Kenny Wayne Shepherd has been a rockin'/blues guitar hero since he burst onto the music scene in 1995 with his debut album, "Ledbetter Heights," at 16.
Friday, Shepherd and his band performed at Harry O's as part of the Sundance Film Festival. The setting seems only appropriate now that the Shreveport, La., native can add "filmmaker" to his resume.
Shepherd's latest release is a dual DVD/CD titled "Ten Days Out: Blues From the Backroads." The critically acclaimed project has earned Shepherd the "Keeping the Blues Alive" award from the Blues Foundation, two Grammy nominations and a nomination for "Best DVD" from the 2008 Blues Music Awards.
"Ten Days Out" is a documentary of an extraordinary trip Shepherd took through mostly the deep South seeking out legendary blues musicians in their home environments, as well as musicians who were known within the blues community but never became household names. The result is Shepherd jamming with the likes of B.B. King, Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, Honeyboy Edwards and Etta Baker in places such as front porches, churches and fields.
"Back when we were doing our third album, we were talking about ideas for future projects. We thought it would be a cool little experiment to go down south and seek out original old-school, authentic blues musicians and jam with them in their environment," Shepherd told the Deseret Morning News.
"They are all places in which blues music was created. In the early days of the blues, the music of the blues was created on the porches, back in the field and neighborhood bar. We were making the music where the music was made in the first place."
The idea, however, actually sat on the back burner until after Shepherd's fourth album, the more rock-oriented "The Place You're In." Shepherd decided it would be a good time to revisit the blues project and give fans of his blues style of playing something a little more to their liking. So he went on the road with longtime vocalist Noah Hunt, a film crew and Chris Layton and Tommy Shannon, the rhythm section of the late Stevie Ray Vaughn's legendary band, Double Trouble.
The music portion of the project was the easiest part of the documentary, Shepherd said.
"The recording was live," he said. "Once the filming was done, the record was already done. What was more complicated was the film. I had never been involved in making a film like this before."
But Shepherd had several people to help him behind the scenes, not the least of which was director Noble Jones and producer Jerry Harrison. The result was not only a great sounding CD but a priceless piece of history preserved on DVD as six of the blues musicians featured in the documentary have died.
"I worked hand-in-hand with the management team and every step of the way. It was my first experience doing that. It gave me a whole new perspective on how films are made," he said. "I definitely enjoyed it. I enjoyed the creative process. I've always been interested in film and movies."
The DVD celebrates the roots of the blues. But that doesn't mean there isn't a new generation of blues players waiting to be heard. Shepherd says despite the pop sounds of Top 40 radio today, there's still a market for blues in the United States."Absolutely! Otherwise people like me wouldn't have a career," he said. "The blues fans are the ones who stepped up in the first place for me."