It was sometime this winter, when I was deep in my research for my story on The Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band, before the release of their newest So Delicious, when I discovered Kenny Wayne Shepherd is a Big Damn Band fan. I'm not sure if someone told me, or if I stumbled across the article myself, but somewhere along the line, I found the musicrader.com list created by Shepherd calling out the Big Damn Band's album The Whole Fam Damnily as one of his top five not-so-guilty pleasures of all time. In the piece, he mentions that it was none other than John Mellencamp who intro'd him to the Rev's slide guitar playing.
So, since Kenny is coming through town this week with Van Halen, I asked the Rev if he had any questions for him, from one bluesman to another. Lucky strike! He did. And I, acting as a phone call conduit, since the Big Damn Banders are busy on the road as always, asked Kenny all of 'em.
Reverend Peyton: It's been a tough couple of years for blues music in this country. We lost BB King this year, and it has left many, including Buddy Guy, wondering about the future of the blues. Where do you see things going? Who are the legends that will take things into the future? If you were the benevolent dictator of blues music in the USA what would you do/promote?
Kenny Wayne Shepherd: I think BB King held the throne for a really long time, and he didn't rule as a dictator, let's put it that way. I have faith in the music, and the genre. There's always new life being infused into it. We're talking about a genre of music that's over 100 years old, and there's still new artists coming out and doing this stuff. There's no shortage of young people that are interested in it. All you've got to do is go online and Google "blues guitar" or go on YouTube and you'll see tons of kids trying to play the blues.
There's this kid named Quinn Sullivan that Buddy Guy has kind of taken under his wing. Last night, I was just watching a video of this other kid named Ray Goren who is a 16-year-old kid. The kid can play, and he can sing, and I hear he's got a record coming out. There's young talented people that are coming into the blues, and they're going to infuse new life into the music just like the guys in me and my generation did and continue to do. I think it's in good hands.
Reverend Peyton: Klipsch Music Center, formerly Deer Creek, is a giant venue. It has a lot of history, and is one of my favorite places to play, but reaching to the lawn of a venue that size can be challenging. How do you reach fans all the way to the back of a venue that size?
Shepherd: I've found, for me, the key to reaching the audience has been just literally playing with as much feeling and emotion and passion as you can, from the inside out. That translates. That connects with people, no matter how far out they are in the audience. You got to connect with people on an intimate level, on a soulful level. There's only one way to do that, and that's playing from the heart.
Reverend Peyton: Between shows we are always looking for fishing spots and nature. What do you do on days off on tour?
Shepherd: Some of the guys out here on the Van Halen tour bring their own fishing rods, and stuff like that. There hasn't been a lot of opportunities [to fish]. We were just up in Toronto and that venue sits on a body of water. We were just at Jones Beach in New York City and that venue sits on a body of water, but there's not a whole lot of opportunities to do that. So what we did on this tour is we bought a bunch of bicycles, so we have been biking around. We're trying to experience the local towns in that manner. I love to eat great food, so I always try to search out a unique local restaurant, something that you can only get in that town.
Reverend Peyton: You are on tour with Van Halen. They are certainly rock legends! Are you friends with those fellas? Will there be any collaboration? How are they on the road? Do they still get the famous brown M&M's removed on their rider?
Shepherd: I haven't seen any M&M's anywhere, so I don't think that exists anymore [laughs]. We toured with Van Halen back in the '90s. That's when Ed [Eddie Van Halen] and I first became friends. We've known each other for a couple of decades now. My relationship with him is the same as it ever was -- he's tremendously gracious and nice to me and I really value his friendship. That's one of the reasons why we're out here, because of that friendship. Everybody's really friendly, and it's a really great environment out here.
Reverend Peyton: Are you working on a new album? What's your writing process like, and how do you like to record in this modern era?
Shepherd: For me and my band, we're working on mixing and editing a live DVD concert. Going back to the first time I heard about Peyton and his band was because I met Mellencamp and all of those guys going to Indianapolis Colts football games, because we're all friends with Mr. Irsay. One of the guys that I met as a result of going to these football games is Stephen Stills. Stephen and I formed a band together a couple years back. Me and him and a friend of ours, Barry Goldberg, formed a band called The Rides. We made a record, put a record out, did a tour together about two and a half years ago. So we just recorded a new album as The Rides that's going to come out at the beginning of next year. That's the next musical new album that's going to be coming out for me, but it's with my other band, The Rides, with Stephen Stills and Barry Goldberg.
And I threw in a few bonus non-Rev questions, too:
NUVO: As a Colts fan, are you sad about Reggie Wayne leaving?
Shepherd: I'm not sad because I feel like this is a new era for the Colts. Reggie was part of an amazing era of football for the Indianapolis Colts. He'll always be remembered as a Colt, you know what I'm saying? Just like Edgerrin James was, and Peyton will be one of those guys, too. This is a new era. We've got Andrew Luck, and they're trying to surround him with some great new talent, so they can write their own chapters in football history. I wish Reggie the best, and I think they'll probably do a really good job with him in New England. But I'm not sad about it. Reggie was one of my favorite guys because I could wear one of his jerseys and have part of my name on it.
NUVO: What's it like to have Mel Gibson as your father-in-law? Shepherd: Well, for me, he's been very nice to me. He's been a great father-in-law to me. He's been an incredible grandfather to my children. I think it's cool. I grew up -- since I was a kid, before I was a musician and successful in my own right, because my dad was in radio -- going to every concert. We always went backstage and met all these famous musicians. James Brown was like a member of my dad's extended family. Since I was a kid, I grew up around people like James Brown, we're talking like icons. I've been exposed to a lot of famous people my whole life. I realized at a really young age famous people are just people. They just happen to be famous. They're human beings.
I think at the point that I was dating my wife -- we were dating for a while before [she told me her dad was Mel] -- I don't go around asking people. I have a lot of famous friends, and I know just by the association, in the context that I met them in, that they're famous, but I don't know what they do. I don't go around asking people what they do. My wife and I were together for a while before I even knew who her father was. It didn't matter to me who her father was except that I wanted the guy to like me. When I met him, it was not like I was awestruck or starstruck or speechless, or anything, cause I've been around famous people my whole life. But he's been really good to me, my children. I love my wife's whole family. All of her brothers, her aunts, her uncles, her extended family -- I've met all of them and we get along extremely well. NUVO: When I read he was your father-in-law, I was like, "Man, all I'd want to do is watch Braveheart with my father-in-law." Shepherd: [laughs] I don't know that that will ever happen. I don't think he sits around watching his own movies.
This interview has been condensed and edited.