It is most certainly undeniable the impact that the 1997 Blues/Rock album Trouble Is... from the American Guitar Supremo and singer/songwriter Kenny Wayne Shepherd and his band made into the charts of half the world, not only from a commercial perspective but also by creating huge attention and awareness to new music fans about an emerging Nouvelle Vague of highly creative and talented guitarists that brought a new, vital lymph to the growth of American Blues and Rock.
Although Shepherd and his band, throughout the Louisiana-born artist's outstanding career, have sold an impressive amount of several million copies of records worldwide, plus earned 5 Grammy nominations, two Billboard Music Awards and two Blues Music Awards, Trouble Is.. as a singled-out album has understandably maintained a special place in the heart of the guitarist, especially in view of the fact that the third single released in '97 from that album, called Blue On Black, reached the top position on the US Billboard Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks charts, remaining at the top spot for an astonishing amount of 17 consecutive weeks.
2022 marked the 25th Anniversary since the release date of Trouble Is... and Kenny Wayne Shepherd, rightly so, decided to re-record the whole album with his current Band's line-up and release the Anniversary version of the album (Trouble Is... 25) by adding an extra tune to it that was not included in the original album (Bob Dylan's cover of Ballad Of A Thin Man) and accompanied also by a DVD which includes a full concert recorded at The Strand Theater and a highly interesting documentary about the making of the original album.
Bluebird Reviews got in touch with the Guitar Maestro and Multi-Winner of two Bluebird Reviews Awards to discuss about an authentic career-defining album like Trouble Is..., focusing also on the Anniversary Edition of the record released towards the end of last year. The first and perhaps obvious question asked to Shepherd, it is whether it still surprises him the fact that this album, after a quarter of a century, has got still a strong emotional and musical impact with so many different age ranges of fans. "For me, my goal was always to make timeless music for decades and decades to come, so, I guess that Trouble Is..., it just confirms to me that I accomplished what I set out to accomplish. People are still enjoying this music 25 years later and some people are still discovering it for the first time, 25 years later. By doing the Trouble Is... Tour, we put out this package to celebrate the anniversary by playing the album live in its entirety for the first time ever and it is selling out everywhere we go. The Tour is keep getting extended, because the fans are reacting so well to it and we are bringing it all the way to Europe as well, later this year. All this, I guess it just reinforces the timeless nature of this album and also, how relevant the music still is today. This album still sounds so fresh now in 2023 and it does not sound like an “aged” album, or a record that belongs specifically to a certain era".
As previously mentioned, the Anniversary Edition of Trouble Is… contains an extra tune that was not included in the original release, back in 1997, which is Dylan’s cover of Ballad Of A Thin Man. Given the fact that there was already a Dylan’s cover on the original release (Everything Is Broken), our website is curious to discover how much of an influence Dylan has been on Shepherd's musical growth, especially in view of the fact that, when the singer/songwriter get asked by the press about his musical musos, Dylan’s name doesn’t come up very often. "Well, Dylan’s name doesn’t come up because, generally, I get asked where my musical influences were as a guitar player, because to many (and I guess for the longest time), that’s what I was mostly known for. That’s why his name doesn’t come up very often, in interviews. But if you are a songwriter at all and you write lyrics, you almost can’t help but admire Bob Dylan and you can’t help by being influenced by Bob Dylan, because he has written so many great songs and he is such a master lyricist. He had a big impact, early in my career, because, when we made the Tour for my first album Ledbetter Heights, I got an opening slot on Tour, opening up for Bob Dylan. We were out on the road with him for, I don’t know, maybe a couple of months or something like that. During that time, he was so nice to me, very encouraging and personable. He spoke to me lots of time, during the Tour, watched my soundchecks every single day and I felt so encouraged by his words. He then invited us back on Tour with him again when the Trouble Is... record came out and that was the reason why I felt so inspired to do some of his songs, because he left such a strong impression on me. I was very young, at the time and I was very impressionable, you know, to have Bob Dylan just being to me so kind, encouraging and generous with his time. That experience really left a big impact on me".
Trouble Is... prior to its original release, must have been quite stressful to write, in view of the fact that its predecessor Ledbetter Heights, Shepherd's debut album, sold over 500.000 copies by early 1996, an impressive figure for such a young artist. With that in mind, our website wondered whether it felt strangely satisfying for Shepherd to record once again an album like Trouble Is… that, back in 1997 and before its release, it must have put him under quite through a lot of pressure, to prove that the success of his debut album Ledbetter Heights was not a coincidence. "Undoubtedly, we had a lot of success with our first album. When we put out Ledbetter Heights, back then, at first, nobody knew what to expect, we didn’t know whether anybody was going to like the record or if anybody was going to care, about that album. But then we found success very quickly. As soon as the first single Deja Voodoo came out, it started raising up the Rock’N’Roll interest here in the States. People started to buy the record and the next thing you know, we sold half a million copies of the album, then it went platinum and so forth. But then, there’s the pressure to follow up that success. When you go and make your second album, knowing how successful was your first one, you know deep inside that people are waiting to see if you can match that success again. I hadn’t thought much about it, perhaps, I think because I was so young and I was, perhaps, a little naïve in really not considering the amount of pressure, until people started asking me about it in interviews. From that point, I started thinking “Wow, maybe there is something to this, maybe I should think about what happens if my next album is not as successful as Ledbetter Heights..”. Thankfully, I think I saw this happening as an opportunity to further demonstrate my artistic longevity and my insistence in thinking “This is what I am going to do, I am not going to waste this chance and I want to make a name of myself and prove that I deserve to be here”".
