The Second Malibu Guitar Festival is going to rock Malibu from the canyons to the sea for four days, April 28 to May 1. Kenny Wayne Shepherd is headlining with his band, and he will be able to ride his bike from his home to the outdoor stage in Cross Creek – and also to the benefit at Casa Escobar on opening night. Who dat? You ask: Originally from down in Louisiana, the 39-year-old, self-taught blues guitarist married a lovely local lass and now lives somewhere hidden away and quiet in Malibu, with their three kids. Don’t know much about Kenny Wayne Shepherd? Read on.
(KWS called correspondent Ben Marcus at 10:45 PST on Tuesday, April 5.)
KWS: How ya’ doin’?
BM: I’m fine. I’m in Hawaii. It could be worse.
KWS: I hear ya, man. What are you doing in Hawaii?
BM: Writing books, living on a boat, eating shave ice, seeing sharks. But regarding your deal, I’ve been riding around on a fat tire bike, listening to Spotify: Cream, Jane’s Addiction, Jimi Hendrix Experience, Led Zeppelin, The Police and Nirvana. The Guitar Gods seems to be the theme.
KWS: Sounds good.
BM: You know who’s good? Dave Navarro. Listen close and listen a lot and you come to the conclusion he’s a monster. Is Navarro on Mount Rushmore with Hendrix and Clapton and Page? I don’t know, but he has some serious chops that guy.
KWS: Yeah yeah he is a great player. I know Dave well, and he’s an exceptional guitar player.
BM: So if you were riding around Waikiki listening to Spotify, who would you be listening to?
KWS: Aw man, well, for me I’m a blues guy. If I’m just trying to kick back and relax and get serene and everything, I listen to old school blues. That’s my first love. I’d be listening to Muddy Waters and BB King and stuff like that.
BM: I’ll tell you who else – and this is an obvious statement – but Jimi Hendrix loved the blues.
KWS: Oh absolutely man.
BM: My big brother played trombone with Ray Charles for a bunch of years. My little brother played bass for Berkeley High when they had the best jazz program in the country. My dad played saxophone and clarinet and piano. My granny was the organ accompanist for the silent movies. I come from a musical family but I didn’t get any of it. Your family is musical I take it?
KWS: Well actually not really. I’m the only musical guy in my family. You know my dad was on the radio. He was a disc jockey so I grew up around radio stations. And music, live concerts and things like that, but no one really played an instrument.
BM: What about going back in your family? Because usually talents like yours are hereditary. Someone up the line was musical. KWS: Well my dad’s brother sang in a barbershop quartet, but that’s like totally…. BM: That’s not blues, no.
KWS: Electric blues and rock and roll. No like I said, dude, you know my dad was on the radio. He managed radio stations and he was a DJ and so he did rock radio, he did Top 40 radio, he did country radio and so I saw every band who came through town. The first concert he took me to was to see Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker when I was three years old. And I saw Stevie Ray Vaughn when I was seven years old and ZZ Top and Aerosmith and every top group who came through town, man, and so I was just absorbing all of that.
BM: Sounds like you just got bathed in the blues when you were a kid and it made an impression. Wikipedia says you’re self-taught. You just picked up a guitar and started playing?
KWS: Yeah I mean well, it took me a few years to get good enough. Before i could perform, but I was basically self-taught. I learned how to play by ear. It’s a tedious process because it’s one note at a time. I’d pick songs that I wanted to learn how to play and then piece them together one note at a time.
BM: That’s a lot of alone time, isn’t it? That’s a lot of practice because I saw my brothers do it.
KWS: Oh yeah man, yeah. That’s what I wanted to do. All my friends were doing whatever kids, do, right? I would sit at home in my bedroom or my living room playing guitar, because that’s what I liked to do.
BM: Were you playing in bands in junior high and high school?
KWS: Well not in junior high. It took me a long time to find anyone who wanted to play the same kind of music as me. I eventually started hanging out with people who were much older than me. But I put my band together… I was onstage by the time I was 13. I had my own band by the time I was 16.
BM: But you were playing during high school, right? It’s good fun to be a Guitar God in high school.
KWS: Well I don’t know if I was considered a Guitar God in high school, but I was definitely having a good time. I mean that was awesome.
BM: You grew up in Louisiana?
KWS: I’m originally from Louisiana. I went all the way through school and my parents insisted that I graduate high school, because nobody knows if a career in the music business is really going to happen or not. So I graduated high school and then hit the road on my first tour – when my first album came out – I went to Europe and opened up for The Eagles when they first got back together on the Hell Freezes Over Tour.
BM: Well that’s a good gig. I mean, holy cow.
KWS: Yeah right? So I graduated high school and I hit the road and I’ve been doing this ever since, basically.
