The standing ovations for the Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band started midway into Saturday’s concert at Lake Tahoe. Like a tide that rises with each wave, more and more fans in the audience stood and roared at the conclusion of each song. And with his long hair looking as bleach blond as a surfer’s, Shepherd rode the waves with the skill and showmanship of a superstar.
“I am trying to get used to having long hair again,” Shepherd said, explaining that he grew out his locks because of requests on Facebook.
Shepherd is among an elite few blues guitarists, including fellow Southerners Derek Trucks and Warren Haynes, who do not sing lead. Noah Hunt, who joined the KWSB for the release of its sophomore album, “Trouble Is…,” takes care of most of the singing, along with rhythm guitar and tambourine. Like Shepherd, Hunt sports long hair that hangs over his eyes. While the music from the early days is timeless, so are the players. They look as young now as they did 19 years ago.
The third longhair on stage was bassist Tony Franklin. And for this tour, the band’s original drummer, Sam “The Freight Train” Bryant, is back. The nickname is easy to figure out. Bryant pounds the skins as violently as did Buddy Miles.
Shepherd became a national sensation at the age of 18 with the 1995 release of “Ledbetter Heights,” a reference to a neighborhood in his hometown Shreveport, Louisiana, named for bluesman Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter. ( Shepherd will appear on Feb. 4 at the “Lead Belly Fest” in Carnegie Hall.) After the follow-up record “Trouble Is…” was even more successful, Shepherd was engrained in the music pantheon, a blues player with a rock star delivery.
During his career, Shepherd, 38, has consistently studied and credited the pioneering bluesmen, and during the show he brought his own interpretations of songs by Elmore James, B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Johnny “Guitar” Watson and Shepherd’s greatest influence, Stevie Ray Vaughan.
“Talk to Me Baby,” Shepherd said, is his favorite song by James, and the tune is included on the 2013 album “Can’t Get Enough,” by the supergroup The Rides, which is Shepherd, Barry Goldberg of Electric Flag and Stephen Stills of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. The Rides will release a second album in April and then go on tour, Shepherd said.
“If you like blues and rock and roll, it’s right up your alley,” Shepherd said.
The adoring audience at Lake Tahoe’s largest indoor music venue loved the performance, which included songs from each Shepherd’s albums. The venue’s ambiance was one of euphoria. It reached the crescendo during the final tune of the three-song encore, “Voodoo Child,” made famous by the guitarist Shepherd didn’t even need to mention, Jimi Hendrix.
- Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band
Jan. 30, 2016
MontBleu Theatre, Stateline
- “Never Lookin’ Back”
“Everything is Broken”
“House is Rockin’ ”
“Heat of the Sun”
“Talk to Me Baby”
“Born with at Broken Heart”
“You Done Lost Your Good Thing Now”
“Blue on Black”
Editor’s note: To see images of the full set, go to Kurt Johnson’s website HERE