Perhaps not everybody know that, before starting the recording of Trouble Is..., Kenny Wayne Shepherd had all the songs of the album ready but he found himself in a situation where Shepherd had no lead singer in his band, until Noah Hunt, Shepherd's co-lead singer of the band, joined the collective. Considering that Hunt had joined the KWS Band after the songs of Trouble Is... were written, we ask the Guitar Maestro whether he had to reshape the songs or some of the album's songs, in order to adapt them to Noah Hunt's remarkable vocal skills. "No, not really. I had written the whole record and then it was only a matter of finding somebody who would sound right, on those songs and in my music. Thankfully, it’s like, you know, between me and the people with whom I wrote the songs, historically, we kind of know the sound that we are looking for and with Noah, it just naturally seemed to work. I write music that works well with his voice, I write songs that work well for him. Once a song is written, it really fits every aspect, because I know what works for my band".
On the documentary included into the Trouble Is... 25 Anniversary Edition, Shepherd tells the funny tale of the little, although very amicable dispute that he had with the album producer, Talking Heads' Jerry Harrison, about the non-inclusion of a bridge in the song that brought Kenny Wayne Shepherd to worldwide success, Blue On Black. When talking about that segment of the documentary, when Shepherd sits down with Harrison and both smile amiably about that little discussion, our website wonders whether Shepherd recalls when was the moment when Jerry Harrison finally admitted that Blue On Black did not need a bridge, after all. "(Laughs), Well, it was a compromise, really. The song didn’t need a bridge, but Jerry insisted that it did, so we compromised. Everything, to a degree, is subject to negotiation and compromise, I think that is the key to success, with anything. It is certainly when it comes to make music. So, Jerry was of the opinion that we needed a bridge, on that song and we were of the opinion that it didn’t, so the compromise was that, during the guitar solo, when the solo happens, it plays over the figure for the verse. But then, when it actually goes to the musical bridge, where, for the first time in the whole song, we play an F chord, you know, it goes to the F and then to the G, that is a figure that’s introduced there, which is different to the rest of the song. It didn’t get a lyrical bridge, Blue On Black, but we did give a very slight musical bridge to it and I think that that compromise made everybody happy".
On the bonus disc that comes with Trouble Is...25, where the Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band performs live the album in its entirety, at one point of the show, old KWS Band members that played on the original album joined on stage to play some of the album's songs. While the live performance of the album in Louisiana, was an absolutely spine-tingling one, we asked the guitarist how difficult had it been for him to track down the original band members of the KWS Band that played on the original release of the album and to convince all of them to come and play at that very special concert. "It wasn’t difficult, really. I stayed in touch with all these guys, over the years and thankfully, we are still very friendly with each other. There is no bad blood at all, between us. When we called them for that show, everybody came down to be part of it. From Joe Nadeau (Vocals and Guitar) to Jimmy Wallace (Keyboards), Sam Bryant (Drums), Keith Christopher (Bass Guitar), with all of these guys we all had a great time together and we all have great memories of playing music together. It was really nice to have them on stage and performing with us. When it came to re-recording the album, well, from the original line-up, of course we had Noah; then obviously Chris Layton (Drums) has been in my band for a really long time and I am still very close with Reese Wynans (Keyboards)... we would have hugely loved to have Tommy Shannon (Bass Guitar) playing as well but, you know, he has pretty much retired from music and has been for a while now. Then we had James Cotton on Harmonica on (Long) Gone, on the original album but he passed away several years ago, so we asked Charlie Musselwhite playing Harmonica on that song, instead, on the 25th Anniversary album and I think he did really a fantastic job. For the most part of Trouble Is... 25, we had everybody involved that we could that was part of the original process".
