Excerpted from the magazine for Billboard.com.
Kenny Wayne Shepherd always planned on singing his own songs, it's just that his voice had to grow into the blues-influenced material he plays. And that has happened with "The Place You're In," which came out Oct. 5 on Reprise/Warner, on which he sings lead on all but two of the tunes.
"The voice coming out of me at 17 years old wasn't the voice I was interested in having," the 27-year-old guitar prodigy says. "I just didn't sound old enough. I knew I'd eventually step up to the plate."
Ten years later, the time is right and, apparently, the move is none too soon for his audience. First single "Alive" has climbed to No. 6 this issue on Billboard's Active Rock chart.
The five years since Shepherd's last studio album have been pivotal for the Shreveport, La., native. He battled a number of demons, including substance abuse. "I have now taken control of my own life. I'm physically, mentally, musically and spiritually in a much better place," he says.
As the often-uplifting lyrics on the album reflect, "I've learned there's always a way out and that there's always a light at the end of the tunnel, and it's not always an oncoming train," Shepherd says. "It has given me wonderful perspective."
Shepherd hits the road Oct. 15; he admits stepping out as the lead vocalist live is "still going to be a little nerve-wracking for me. But God is not going to throw anything at me I can't handle. I won't make an ass of myself."
He'll also have Noah Hunt, who sang lead on Shepherd's previous albums, by his side.
Shepherd knows that some of his fans may feel he is selling out with these shorter, rockier songs, but he feels he is just being true to his art.
"Look at Clapton or Santana. They made all kinds of music, and their fans supported them. I just want to be seen as an artist, not as a blues artist or some pop prince."
He adds that his music will always include blues elements. "It's evident no matter what I play or how I play it. You're going to hear that influence."
Excerpted from "The Beat" column in the Oct. 16, 2004, issue of Billboard. The full original text is available to Billboard.com subscribers.
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