Mark Seliger

Kenny Wayne Shepherd’s Timeless ‘Trouble’

Out now: Trouble Is… 25, a an album featuring a re-recording of the seminal release in celebration of its 25th anniversary. It also includes a documentary and live DVD, so it is an immersive, celebratory experience.

Kenny Wayne Shepherd bridges the blues rock time periods of Stevie Ray Vaughan and Marcus King – all influential, all unique, and all songwriting guitarists. Critically-acclaimed on the six-string and beyond, a striking songsmith, and a notable live performer, Shepherd has captured a genre and an era with a sort of shine that everyone can appreciate. This is the perfect example and exact reason as to why he and his fans, labels and media alike, are spending time highlighting what put him on the indelible map of the genre, of the industry. Trouble Is… was a hit record, but before and after it saw hard-work and creativity, too, so now we’re at a place to expand on the beloved original and pay tribute to it – something Shepherd is doing on tour and talking about in conversation with us.

For anniversary editions of albums, many bands will do remasters or remixes. What made you go the other way by rerecording Trouble Is…?

I thought it was more interesting and more compelling, and we did more than just rerecord the record. We did a documentary film telling the story of the making of the original album and then we also have a live concert DVD from the first night of the tour. For the most part you see people repackage the same product and there’s very little that’s new. We decided to give them a whole new version of the record, plus an extra track (Bob Dylan’s “Ballad of a Thin Man”) that was originally recorded for the original album that didn’t make it on the record, which people probably didn’t even know existed.

What is the significance for you of an album’s 25th anniversary?

A quarter century of anything is an important milestone, especially when it comes to a career – it’s a big anniversary. In the music business you’re lucky if you get a stab at it in the first place. A lot of people consider themselves to be extremely lucky if they had a good five year run, and we’re looking at 25 years of this record and coming up to 30 years on the first album. We’re continuing to be as successful and in some areas more successful than ever. We’ve had an extremely great run and we’re still gaining momentum.

Trouble Is… was a special record for us, a very monumental record for my band, and I believe for the genre, as well. I believe it’s still one of the longest running albums in the history of the blues charts, and “Blue on Black” set a record at the time for most consecutive weeks at No. 1 at rock radio. It’s just a big deal and we acknowledge that.

The album is still great today. I feel like we accomplished the goal from day one: to record songs that were timeless, in a sense, and could be enjoyed for decades to come and don’t sound trapped in a specific era. I think that fits the bill.

What was the timeline for the rerecording? 

The film was probably the most labor intensive part of the whole thing. Making the record, the music part, was going to be easy once we honed in on what we were doing. The road map was already there for us. When you’re doing a cover record or rerecording songs, its different then making an album from scratch. It’s a little more pressure because you walk in with nothing and you walk out with something. Then COVID happened. We started recording this prior to COVID and it just sat for a while, and then we were out touring and then COVID happened again.

Was it difficult to get the old band back together?

That was important to me. Just about everybody’s still here; Tommy Shannon, who played bass on the original, kind of retired from playing music a few years ago. That’s the only reason why he’s not on there. James Cotton, who played harmonica on one song, passed away several years ago. We brought in Charlie Musselwhite. He’s a legend in his own right. We had – for the most part – everybody who was part of it, from Jerry Harrison the producer to (drummer) Chris Layton and (keyboardist) Reese Wynans from the Stevie Ray Vaughan band. It was a great experience and really cool to have all those people contribute to the new version. 

It sounds like you have stayed very close to the original album on the rerecording.

We did two versions of it but we chose to focus and release the version that was closest to the original. The alternate version was we’re playing these songs how they evolved over the past 25 years in concert. It’s an interesting practice in self-awareness when you do something like this. You’re on stage and you got thousands of people in the house and everybody’s pumped full of adrenaline and going off and you take some liberties and in the moment you’re like that was awesome and the crowd was fired up about it. Maybe that’s great in the moment, but when you’re in the studio it’s a completely different moment, so we started comparing the version that was closest to the original album and the alternate where we played the songs the way we do on stage, stretched out, and it didn’t translate as well in the studio. It actually started kind of losing some of the vibe of what made the record so special. 

For both the recording and the tour, which songs did you have to dust off the most?

There’s a number of these songs that we hadn’t played in quite a while. We haven’t played “I Found Love (When I Found You)” in at least 20 or so (even though it gets requested all the time). A lot of people use it as their wedding song. The title track, the instrumental, we hadn’t been playing that in a very long time. “Chase the Rainbow” and“Nothing to do with Love;” those songs in particular it had been a pretty long time. 

Did you have nerves when the tour started?

I don’t think so, but that night was especially intense because it wasn’t just the first night of the tour. We were also filming for a concert DVD and live streaming it on our social media pages. We were also filming a lot of the interview footage with the various band members for the documentary film, and it was in my hometown, where my family is. There was an amount of things going on that most people might be a little anxious. I kind of strive on the stress sometimes.

If you could go back in time what advice would you give to young Kenny Wayne Shepherd?

Well, frankly, I don’t have a lot of regrets, so it’s not like I want to go back and change things. I’m pretty happy with the way a lot of things panned out. The one thing you want to impart to any one person as an adult is kind of the one thing that you can’t really teach them, and it’s how to be more present in the moment. You only learn that with age and experience 

Tell about this year’s Backroads Blues Festival.

That’s an extension of the documentary that we did in 2007, “Blues from the ‘Backroads.’” The festival is kind of an extension of that brand, an offshoot that I’m of looking to create and reestablish. The Backroads Blues Festival is really something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I’ve been meaning to do it and wanting to do it, [but] the timing never seemed to be right. It’s kind of a traditional festival situation. I wanted to get back to the days of a real festival that families can go to together and see great acts. My goal is to have the hottest entertainment in the genre and it’s becoming a very dynamic situation. 

Last year we had the same lineup for all the shows we did. This year we’re doing different lineups depending on the market. That’s all open to be evaluated on a yearly basis as to whether or not we have the same lineup on every show. The goal is to create and establish a festival brand that people know that they’re going to get even before the lineup is announced; that they know it’s going to be a killer show. I went and saw the B.B. King Blues Festival several times as a kid and a fan, then I became part of the tour several times as a professional. I just had so many great memories from that and I want to give people the opportunity to create their own memories.