Longtime Friends Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Jonny Lang Bring Their First Tour Together to Hard Rock Live

Concert Preview

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Two guitar slingers who embraced the blues at an early age, Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Jonny Lang have been friends for years. But they’ve never toured together. The Louisiana-born Shepherd has a 20-year recording career that began when he was 16. Over that time, he’s gotten five Grammy nominations and had six No. 1 debuts on the Billboard Blues charts. His most recent album, 2014’s Goin’ Home, features gruff vocals and gritty guitar vocals as it sounds like it was recorded during a different era. He recently phoned to talk about the tour.

Talk about what made you want to play guitar in the first place?
I’ve always been drawn to the guitar. It’s the instrument I gravitated toward. When I saw Stevie Ray Vaughan for the first time, that pushed me over the edge and that was all I wanted to do. My dad was a concert promoter and had brought him in to play so I got to meet him backstage after the show. I had just turned ten. I remember bits of pieces and I remember, without the doubt, the feeling I came away with after the concert. I wanted to play guitar with a passion.

At what point did you know you had developed your own sound?
That’s something that’s still evolving and always evolves as long as you’re a musician who wants to keep learning. Musicians by their nature are the sum of your influences and you hear those influences in what you do. It’s how you take what you learn from them and put your own personality into that that makes your own talent. I was trying to be conscious of that.

Do you listen to lots of music?
When I’m trying to write and create new music, I don’t listen to a lot of music. I don’t want outside influences creeping into the songwriting process. If I’m recording a record and looking for inspiration, I go back to the music that originally inspired me.

What are the pros and cons of becoming a recording artist at a very young age?
I don’t see any cons. I got to do things that people dream about doing. Straight out of school I had my career path in front of me. A lot of people are still trying to figure out what they want to do. I’ve seen the world and gotten to make records and people come to hear me play and they respond in a positive manner. I support my family doing what I love to do. I don’t see any downside.

I think some artists feel they don’t know enough about the music business.
It’s a learning process for everybody. No new artist comes into things knowing everything about the music business. You learn as you go. Some artists don’t want to take an active interest in the business music. They just want to make music. I have an interest in both and have learned a lot along the way. It’s called the music business for a reason It’s not just about playing music. You have to be a business person as well. I enjoy all that.

What was your reaction when you heard that Stevie Ray Vaughan was finally going to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum?
I was extremely excited for the entire band. I was especially happy that they amended it. Originally it was going to be Stevie Ray Vaughan. I was outspoken that it would be a travesty to not include Double Trouble. Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble were inducted. I’ve known all those guys for a long time. I’ve made lots of music with them. For the blues genre, at the time those guys came up and what they accomplished, they’re one of the most deserving group of guys to be in that position.

Talk about your most recent release Goin’ Home. What were you going for sonically with the album?
For me, it was a retrospective album of going back and revisiting the music of my childhood. I was trying to make an album the old fashioned way and make it very authentic. We essentially recorded it live in the studio with us in the same room together. We used two-inch tape. There was not a single song that had AutoTune or any of that. There were no click tracks. We did it the way albums are supposed to be done and how those original songs were probably recorded.

You and Jonny Lang never toured together. Why?
We’ve known each other forever. We’ve never done a tour like this together. We did the Experience Hendrix tour together. This will be the first time of us touring together. It’s something the fans have been begging for for years. People keep asking and  we decided we should do it and give them what they want. We talked about it four years ago and finally put it together.

The blues is a really old art form. Is it alive and well?
I think so. It’s over a hundred years old and still going. There’s no shortage of young people wanting to learn to play blues guitar or getting interested in the music. Every time a person comes into the genre, they bring new life to it. I don’t think it’s in any danger of disappearing. For me, it’s about challenging myself and trying not to play the same thing every night.

You’ll be back in town this summer with Van Halen. What will that tour be like?
It should be great. I toured with them in ‘90s and I know them really well.

Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band + Jonny Lang, 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 23, Hard Rock Live, 10777 Northfield Rd, Northfield, 330-908-7625. Tickets: $42.50-$70, hrrocksinonorthfieldpark.com.

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