Kenny Wayne Shepherd & Beth Hart
Atlanta Symphony Hall
Wednesday August 8, 2018
Doors 7pm / Show 8pm / All Ages
$42 - $72 Reserved Seating
• This event is at Atlanta Symphony Hall
• Reserved Seating
• All Ages
There are few artists whose names are synonymous with one instrument and how it’s played in service to an entire genre.
Utter the phrase “young blues rock guitarist” within earshot of anyone with even a cursory knowledge of the modern musical vanguard and the first name they are most likely to respond with will be Kenny Wayne Shepherd. The Louisiana born axeman and songsmith has sold millions of albums while throwing singles into the Top 10, shining a light on the rich blues of the past and forging ahead with his own modern twist on a classic sound he has embodied since his teens.
In a 20-year recording career that began when he was just 16, Shepherd has established himself as an immensely popular recording artist, a consistently in-demand live act and an influential force in a worldwide resurgence of interest in the blues.
From television performances on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, The Late Show with David Letterman, Jimmy Kimmel Live and Late Night with Jimmy Fallon (amongst others) to features in Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair, Maxim Magazine, Blender, Spin, USA Today and more, his musical career has been nothing short of phenomenal.
At 16 years old, he signed his first record deal and burst onto the national scene with the release of his 1995 debut album Ledbetter Heights, which produced the radio hits “Deja Voodoo,” “Born with a Broken Heart” and “Shame, Shame, Shame.” His relentless touring and success on rock radio helped to drive the album to Platinum sales status. His 1998 sophomore effort Trouble Is… also went Platinum, yielding such radio hits as “Blue on Black,” “True Lies” and “Somehow, Somewhere, Someway.” 1999’s Live On spawned the radio hits “In 2 Deep”, “Shotgun Blues” and “Last Goodbye.”
2004’s The Place You’re In was a blistering rock record and was followed up by 2007’s ambitious 10 Days Out: Blues from the Backroads, for which Shepherd and his band traveled throughout the American South to record with such vintage blues greats as B.B. King, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, Hubert Sumlin, Pinetop Perkins and David “Honeyboy” Edwards on their home turf. 2010 saw the release of Shepherd’s long-awaited first live album, Live! In Chicago, recorded at Chicago’s House of Blues during the all-star Legends tour and featuring guest appearances by such blues legends as Hubert Sumlin and Willie “Big Eyes” Smith. The live disc debuted at #1 on Billboard’s Blues chart, as did 2011’s How I Go. In 2013, Shepherd further expanded his musical horizons by teaming with veteran rockers Stephen Stills (Crosby, Stills & Nash) and Barry Goldberg to form THE RIDES, whose first album Can’t Get Enough helped to expand Shepherd’s audience as well as his musical resume. 2014 saw the release of Goin’ Home, Shepherd’s sixth # 1 debut on the Billboard Blues charts. Goin’ Home features several talented friends who shared Shepherd’s enthusiasm for the project’s back-to-basics ethos. Those guests include fellow guitar icons Joe Walsh, Warren Haynes, Keb’ Mo’ and Robert Randolph, longtime friend Ringo Starr, Fabulous Thunderbirds frontman Kim Wilson, the Rebirth Brass Band and co-producer Blade’s father, Pastor Brady Blade Sr., who lends a bracing dose of preaching to Shepherd’s version of Bo Diddley’s’ “You Can’t Judge a Book by the Cover.”
In 2016, Shepherd again teamed up with his friend Stephen Stills to record their 2nd record together with their band The RIDES. The record, Pierced Arrow, was released in the spring of 2016 and debuted at #1 on the Billboard Blues Charts and the band began a national tour.
Shepherd and his bands continue to tour the world extensively blazing a fresh trail for the historical American art form in the 21st Century.
Beth Hart is on fire. Right now, the Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter is riding a creative tidal wave, firing out acclaimed albums, hooking up with the biggest names in music and rocking the house each night with that celebrated burnt-honey voice. In 2016, the headline news is Beth’s latest album, Fire On The Floor, a release that even this fiercely self-critical artist describes as “pretty frickin’ good.” But let’s not forget the backstory that brought her here…
The Blues Magazine once dubbed Beth Hart “the ultimate female rock star”, and there’s no doubt that her two-decade career is the ultimate thrill-ride. Born in Los Angeles, she released a fistful of hit albums through the ’90s, then reignited in the post-millennium as both a solo artist and the head-turning vocalist for guitar heroes like Joe Bonamassa, Jeff Beck and Slash. “Extraordinary,” wrote The Times of her once-a-generation voice box, while The Guardian praised her “daring, brooding and angry” performances.
But it’s in recent times that Beth has truly blossomed. In April 2015, she released Better Than Home, a critical and commercial smash that topped the iTunes Blues Chart and was crowned #4 Best Blues Album Of The Year by Mojo magazine. The release also reached #1 in the Dutch charts and helped Beth to fill Amsterdam’s Heineken Music Hall with 5,500 fans (her largest club show to date). “Oh, that was so good, man,” she reflects. “I love Holland. They’ve been really good to me.”
The US market has embraced her, too, with Beth packing ever-larger venues in major cities on the Better Than Home tour – including Nashville’s iconic Ryman Auditorium – and receiving a nomination from the American Blues Foundation in the category of Contemporary Blues Female Artist. “It’s unbelievable,” she admits. “This last tour, we were playing much bigger houses than I’d ever played in the States – and they were sold-out.”
Meanwhile, on the other side of the pond, Beth’s rocketing UK profile has never been higher. Recent years have seen auspicious headline sets at the Royal Albert Hall and the Barbican (not to mention the historic Hampton Court Palace with Joe Bonamassa), and in December 2015, she chalked up another first with a spot on Jools Holland’s legendary annual Hootenanny.
