Paying his dues
He'll be 30 in June, but you have to wonder if even that will be enough to get hardcore blues fans to forgive Kenny Wayne Shepherd for having found fame and fortune while still a teenager. Not his fault he's good, of course, but the blues tradition is one that still hews to the ideal of paying your dues before finding success and something about young white kids like Shepherd, Jonny Lang and Matt Welch getting hauled to gigs in their moms' station wagons rubbed a lot of people the wrong way.
There are different ways of paying your dues, though, and one supposes that constantly having your legitimacy as a blues artist questioned is just another way of earning your keep. Besides, Shepherd's new CD/DVD honors those who created the blues and then carried it forward so his generation could have something to inherit musically. A series of shared stages with everyone from B.B. King to Pinetop Perkins, Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown to George "Wild Child" Butler find Shepherd rubbing shoulders with blues royalty and more than holding his own. Perkins and Hubert Sumlin were longtime members of Muddy Waters' band, and members of Howlin' Wolf's band also appear. Plus, Shepherd's own band now includes Stevie Ray Vaughan's old backing band, Double Trouble drummer Chris Layton and bassist Tommy Shannon (who backed Johnny Winter before joining Vaughan). And finally, he's joined on guitar on one track by Henry Townsend and David "Honeyboy" Edwards, the nonagenarian bluesmen who both played with the legendary Robert Johnson back in the early part of the last century.
All that starpower alone would make this two-disc set (the DVD presents most of the same tracks as the CD, but with the added bonus of video) worth grabbing. But Shepherd is as gracious a host as he is talented a performer, and the warm, friendly ambience on this disc elevates the performances into the realm of art.
Hate Kenny Wayne Shepherd if you want, but give him his due: He's using his own success and fame to bring attention to some blues veterans who aren't as well known. The great music they all make together? That's just gravy.
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