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“I know what people must think," says Kenny Wayne Shepherd. "'Oh, Kenny Wayne Shepherd? He’s a blues guy. He must listen to blues all the time.’ But you know, that's not always the case.”
Although he's now regarded as one of the most popular practitioners of modern-day blues, Shepherd's childhood was filled with a varied menu of musical forms. His father was a general manager and on-air personality for several radio stations in the guitarist's hometown of Shreveport, Louisiana, and Shepherd recalls hearing "pretty much everything you can imagine on all the formats – Top 40, rock, country, you name it. Plus, I got to see just about any band that came to town. It was a great musical education."
As a teenager, Shepherd broadened his listening habits, checking out gospel, funk, R&B and Southern rock. Eventually, his tastes veered towards country and blues. "It was almost a toss-up between the two genres for me," he says. "A lot of people say that country is just blues with a twang. Driving to school, Shepherd often cranked Muddy Waters in his car – and he was startled to discover that his choice of music qualified him for outsider status. "I would try to talk to my friends about guys like Muddy Waters. They had no idea. So I always knew that my preferences were very different from most people my age."
Now a father of three (with another child on the way), Shepherd admits that he hears more than his fair share of non-blues around the house. "If I'm not playing music myself, you can imagine it's a lot of Disney and stuff like that," he says with a laugh. But he stresses that keeping an open mind is critical for making artistic leaps, even when working in an idiom as steeped in tradition as the blues.
"If you want to be a well-rounded musician, you really have to be a lover of music," Shepherd says. "You don’t have to love every genre, and you don’t have to like everything that you hear. But you should be open-minded to listening to other types of music. You might hear something that you really dig, and that might inspire you to do something different.”
On the following pages, Shepherd runs down his not-so-guilty pleasures, five albums off the blues beaten path that have found their way onto the guitarist's playlist.