Bringing in the New Year with a soulful take on Tell Her You Belong To Me and Nutbush City Limits alongside long-time collaborator Jeff Beck, it spoke volumes that the pair’s performance rapidly became the Hootenanny’s most-watched clip on the BBC’s official YouTube channel (even overtaking heavyweights like Tom Jones and Paul Weller). “Every time Jeff performs, he just kills it,” gushes Beth, who also joins the veteran guitarist for her first-ever appearance at the Hollywood Bowl this year. “To me, he’s the greatest ever.”
Just as memorable, also last December, was Beth’s first solo gig at London’s Union Chapel (subsequently voted by fans as the venue’s gig of the year). “It was the most terrifying experience of my entire life,” she admits. “I got up there and I was so frickin’ scared. But then, halfway through the show, I just started to enjoy it. By the end, I felt so connected to the audience, and I really felt like they did that show with me. It was like we were all the band.”
A highlight of that Union Chapel show was a heartfelt rendition of Mama This One’s For You (included on Better Than Home as a bonus track). The audience’s reaction lit a lightbulb, and in early 2016, the singer announced a contest inviting fans to submit footage of themselves with their mothers, for inclusion in a special Mama video released for Mother’s Day. “I cried when I saw the edited version for the first time,” Beth recalls. “I love my own mom more than anything in the world, and I found it so touching and beautiful.”
Beth’s passion for collaboration also continues apace in 2016. On the heels of 2011’s Don’t Explain and 2013’s Grammy-nominated Seesaw, there’ll be another studio hook-up between the singer and blues titan Joe Bonamassa, with sessions set for August. “I’m really interested in us doing stuff from the ’40s and ’50s,” she reveals. “Rock ‘n’ roll, torch songs and jazz songs…”
For now, though, Beth’s focus is Fire On The Floor: a new studio album sure to build on her breakneck momentum. As the singer explains, this latest record gave her an emotional release following the bitter-sweet sessions for Better Than Home. If there’s a theme that ties these twelve songs together, it’s a sense of escapism following the hardest of times. “We were still in the mixing stages for that album and I knew I had to make another record. Making Better Than Home was so painful, because one of the producers, Michael Stevens, was dying of cancer. It was a very emotional record to write and to make. I wanted the songs for Fire On The Floor to get born real quick.”
Beth’s first call was to the acclaimed producer Oliver Leiber, who called a session at his home studio in Toluca Lake and drafted a crack studio band that included Michael Landau (guitar), Waddy Wachtel (guitar), Brian Allen (bass), Rick Marotta (drums), Jim Cox (piano), Dean Parks (acoustic guitar) and Ivan Neville (B3 and organ). “Oliver rounded up some amazing musicians,” nods Beth. “Michael Landau and Waddy Wachtel are legends, so when I found out we had them, I just couldn’t believe it. If you don’t have great musicians, you’re not gonna have a very good record, are you?
“We recorded sixteen songs in three days,” continues Beth of the quick fire LA sessions, “but then we spent a long time mixing. Oliver is a brutally hard-working person, but he’s also incredibly sensitive and that combination works so great. He’s strong and focused, but still so vulnerable, and his heart is wide open. I’m so proud of what he did on this record.”
Take a spin of Fire On The Floor and you’ll see exactly why. These twelve new songs run the gamut of genre, reflecting Beth’s eclectic teenage influences, which took in everything from gospel, soul and classical to the seismic rock of Soundgarden. “As a writer,” she nods, “I feel really stifled if I’m trying to write in the same style. I just can’t do that. Growing up as a kid, I was raised all over the place stylistically, loving so many different genres.”
As such, you’ll find everything from the spring-heeled soul of Let’s Get Together to the brittle rock of Fat Man. “I love that song,” she says of the latter. “That’s actually a co-write with a wonderful songwriter named Glen Burtnik, who I started writing with when I was about 24. We wrote that seven years ago – just a basic skeleton – but then I got super-inspired and wrote out the lyric. It feels good to sing it. That’s what’s so great about rock ‘n’ roll. It’s just such a fantastic way to let out your angst.”
Likewise, the title track: “I love Fire On The Floor. It’s just smoldering. I think it’s gonna be a fantastic piece to perform live. It’s filled with passion. It’s about when someone you know is so bad for you, but you can’t help it. Then there’s No Place Like Home. I love that song. It’s about how, like, you spend a lot of time on the road, and you start to realize all the great things about being home. Kinda the opposite to the song Better Than Home.”
Other upbeat highlights include the salsa-tinged Baby Shot Me Down and the jazz-inflected Coca Cola, with a vocal that reminds you why Beth was recently voted as the 20th best blues singer of all-time in The Blues. “Vocally, that one takes me back to a Billie Holiday kinda singing,” she reflects. “I love that kind of vibe, like a light, fun sexiness.”
By contrast, there are some songs that Beth had to wrench from the emotional depths. “Picture In A Frame is a big one for me,” she says. “When I started writing it, I was thinking about being in love with my husband. But when I was done, I could see that I really connected it with Michael Stevens, and it was my way of saying to him, y’know, ‘I just want you to be better’.”
Despite all the emotionally bare moments, for Beth, this record represents a catharsis. “I think Better Than Home is one of the best records I’ve ever done,” she says, “but it was a brutal experience. Fire On The Floor has more energy and I think, overall, it’s just got more balls. And I think I really needed that, just to balance out that heavier mood on Better Than Home.”
Fire On The Floor is the album that Beth Hart needed to make. Likewise, it’s a record that you need to hear. “I’m so pleased with it,” she concludes. “I recently had to organize the sequence of the record, and while I was doing that, I was thinking to myself, ‘Y’know, this is pretty frickin’ good…!’”