KENNY WAYNE SHEPHERD The Beginnings
In 1992 I was the VP of radio promotion at CURB RECORDS. That year one of the most highly anticipated releases was by blues artist, Delbert McClinton. It was titled “Never Been Rocked Enough” and had Bonnie Raitt, Tom Petty, and Melissa Etheridge as support artists on the album. The single was a rock tune, “Every Time I Roll The Dice.” We did fairly well with the song at radio, well enough to fund a few live concerts for radio stations. One such show was in Shreveport, LA for KTUX and the then program director Ken Shepherd. Ken had been airing the song for me, so I went down to Shreveport to support the show. It was there that I met his son, 13 year-old, Kenny Wayne.
His father introduced me to him, backstage, and said that Kenny was quite a guitar player for his age, and that he wanted me to hear him play. Kenny had a Stevie Ray Vaughan Fender Strat, and played for me without an amp. He was good, real good. He asked if I could get Delbert McClinton to let him jam with him on stage that evening. Delbert wasn’t very enthusiastic about the idea without any rehearsal…not even in Shreveport, Louisiana. Kenny understood, but I told him we would make it up to him.
Several months later I attended a Radio and Records convention in Dallas, as did Ken Sr. and his son. A jam session was arranged and young Kenny played quite a few three-chord progression songs with the assembled musicians, but was a stand out when soloing.
It was then I decided to join Ken and Kenny Wayne for a trip to New Orleans, where we met blues guitarist, Bryan Lee. A legend in the New Orleans music circuit, Bryan was kind enough to invite us to THE OLD ABSINTHE BAR (closed in 1997) to jam. Kenny was quite excited at the opportunity until the manager of the club explained at the doorstep, that Kenny was under age and it was a problem having him on stage. After some financial negotiations and other assurances
we worked it out, and Kenny jammed with Bryan and his band. He killed it and from that moment on, Kenny forged a life long friendship with Bryan Lee.
When I got back to LA, I called Ken Sr. and said, it’s time to do something with Kenny Wayne, let’s record a few songs. We started in Shreveport in a local studio, but ended up doing a good portion of the tracks in a studio in New Orleans. We wanted to name the act, the Kenny Wayne Band, but after doing a title search had to change it to the Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band because of a conflict. I produced four songs, which were presented to record labels, along with a video, in order to secure a record deal. The songs were:
What You Do To Me, 3:02 (Nadeau, Shepherd)
She Belongs To Me (Magic Sam), 3:00
Suits Me To A “T” (Buddy Guy), 5:12
Say Yeah 2:40
A 3 Way Productions 8/20/93
Mastered at Future Disc Systems West Hollywood, CA
Irving Azoff signed Kenny to GIANT RECORDS, and hired David Z to produce and engineer the album at The House of Blues Studio in Memphis. I had moved over from CURB to ZOO ENTERTAINMENT as Vice President of radio promotion. I took a few vacation days to fly to Memphis to hear the record and try to help. When I heard the rough mixes I felt it lacked a solid radio hit. Kenny, Mark Selby, and Tia Sillers, were working on a new song “Deja Voodoo”. At my urging they cut the record after I did an arrangement rehearsal with the band. “Deja Voodoo” went on to be a big rock radio hit, being heard by 64.47 million people to date, and Kenny never had to look back. The album it came from, “Ledbetter Heights”, spent 20 weeks topping the Billboard blues chart and Guitar World voted Shepherd #3 after B.B. King and Eric Clapton.
Kenny, Mark Selby, and Tia Sillers became a great song writing team eventually writing “Blue On Black” which skyrocketed the Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band to a whole other level. Before long Kenny was touring with BB King, who had Delbert McClinton on his bill as the opening act. Many was the night that BB had Kenny Wayne play the guitar solo to his biggest hit, “The Thrill Is Gone.” I always wondered if Delbert realized that Kenny Wayne Shepherd was the kid with all the blonde hair and a Strat backstage in Shreveport that wanted to jam with him. I honestly think that he did.