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Sometimes it’s strange watching a musical prodigy grow up. Seeing them in concert, reaching back to a song from a long ago youth, hoping to catch a small spark of something, anything, to reconnect with the audience.

That is not the case with Kenny Wayne Shepherd. He’s gone from blues prodigy to bluesman seamlessly. And he’s taken his audience with him. Granted, his audience has been built over 25 plus years. He’s got platinum albums and Grammy nominations. He’s not a one-hit wonder from back when he was 16 years old. The audience isn’t waiting and wondering, “When is he going to play that song?” So KWS doesn’t need a small spark of connection.

His connection is ablaze from note one and sold-out the Kenny Wayne Shepherd show at the Canyon Club in Agoura Hills became an inferno. There wasn’t an opening act and from the 8 p.m. start until almost two hours later, the entire audience was transported to a place that very few artists can take them.

He does it by making his Fender Stratocaster howl, pushing and pounding it to its limits. And maybe beyond. There are blues players who caress their guitars, pulling that one incredible note out and making it last. Kenny Wayne Shepherd almost abuses his guitar, sending a flurry of notes that can make hearts race. But he also knows how to slow things down in just the right places. It’s a blues roller coaster. A musical thrill ride.

But he doesn’t do it alone. The Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band is full and tight. They are an assembly of musician’s musicians.  Lead singer Noah Hunt is a powerhouse vocalist, who also doubles as rhythm guitar when needed. On drums is former Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble member and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member, Chris Layton. (If anyone knows how to play with a fiery blues guitarist, it’s Layton.)

Joe Kron’s Hammond B-3 and piano playing on stage right and on the opposite side, the horn section of Joe Subett on saxophone and Mark Pender on trumpet filled out the KWS Band’s sound. They each got a moment to shine and the audience showed their appreciation for their musicianship.

While each song in the set is really a showcase for KWS and his fretwork, the encore took it far past mere soloing in the service of a song. “Blue on Black” was a huge hit in 1998 and had both Shepherd and Hunt playing acoustic guitar. Then it was time to strap in to the biggest thrill ride of the night and hang on for dear life. Because Kenny Wayne Shepherd’s version Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)" needs to be experienced to be comprehended. (No Hendrix pun intended. In other words, go see a Kenny Wayne Shepherd show.)


Daniel Gray

Photojournalist - Los Angeles

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