental in making me refuse to see any boundaries in my music. He gave me permission to try anything I wanted to try. Because that’s what he did: there was no limit to his inventiveness. His canvas stretched across the sky,” he’s told musicradar.com adding “As a performer, he got me out of my little box on stage. When I started doing shows, I used to burn a hole on stage – that’s how much I didn’t move around. But then I watched Jimi and I realized that the stage was another part of the art. Jimi got me to move on stage, probably much in the same way that Prince or Michael Jackson learned their moves from James Brown.” He’s covered a number of his songs over the years, with this smoking rendition of I Don’t Live Today from 1997’s Trouble Is … standing out as one of the best.
6. Lousiana Rain
On 2017’s Lay It On Down, Shepherd showed he was as capable of handling soul, country, and hard rock as he was the blues. The end result is a rich, textured delight, with Shepherd delivering enough sensational solos to keep old school fans happy, but sufficient constraint to allow him to tackle the gentler numbers with aplomb. One of the key tracks not to miss includes Lousiana Rain, a hauntingly lovely blues number that Shepherd handles with restrained grace.
5. Diamonds and Gold
With its big, beefy sound, funky horn section, and a wah-wah pedal guitar worthy of Mike Bloomfield, this sparkly blues number from 2017’s Lay It On Down should be considered essential listening for casual listeners and the devoted alike.
4. Woman Like You
Like all of Shepherd’s albums (with the exception of 2004’s The Place You’re In), 2019’s The Traveler hit the number one spot on the Billboard Blues chart. Comprising of eight original songs and two originals, it’s a hugely enjoyable romp that finds Shepherd beefing up his classic blues-rock sound with a touch of everything from Americana and country to old-school R&B and funk. One of its highlights is Woman Like You, a pulsating rocker that opens with a riot of guitars, horns, and guitar and doesn’t let up for a single second from there. Noah Hunt’s gritty vocals match the lyrics perfectly, while Shepherd’s guitar break will blow your mind clean away.
After releasing Live On in 1999, Shepherd took a five-year break from recording. His time away wasn’t wasted. By the time he returned in 2004 with the album The Place You’re In, he was not only writing his own material, he was singing most of it too. With its classic guitar riffs and muscular production, it went down a storm on rock radio. Alive, a raging rocker with screaming guitars and a well-turned vocal from Shepherd, is one of its chief gems. Released as the album’s lead single, it hit number 13 on the Mainstream Rock Track Chart.
2. Everything is Broken
Shepherd has made several fine covers in his time, not least this superlative reading of Bob Dylan’s Everything is Broken. The song was already a classic even before he got his hands on it (Dylan’s output may have been hit and miss during the 1980s, but this was definitely one of the hits), but his bluesy reading elevated it to even greater heights. Released as a single from the 1997 album Trouble Is…, it reached number 10 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks chart.
1. Blue on Black
Rounding off our list of the ten best Kenny Wayne Shepherd songs of all time is a song Billboard once described as a “widely appealing meld of brooding southern rock, searing blues guitar and alt-country touches.” Released as a single in 1998, Blue on Black became a huge hit, reaching the top spot on the Billboard Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks chart, picking up rave reviews, ending the year on various “Best Of” lists, and picking up the Billboard Music Award for “Rock Track of the Year.” In the years since, it’s lost none of its popularity, becoming Shepherd’s most listened to song on Spotify (26 million streams and counting) and most downloaded on Rhapsody.
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