For acclaimed blues guitarist-singer Kenny Wayne Shepherd, the Experience Hendrix Tour gives him the chance to celebrate an all-time great who is also one of his personal guitar idols.
“I love Jimi Hendrix’s music,” says Shepherd, who performs 9 p.m. Saturday, March 22, at Harrah’s Resort. “He’s one of the biggest influences on my playing and on my music. There’s something to be said for him that he’s still considered the greatest guitar player of all time. His music may be more appreciated today than it was back then. He put a lot of fire and passion into what he did — that’s something that always comes across.”
The star-studded line up in A.C. is set to include several legends including blues guitarist Buddy Guy, who influenced Hendrix, and bassist Billy Cox, who played with Hendrix in his Band of Gypsys and the Jimi Hendrix Experience. A host of younger artists, including Jonny Lang, Zakk Wylde, Bootsy Collins and Dweezil Zappa, will also perform. Hendrix’s best known tracks are “Purple Haze,” “Little Wing,” “Fire,” “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” and “Crosstown Traffic,” and many of those tunes will be performed Saturday night.
Shepherd first discovered the music of Hendrix, who died in 1970 at the age of 27, when he was a kid growing up in Shreveport, La., and teaching himself how to play guitar.
“I used to sit in the living room and listen to Hendrix records, along with my other influences, and try to figure out how to play what he played,” Shepherd recalls. “I learned to play by ear, so it was a tedious process sometimes. I would listen to him over and over, trying to piece the songs together one note at a time.”
Later, Shepherd got to know the late James A. “Al” Hendrix, Jimi’s father, who helped manage his son’s music and image after his death, and Jimi’s sister, Janie Hendrix, who is now CEO of Experience Hendrix. Over the past decade, Shepherd has participated in one-off shows honoring Jimi Hendrix, as well as a series of tours that began in 2007.
According to two-time Blues Music Award-winner Shepherd, time has done little to diminish the impact of Hendrix’s blazing guitar licks, which are showcased in the recent four-CD, plus DVD, anthology “West Coast Seattle Boy” (Sony Legacy).
“It’s there, it’s always there,” Shepherd says of Hendrix’s fiery style. “To me, as a listener, I really connect with that. I feel like the same thing happens when other people hear his music. They really connect with his passion.”
That’s especially true for the performers on the bill who share the philosophy of wanting the event to shine a spotlight on Hendrix, who is revered for his virtuosity and pioneering use of feedback, amplifiers and other studio techniques.
“Everybody really leaves their egos behind — this is not a competition,” Shepherd says. “We spend a lot of time hanging out together. We all have a good time — that’s why everybody comes back.”
The players are also fortunate to have a direct connection to Hendrix via Cox, who first met Hendrix when the two served in the U.S. Army together in the 1961. (British drummer Mitch Mitchell, who also was part of the Jimi Hendrix Experience, participated in several tours before his death in 2008.)
“It’s fantastic, and Billy is still very sharp — he plays very well and sings very well,” Shepherd says. He “lends a level of authenticity to the whole thing.”
For Shepherd, who also is part of the blues-rock super group The Rides with Stephen Stills and Barry Goldberg, the opportunity to forge these connections with other artists has greatly benefited his solo efforts. The five-time Grammy nominee has released six studio albums and a live record over the past two decades.
“It’s fun to play with all those musicians on stage,” he says. “It helps you to be creative in different ways you wouldn’t on your own. I’m always looking to learn.”
Guitarist will be ‘Goin’ Home’ on next album
For his next album, blues guitarist-singer Kenny Wayne Shepherd will be paying tribute to his own guitar “heroes,” including Albert King, B.B. King and Freddie King, Bo Diddley and Johnny “Guitar” Watson.
“Goin’ Home” (Concord), which will be released this spring, will also feature some major guest stars and musical pals of Shepherd’s, notably the Beatles’ Ringo Starr, Joe Walsh of the Eagles, Warren Haynes of Gov’t Mule and the Rebirth Brass Brand.
“We went back and explored the music of our heroes,” Shepherd says. “We dug deep into people’s catalogs and tried to find songs that haven’t been covered a million times before, and had a really good time doing it.”
The prolific Shepherd is also writing new songs with Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Stephen Stills and Electric Flag keyboardist Barry Goldberg, his collaborators in the blues-rock super group The Rides, pictured left. The trio will be hitting the studio at the end of the year to make the follow-up to their 2013 “Can’t Get Enough” debut album.