Ahead of the release of Kenny Wayne Shepherd's "Goin' Home," Billboard today exclusively premieres the track, "You Can't Judge a Book By the Cover."
As its title suggests, Kenny Wayne Shepherd's new album "Goin' Home" brings the guitar prodigy and bandleader back to his beginnings -- in more ways than one.
The 12-songs set, due May 19, finds Shepherd and his band dipping into the classic blues artists on which he cut his teeth as a youth, including Freddie King, Albert King, Muddy Waters, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Magic Sam and more. It also marks the first time Shepherd has recorded an album in his home town of Shreveport, La., at drummer Brady Blade's Blade Studios.
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"There was never a studio of that caliber there before," Shepherd tells Billboard. "Serendipitously, the timing worked out so that it was ready for this album that was very appropriate for me to record [in Shreveport]. This was returning to my musical roots and also to my family roots; when I started picking songs for this record, I began this retrospective journey, and all of the vivid memories for me as a child sitting in the living room for countless hours listening to the blues and learning to play these songs on guitar brought up all these memories. There was no better place to record this record than where all of this actually took place for me."
Shepherd says that song selection was key to the project, too. "It's really just all about me taking the opportunity to show my appreciation for blues music and the genre that inspired me to become an artist and the musicians who inspired me to pick up the guitar," he explains. "But I specifically picked songs that were not obvious choices, not the first songs you think of when you think of these artists and not songs that have been done a million times. So not 'The Thrill is Gone' when you think of B.B. King; instead we did 'You Done Lost Your Good Thing Now.' Or not 'Mannish Boy' or 'Hoochie Coochie Man' for Muddy Waters; we did 'I Love the Life I Live.' Hopefully this will encourage a discovery process and people who hear this record will to dig deeper and find these amazing, hidden gems."
In addition to his regular band, Shepherd is joined on the album by pals such as Joe Walsh, Ringo Starr, Warren Haynes, Robert Randolph, Keb' Mo', Kim Wilson and the Rebirth Brass Band. Pastor Brady Blade Sr. of Shreveport's Zion Baptist Church, meanwhile, appears on Shepherd's version of Bo Diddley's "Can't Judge a Book By the Cover." "We included 'Can't Judge a Book' to have a positive message on the album," Shepherd says. "It's just a fun song. Blues songs handle some tough subject matter, but there's also a very light side to the blues and a very joyful side, and as I get older, I gravitate more towards that. Rev. Blade just kind of showed up when we were cutting the song and said, 'I'm gonna sing on that song with you.' 'OK.' He came out and sang the song and just killed it."
With a universe of songs far larger than one album can contain, Shepherd says another volume of "Goin' Home" is a distinct possibility. "I've thought about that," he acknowledges, "and there certainly could be. I'm just waiting to see how the public reacts to it. I'm not sure if a record company would want to put out a Vol. 1 and a Vol. 2 of something like this, but all the initial feedback from people who heard the album and from social media sides has been overwhelmingly positive, so another [album] is certainly a possibility."
First, however, Shepherd is goin' away from home to support the album. He's in the midst of a European tour that wraps up May 18, then comes home for U.S. dates starting May 23 with an official album release show in Bossier City, La.