BM: So you never went out with anyone else. You’ve been you from the start.
KWS: Oh yeah, dude. I mean look: My first album came out in September of 1995 and it went gold like almost instantly and it actually went platinum and sold over a million copies. My second album did better than the first one, so I’ve had several platinum records and gold albums and stuff. I’ve been on the road with everybody from the Rolling Stones to Aerosmith to Bob Dylan and then last summer we were doing our second tour with Van Halen and Lynyrd Skynyrd, Allman Brothers, BB King, Buddy Guy – you name it. I’ve been able to play with just about every band and musical hero that I had when I was growing up.
BM: So you never played as a side guy with other bands? Like Glen Campbell going out with the Beach Boys?
KWS: No, I’ve always been a solo artist with my own band. I have another band right now, a side project with Steven Stills from Crosby, Stills and Nash, and this guy Barry Goldberg and the name of the band is called The Rides. Like automobiles, you know? We put out a record like two and a half years ago and did a tour and had a great time and we have a new album coming out, like May 6.
BM: How much time are you on the road, in a year. Like six months?
KWS: Last year I was basically on the road from the end of February until October. It just depends on if we have a new record coming out. It depends on what’s going on. We still tour a lot.
BM: Chris Isaak was on Jonesy’s Jukebox the other day and he talks about being on the road and how he gets home and gets restless after a few days and he just likes to be on the road. Is that how you are?
KWS: Naw that’s not me, man, because I have a family. My wife and me have a bunch of young kids. I love coming home and seeing my family but I love playing music as well. It’s just trying to strike the right balance between family life and my professional life.
BM: You live around Malibu somewhere?
BM: Do you go to Malibu much?
KWS: Oh yeah man. We live right inside Malibu Canyon.
BM: What places do you like in Malibu?
KWS: I’m not a surfer so that part of it doesn’t appeal to me, but I do like Broad Beach and I like Cross Creek, you know, to be able to take your kids down there. There’s the play area and the shopping area. It’s good for kids. Malibu is a beautiful place and a great community.
BM: It is.
KWS: My wife and I met in Malibu years ago and I’ve lived here now for 13 years. It’s kind of a tight-knit group of people who want to keep it somewhat exclusive.
BM: What bugs me about Malibu is it doesn’t have much of a music scene. It could and it should. Just think of who lives in Malibu: Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Steve Jones is around, P!nk, Tommy Lee, Sting, Mike D, Anthony Kiedis, Brad Paisley, Rick Rubin. Miley Fricking Cyrus! And now Kenny Wayne Sheperd! What if all that talent came out of the woodwork and threw into this thing? The best music scene I’ve seen is karaoke night at Cafe Habana, where you’ve got Kid Rock and Gary Busey and John McEnroe and Tim Commerford taking the mic.
KWS: Well I know. It has a little bit, like up there at the Malibu Inn, they still have people who come through there and play on a pretty regular basis. I know that place has changed ownership several times in the past 10 or 15 years, but I think they are trying to keep something live… the live music going. But that’s one of the things that’s great about this Malibu Guitar Festival. It’s trying to bring some live music to the area. This is the second year of the festival and we’re hoping it will continue to be an annual event. And it will give everybody something to look forward to as far as live music goes. You never know what something like this could spark.
BM: On Jonesy’s Jukebox, Chris Isaak said he has played with the same guys for 30 years. Are you pretty much with the same bunch of guys?
KWS: The guy who sings most of the vocals in my band, Noah Hunt, we’ve been together for 19 years now. The drummer in my band used to play with Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble. His name is Chris Layton. He’s been with me…. He’s played on almost all my records since the very first one which would have been 20 years ago but he’s been in my live band for 10 years. The bass player is the most recent addition. His name is Tony Franklin and he played with a band called The Firm with Paul Rogers back in the day and a few other bands. He’s just been in the band for a few years. But for the most part, they are all long-term members.
BM: How many shows are you doing at the Malibu Guitar Festival?
KWS: We’re doing the outdoor show on the 30th which is a Saturday or a Sunday. But the night before they’re having an event. A big charity fundraiser thing and I’m going to do an appearance there and sit in with the house band. But with me and my band the big event for us is playing the outdoor part of the festival. We’ll probably do an hour and a half show, like we normally do.
BM: Okay I have a special message from a musician named Jenny Archimede who lived with us in Malibu for awhile. She would go to the Village Recorder Studio and write and record. One night she came home and said: “Kenny Wayne Shepherd was in the next studio tonight!” and she went on and on about you and the guitar solos she heard through the walls. She’s looking forward to catching your act at the Malibu Guitar Festival.
KWS: We hope to see everyone there.