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MUSIC: Ventura County | ROCKTALK

A Fresh Shade of Blues

Guitarist too young for a drink nevertheless has B.B. King's blessing.

June 11, 1998|BILL LOCEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Blues isn't a geezer's genre anymore. Blues guitar god Kenny Wayne Shepherd won't even be able to buy a beer until the day before his Saturday-night gig at the Ventura Theatre. But he isn't particularly thirsty and he isn't sniveling, either. Also on this outstanding bill and providing reason for a timely arrival are the opening acts, country rocker Todd Snider and Uma.

Shepherd has released two records, both of which have gone gold. None other than B.B. King has given his blessings for Shepherd to carry blues into the next millennium, and if that's not enough, the young long-haired blond was in the recent Rolling Stone spring fashion issue, surrounded by near-naked models.

Yet another memorable musician out of the Bayou State, Shepherd plays aggressive blues in the Stevie Ray Vaughan style. Shepherd's latest, "Trouble Is . . . ," features all originals except for "I Don't Live Today," a raging cover of a Jimi Hendrix tune.

Much like the old blues dudes, Shepherd plays a lot--more than 200 gigs a year--and he discussed the latest events of his life and career from El Paso during his latest tour, en route West.

*

So what are you doing for your birthday?

Well, man, I'm playing two shows at the House of Blues and the 11th is going to be my big birthday bash even though that's a day before the real day. It'll be cool--my family's flying out and everything.

*

So when you play Ventura, you'll be a geezer of 21; are you going to have a beer?

I dunno man, we'll have to wait and see. If I do, it definitely won't be before I play.

*

When was the last time you cut your hair?

Actually, I just cut about 7 inches of it off the other day. It's still a little bit above my shoulders now. I dunno why I did it, man, except that it was getting pretty hot.

*

Sometimes you play five straight nights on the road; isn't that hard?

We've done six or seven dates in a row. I'm playing music, and that sure beats flipping burgers somewhere.

*

What do you think Kenny Wayne music sounds like?

I'd say I'm right in the middle between Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan.

*

You played with Bob Dylan--did he talk?

Oh, yeah, man. He talked to me every day, shook my hand, said hello and everything, and let me play with him.

*

Tell me a Stones story.

The thing I remember most about that was I was hanging out backstage at the Babylon Bar right before the pay-per-view concert. I was sitting there next to Charlie Watts and Keith and Mick. Keith was twirling his hair like he does and Mick was giving this outrageous interview to VH-1. It was too much, man.

*

And you played with B.B. King, too?

Yeah, man, he brought me up on stage several times; and I'm proud to call him my friend. One time, we were trading licks and he held up his hand, and his band stopped and he just stared at me. Then we did this dueling guitars thing, and I thought, "Oh, man, it's on me now." But it was cool.

*

What's it like having your dad as your manager?

It's cool because me and my dad handle things together. We have a great relationship, and who better to handle my affairs than my own father?

*

Why is there so much great music from Louisiana?

Good food and good music, I guess. I think it must be the environment. There's this great mix of people--the Cajuns, the Creoles--and all these cultures come together. There's no place like it on Earth.

*

When did you decide you wanted to be a musician?

I guess I decided that I wanted to play when I was 7 years old, but I was 13 years old when I decided I wanted to pursue it. I played with this guy and got up on the stage for the first time, and when I was done, I got a standing ovation--all the people were going nuts, man. Right then I thought, "Hey, I can really do this."

*

What's the most misunderstood about what you do?

In the beginning, but not anymore, people thought I was trying to be like Stevie Ray Vaughan and all that stuff. Obviously, that's not the case, and I don't get that anymore. He's the reason I started playing, but I'm not ripping him off.

*

Bill Coffey's band the Third Man will make its annual appearance Friday night at Nicholby's in Ventura. Opening will be a Portland roots rock band, Fernando.

* The Third Man and Fernando at Nicholby's, 404 E. Main St., Ventura, 9 p.m. Cost: $6. Call: 653-2320.

BE THERE

Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band, Todd Snider and Uma at the Ventura Theatre, Saturday, 8 p.m. Cost: $23. Call: 653-0721.

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