Time sure is a slippery little bugger; I can't believe it has been two and a half decades since I rushed to Best Buy for Kenny Wayne Shepherd's second release, Trouble Is..., which did not disappoint, and in short order went to a little club in Pittsburgh called the Metropol to see him live for the first time. It was a small, lively, standing room-only club and I didn't get a spot up front so--at my height--the show featured mostly shoulder blades and elbows for me but daaaaaamn! Kenny's gritty and nearly ferocious guitar work cut right through the crowd, to the ears, through the heart!
I became very good friends with his debut release, Ledbetter Heights, a couple years before when "Deja Voodoo" got quite a bit of airplay around here, which was a thirst-quenching gulp of rockin' blues at a time when radio was a veritable rock 'n' roll desert with barely so much as a mirage of the blues anywhere in sight. It kept me company for the next couple years, an auditory backdrop for finishing college, my first (ultimately hellish) job of my professional career, and my first (maybe not hellish but ultimately suckish) truly serious adult relationship. I was in plenty of good company, as Ledbetter Heights, which was the new name an old neighborhood in Kenny's hometown of Shreveport, sold over 500,000 copies in less than a year and Billboard Blues charted for about 5 months. Understandably, because Ledbetter Heights is one of those albums that have zero duds; the only reason to look forward to a song ending is so you can begin listening to it anew.
Trouble Is... was more of the same and even better. I bought it the day it came out and hadn't yet heard any of the tracks so before even exiting the store parking lot, I ripped off the plastic like a woman possessed (fitting, since an evil entity of some kind clearly came up with all that plastic and adhesive nonsense in CD packaging), gingerly but with happy anticipation placed the disc in the player of my '93 Cutlass, and turned that ______ ______ up! Seconds later, I was on the ascents and descents "Slow Ride," the opening track, then traveled the bumpy road of "True Lies," then...well, I won't bore you with my automotive analogies (I could, though, ALL the live long day, left to my own devices) but the rest of the songs were every bit as infectious in that slightly unrefined, driving yet melodic style of guitar-driven blues rock that Kenny Wayne Shepherd epitomizes, be it a blues ballad or a blues rocker and Trouble Is... features flawless examples of each. "Blue on Black" and "I Found Love (When I found You)" are two examples of the former, and the rest of Trouble Is... consists of examples of the latter and includes a nod to both Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix with "Everything is Broken," and "I Don' Live Today," respectively. Side note: Once again, the works of KWS provided a backdrop to life at the time, as it coincided with doubts about the aforementioned job and relationship so a pattern had emerged; times of hope with Ledbetter Heights, times of doubt with Trouble Is... and times of change with Live On, but that one is for a blog of it's own, I think, if it's ever retrieved from the dusty and nearly forgotten half-empty box way back there in the corner of the past's attic.
Ah, but I digress. In 1997 I had no idea that I would hear the entire Trouble Is... album, live and in person (and in reverse order), in 2022 at the absolutely beautiful Robins Theatre in Warren, Ohio, at one of only 20 shows that KWS is doing for the Trouble Is... 25th Anniversary Tour! What a spectacular show it was, too. Kenny Wayne Shepherd, as well as his entire lineup, was ON FIRE! In addition to that first time during the Trouble Is... tour in 1997, I saw him here in town for the Live On tour in 2000, then a few years later when he was opening for BB King on his 85th birthday tour in 2005, and I had the good fortune to see him once again in town a couple years after that. I can say with absolute certainty and without a doubt that this was the BEST Kenny Wayne Shepherd performance that I have seen thus far; I'm sure glad that I went and if you get a chance to see him on this tour, please, please, please do it! Trouble is...you'll regret it if you don't!