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The Bluesman Cometh: Kenny Wayne Shepherd Ridgefield Exclusive

Kenny Wayne Shepherd brings his blues and rock to The Ridgefield Playhouse, a venue he said "was actually built for music, for performance."

Let's just say you're tired of hearing lackluster singers using auto-tune. Or uninspired bands on autopilot. Or folks who've never met each other until they come onstage because they've recorded their most recent album in different studios.

Looking to hear the sound of a real organic band and a bluesy singer who needs no pitch correction? 

Then you're in luck.

Kenny Wayne Shepherd, a bluesman whose command of his craft and spirit seems to deepen with each record, hits The Ridgefield Playhouse on Saturday Night. Expect to hear lots of tunes from his new album, "How I Go," a typically deft mix of covers and originals.

And yes, played by a real live band.

"I'm still pretty close to this record," Shepherd told the Ridgefield Patch, "but I think this may be the best one we've done so far. Twenty years in, I'd say that's a pretty good sign."

Don't think for a second this means that Shepherd is some grizzled veteran who's been playing since the Vietnam era. This Southern man started when he was only 14. So he may be right about just starting to hit his stride.

"The time-frame for recording this record changed a little bit," Shepherd said over the phone. "I used to spend about a year and a half on the road, come home, write 30 songs in two months, record them and go out again.

"I was able to do things a bit more leisurely this time out," he said. "But the one thing that didn't change is the way we record. We all still set up and play at the same time, with me singing. I overdub a few guitar parts. But basically, this is the way we sound onstage."

Which means, Ridgefield, you're in for a treat Saturday night. Shepherd and his band of road warriors have played the Playhouse before and they love it. Because, as Sheperd says, "It was actually built for music, for performance."

But also because "How I Go" should be heard live.

Whether playing originals like "Never Lookin' Back," or a smoking -- make that charred -- version of John Lennon's "Yer Blues," Shepherd and his band take everything they've learned from classic blues men, Southern Rock and anything American and rootsy and turn it into not reverential, museum-bound music but exciting, alive rock-and-roll with a bluesy backspin.

The Lennon tune, originals aside, is a treat for Baby Boomers and youngsters who may just think of The Beatles as a smart little pop group that sang pristine tunes about that place "Penny Lane."

"I first got the idea to do Lennon's song six years ago, if you can believe that," Shepherd said. "I was driving on the Pacific Coast Highway in California on my way to church, and I was listening to something called 'Breakfast With The Beatles.' I knew 'Yer Blues,' but I'd forgotten what an intense, desperate song John wrote. I immediately heard a different arrangement in my head, too, when they played the song. Six years later, here it is, exactly the way I re-imagined it in 2005!"

Shepherd is looking forward to hitting the road and meeting his fans. And also to listening to some new music. He says he shies away from anything contemporary when he's creating his own sound.

"When I make a record, the only things I can listen to in-and-around it are old, established stuff," Shepherd said. "Albert King, Bessie Smith. I'm afraid if I hear anything new, it might make its way onto the record. And I'm trying hard not to sound like anybody else out there."

As for playing The Ridgefield Playhouse, Shepherd likes its acoustics, but more importantly, he likes its intimate size.

"Let's face it, people are spending their hard-earned money a bit more carefully in these rough recession days," he said. "And I think they want to be able to see you up-close and hear the music clearly. They can do that at a place like The Playhouse. At some of the football stadiums we've played, it's big and everything, but it's not too satisfying."

He pauses and reflects for a second on his loyal audience members.

"They want the experience to be personal," he postulated. "Especially, if they don't go to too many shows each year. And as a guy who really likes to communicate musically with his audience?

"I wouldn't have it any other way."

Info: Kenny Wayne Shepherd and his band will be at The Ridgefield Playhouse Saturday at 8 p.m. Tickets are $55 and $60. For more information call 203-438-5795

dennissanders August 24, 2011 at 09:32 AM
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