His new album is titled “The Traveler,” and while that’s still apt for the grown-up guitar prodigy who’s heading toward Cedar Rapids, Kenny Wayne Shepherd has cut back on some miles now that he and his wife have six kids at home.
He’ll be co-headlining with Buddy Guy on Friday night (8/30) at the McGrath Amphitheatre, promising to play lots of cuts off his new rockin’ blues album, as well as the music that’s scored him legions of fans and accolades for nearly 30 years.
His life these days, whether at home or onstage, is a balancing act.
“I try and keep my professional and my private lives both in as much harmony as possible,” Shepherd, 42, said by phone from his Los Angeles home. “The goal has been to balance between the two, and I think we’ve gotten pretty good at it so far, as the years have gone by.
“There’s a certain amount of time that I just won’t be gone for more than four weeks or maybe five at the most, without going back some and seeing my wife and kids, and reconnecting with them. Or sometimes they’ll come out with me whenever possible and so that’s cool. So yeah, it’s all about balance, for sure.”
With four girls and two boys ranging in age from almost 12 to a little over 1, life is bustling at Shepherd’s homes in L.A. and his native Louisiana.
Naturally, everyone wants a piece of Dad when he’s home, “but there’s so many of them, and their lives — they have their own schedules — that I’m more busy when I’m home than when I’m actually at work,” he said. “I’m just trying to keep up with their schedules and help keep things moving along.”
The kids have mad performance skills and artistry sprouting from both sides of their family tree, with Dad being a self-taught guitar god whose recording career began at age 16, and Grandpa being actor/director/producer Mel Gibson.
So are the prodigy’s progeny showing artistic tendencies?
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“Without a doubt,” Shepherd said. “It remains to be seen what they choose to do with it — or if they chose to do anything with it — but they certainly have it, that’s for sure. They take piano lessons, but I’m watching some of them really just start to learn the way I learned, which is just kind of like picking it up around the house and sounding things out, which is really fascinating to watch.”
Aligning old and new onstage is another balancing act for Shepherd. Depending on each event’s set list, he and his band of seven, including horns, will play about half of “The Traveler” in concert.
“The challenge is to find the right balance,” he said. “We love playing all the material, but the fans have certain songs that they’ve been listening to for a long time that they’re hoping to hear, but we have to strike a balance between the older material and the new stuff.”
It’s a formula that’s been working well on the current tour, giving fans such gems as “Shame, Shame, Shame” off the first record, as well as crowd favorites “Heat of the Sun” and “Blue on Black,” and a couple of songs from his side project, The Rides, a supergroup with Stephen Stills and Barry Goldberg.
“We try to keep it interesting, always being mindful that we have fans who have seen us many, many times, and hopefully, they’ll get a new experience,” Shepherd said. “We see a lot of familiar faces. ... Those are the kind of people who help create lifelong careers for people like me.”
Fans old and new will be hearing “some different things” on “The Traveler” album, released May 31.
“We always try not to repeat ourselves. We keep the blues foundation that has always been the foundation of our music, and people have come to expect from our music,” he said.
“On the last couple of albums, we’ve branched out a little, especially on the previous album, ‘Lay It On Down.’ We had a little bit more of a country influence on a couple songs, and some R&B. This record, there’s a song called ‘Better with Time’ that has a really soul kind of influence to it.
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“If I had to put a label on this record, I would say it leans a little more into a blues rock direction than anything else,” he said.
He’s thrilled to bring a complementary sound to Buddy Guy’s Chicago blues style in the Cedar Rapids concert. And like Joe Bonamassa, Jonny Lang and Anthony Gomes, who recently rocked the Czech Village Blues Fest, the young guard is now moving into the role of the keeper of the blues flame, as more of the old masters like B.B. King have died.
“It’s kind of weird,” Shepherd said. “My whole life people have been referring to me as a child prodigy, the whiz kid, young blood, the next generation. There’s a certain inevitability to it. If you live long enough, that’s what’s going to happen. It’s a really wonderful thing, to be honest. It’s pretty incredible,” he said.
“I look back and go, ‘Wow, it’s been almost 30 years,’ and I just find myself reflecting in a real grateful manner. People are lucky if they even got a shot and it didn’t work out — and then you’re really lucky if you get maybe five years’ worth of a career in the entertainment world.”
“But doing this kind of music and with the fans that support it, you can have a lifelong career doing it. That’s not the case with all genres of music, so I’m really grateful,” Shepherd said.
WHAT: Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band, co-headlining with Buddy Guy
WHERE: McGrath Amphitheatre, 475 First St. SW, Cedar Rapids
WHEN: 7 p.m. Friday (8/30)
TICKETS: $39 to $146; U.S. Cellular Center Box Office, 1-(800) 745-3000 or Mcgrathamphitheatre.com
ARTIST’S WEBSITE: Kennywayneshepherd.net