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Shepherd Connects With Mind, Heart, Soul

Blues guitarist Kenny Wayne Shepherd started playing his instrument when he was 7 years old, signed his first record deal at 16 and had a hit album with "Ledbetter Heights" at 19. Hailed as one of the

Blues guitarist Kenny Wayne Shepherd started playing his instrument when he was 7 years old, signed his first record deal at 16 and had a hit album with "Ledbetter Heights" at 19. Hailed as one of the best players of his generation, Shepherd, now 26, hit a roadblock a few years ago: drug and alcohol abuse.

"I was having trouble," he says. "If I was awake, I was on something."

Shepherd first found his way to Musicians' Assistance Program a year and a half ago. Rehab didn't work for him the first time, but when he was ready to try it again, the doors at MAP were open. He's been clean and sober for almost a year and is in the studio working on a new album.

"I'd met some other people that had tried to help me before, and I just really didn't mesh with them at all," Shepherd says. Then, he met Buddy Arnold, MAP's founder. "There was something about him. Despite the state of mind I was in, he really connected with me. I felt safe around him. He had a real personal vested interest in trying to save my life."

Shepherd says during his path to sobriety he'd been "set up" with various addiction counselors hired by record companies to "act like he's your friend" and get him into rehab. It did not work.

"Buddy actually does it for the love of the musician and for the love of people," Shepherd says. "He does it because of what he's been through. If it wasn't for him, there's a lot of musicians out there today that would be dead otherwise."

In addition to saving his life, Shepherd says the aid he got from MAP helped him reach a new creative plateau as a musician.

"The connection between your mind and your soul and your heart and your spirituality, you're so much more clear on that," Shepherd says. "It's all about playing from the heart. Your soul is so much more pure when you're not totally trashing it with drugs and alcohol. What comes out is much more beautiful, and you're much more capable connecting with your audience."