Wednesday, Nov 14 2012 12:34 PM

Shepherd: You don't have to be blue to sing blues

BY ALAN SCULLEY Contributing writer

For the first time in his career, blues great Kenny Wayne Shepherd enjoyed the opportunity to take a "finish no record before its time" approach to making his latest studio CD, "How I Go."

That's one reason the gap between his studio albums grew to seven years.

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Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Robert Cray

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"I was able to do it at somewhat of a leisurely pace," said Shepherd, who will play selections from the album during his concert Friday at Eagle Mountain Casino in Porterville.

"We went in the studio over the course of the past year and made this record. So we went in and would record for two weeks and then we'd go home and we'd be out of the studio for a couple of months. It enabled me to live with the material for long periods of time and really analyze it and listen to it. And that way I was very sure when I went back in the studio what needed to be done to make it better."

Of course Shepherd hadn't spent those years between albums loafing.

In 2006, he released "10 Days Out," a combination CD/DVD that involved Shepherd (with drummer Chris Layton and bassist Tommy Shannon, from Stevie Ray Vaughan's old band, Double Trouble) traveling to locations around the United States to record and film collaborations with a host of veteran blues artists, including Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, Etta Baker, Pinetop Perkins (Muddy Waters' pianist) and Hubert Sumlin (Howlin' Wolf's guitarist).

Then in 2010, he released his first concert CD, "Live in Chicago."

But with that gap between his last studio album, 2004's "The Place You're In," and his current release, Shepherd had accumulated roughly 300-400 guitar riffs, rhythm tracks and song ideas, and turning those into fully realized songs took several writing sessions with a series of collaborators that spanned 18 months.

But beyond the new, more deliberate approach to making music, there were a number of personal changes that needed attending to in Shepherd's life, including a drinking and drug habit that, as he said in a 2004 interview with this writer, had become a "routine for me, like a daily affair."

In addition, Shepherd's priorities changed with his 2006 marriage to Hannah Gibson (daughter of controversial actor/director Mel Gibson) and the birth of their three children.

"Having kids has probably been the single most profound experience of my entire life," said Shepherd, who is making time to be a father and husband.

"My goal is to be as present for them as possible," he said. "So definitely striking the right balance is part of my daily concern."

But Shepherd also noted that he feels a strong obligation to his music and fans, so he's excited to have "How I Go" out and to be on tour.

With "How I Go," Shepherd was eager to reassert the rock facet of his sound.

"I wanted there to be a nice mix between blues and blues-based rock, or contemporary blues or whatever you want to call it, just getting back to that middle road between the rock and the blues, which I think is what people have come to expect from me and my band," he said.

He does that nicely on "How I Go," as first-rate rockers like "Never Lookin' Back" and "The Wire" share space with bluesier tunes like "Dark Side of Love" and a cover of the Beatles' "Yer Blues," which features some standout soloing from Shepherd.

Considering his pride in "How I Go," it makes sense that Shepherd has been gradually adding more of the new material as touring has continued this year.

"We've worked up just about every song that was on the record for the live show," Shepherd said. "So it's just a matter of time before most of it is in the set list."

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