The documentary part of Trouble Is... 25 offers also a slightly different angle of that formidable artist that is Shepherd. The guitarist and singer/songwriter, throughout his career, has always been very private about himself and his personal life. There is a segment of the documentary in which Shepherds opens up very candidly about things like the occasionally challenging family/business relationship with his father Ken in managing Shepherd Entertainment and slso about his personal life, by showing touching VHS snippets of his wedding day. Our website is wondering whether Kenny Wayne Shepherd is more at ease, now, to talk publicly about those topics, perhaps also due to the fact that, after all his great achievements in life as in music, he feels now as a completely fulfilled human being in every aspect of his life. "You know, I have been very fortunate to have reached a moment of my life where I feel I am a successful artist and had longevity in my career. For that, I am hugely thankful to my fans for that continuous support through the years for the music that we created, for the past 27-plus years. I made a lifetime career out of the music, which is, for me an amazing feeling. Thanks to the success we accomplished in all these years, that has afforded me the opportunity to live my life with my wife and my wonderful children in a way that allows me to balance all those things that matter to me in life. It’s all about balance, for me and I am just so grateful that I am able to play the music, entertain the fans and continue giving them new and exciting things to look forward to. By the same token, I am also grateful to be able to afford to take breaks from music and focus on being present at home with my wife, my children, my whole family and to try to do the best that I can for those commitments, because they are all very important to me. In that respect, I feel that my life is incredibly full, you know, I really couldn’t have asked for much more. As far as being a private person, I have always been a bit of a shy and a kind of private person and I don’t have this stardom kind of mentality... it just doesn’t occur to me that all these people would be interested in what I am doing on a daily basis. I understand that people would be interested in the music that I am making, but the little things that I am doing behind the scenes or when I am around the house, well, it just doesn’t occur to me that people would be interested in that at all. But I also feel that, you know, people are interested in me because of my music and I like to try and engage with them on a musical level. I know that some would want to know about my personal life too, but there are so many celebrities that have basically used their personal lives as a vehicle to try and gain more interest from media or fans. But that is not me. I would never want to use my wife, my children or any other aspect of my private life for financial or professional gain, therefore I always try to keep those things separate from music".
During the documentary part of the bonus DVD that comes with the 25th Anniversary release of Trouble Is...often the words “Trust” and “Support” get mentioned, words that have become increasingly important, in these days and age, especially for a music artist in the current business. Trust and Support coming from Shepherd's family at home, his family in the business as Shepherd Entertainment and in the guitarist's added family On The Road, something for which the Louisiana-born artist must be hugely grateful and appreciative of. "You know, as I mentioned in the documentary included in Trouble Is... 25, we run a family business with my father and it has been like this from Day One. We like to think that we treat everyone that come into operation like they are part of the family and with them, we build that mutual long-term commitment. We try to find people that we want to work with and with whom we want to build a long-term situation. That is very important, because it creates a certain stability and continuity, in the long run and that is why we have people that has been working with us for decades and decades and I like it that way. We have each other’s back, just as a family would do and I am so grateful to have so many talented people, like you mention, like Chris, Noah, Kristin (Forbes, Shepherd's Tour Manager and long time part of Shepherd Entertainment too), my dad and so forth. We have a Team that has been through a lot of things and we have always been there for one another and supported each other every step of the way".
The last time that Bluebird Reviews crossed paths with the highly talented guitarist and singer/songwriter, Shepherd revealed to our website that there is also a brand new studio album already recorded and ready to be released. "Well, we haven’t figured out the release date yet, of the new album, although I think that it might be some time later this year. But I haven’t talked with the record company yet about that. As you mentioned, the new album is ready to go and it is a really great record, I am very exciting about it. But we got to finish the Trouble Is... 25 Tour first and once we are done with that, I am sure that we will be starting planning a release date for the next studio album soon".
Shepherd has recently kicked off the 2023 part of his Trouble Is...25 Live Tour with many sold-out venues, including the one where he will be performing tonight, at the historical Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. This special performance, due to the fact that the show is, once again, sold out, will be live streamed on the platform Mandolin.com, where fans will be able to buy tickets to see the show, at least, live online. In that respect, we ask Kenny Wayne Shepherd whether he has chosen for a specific reason that particular venue, for the guitarist's streamed concert and how much does he see live streaming as a new exciting way to engage his fans to come and watch live shows in an alternative fashion. "Well, the Ryman is a legendary venue where everybody wants to play at least once in their lives and where everyone is very honored to play, because it is so historic and iconic. Yes, for us playing the Ryman is a great opportunity and, given the fact that the show was already sold out, for those who wanted to come and see the show in person, the live streaming will give to those living locally in the States or elsewhere in the world, to be able to still watch the show from the comfort of their homes. The live streaming concept is an interesting idea and it is an alternative way to connect with fans that are unable to watch a show in person but, by the same token, I am also a fan and an old-fashioned guy that loves to see live music in person, someone who believes that there is no real substitute to a live music experience lived inside the venue, through watching the band, feeling that energy and feeding off that energy to the band on stage. There is this direct, strong, although invisible exchange happening between the band and the audience, something so powerful that can’t be translated through a screen that separates the fan from the band. I do think that it is a very good alternative to fans that cannot be present to a show in person, but I don’t think that is necessarily the way forward for live music".
Kenny Wayne Shepherd is, without a shadow of doubt, somebody that has accomplished so much in 28 years of a career that has seen him not only selling several million of records but also recording and performing with some of the biggest names in the music industry. Before we part company, we'd like to ask the Electric Guitar Maestro whether there is any unfulfilled artistic desire left that he would like to achieve, in 2023. "Basically, all I want it is to continue pushing myself to make better and better music and to keep writing and releasing songs. For what concerns my overall career, my goal is that the day that I play my last note of music, that day will reach more people, on that day, than we ever had before. I’d like, as the years go by, to continue to grow the fan base, by converting and turning new fans to our music and the music that inspired me. It's all I ask".
Trouble Is...25 is out now and it is available to be purchased via Mascot Label Group / Provogue