Kenny Wayne Shepherd Hopes To Revitalize Hometown

Blues-rock guitarist proposing Shreveport, Louisiana, museum to honor Southern musicians.

Kenny Wayne Shepherd, the 23-year-old flaxen-maned blues-rock guitarist, wants to give something back to his hometown.

To that end, he petitioned the city council of Shreveport, Louisiana, on Monday to support the construction of a museum that would, in Shepherd's words, "honor the contributions of Southern musicians, singers and songwriters of all types, from blues to jazz to gospel to rockabilly."

He appeared for the council alongside his father and manager, Ken Shepherd, and Maggie Warwick, who Shepherd said conceived the project. The three are the core members of FAME (Foundation for Arts, Music and Entertainment), an organization that seeks to revitalize Shreveport's downtown area, as well as lionize Southern musical culture.

The plan is for the museum to be built in Ledbetter Heights, a neighborhood named for Huddie Ledbetter — the "king of the 12-string guitar" and a folk/blues titan better known as Leadbelly — who was born near Shreveport. Shepherd named his first album after the neighborhood.

Additionally, the Louisiana Hayride — a radio show on the air from 1948 to 1960 that was crucial to the careers of Elvis Presley, Leadbelly, Hank Williams Sr. and Johnny Cash — was broadcast from Shreveport's Municipal Auditorium.

"Back in the '30s and '40s, Ledbetter Heights was a huge part of town, generating a lot of great music and musicians," Shepherd said Wednesday. "It's a blighted part of town now, which we're hoping to revitalize. We're also going to do neighborhood development [and establish] clubs. We've got riverboat casinos down there already, and the downtown is just starting to kick all over again. The economy is on the upward here right now."

So FAME now seeks funds through private donations and federal funding; they have already received $250,000, and Monday's presentation to the city council was made to "try to get the city to throw in the other half," Shepherd said.

FAME doesn't yet have a projected date for the museum to break ground, Shepherd said. "Right now, we're just raising money to get the blueprint together. After that, it'll be up to us to raise the $350 million to do it. It's just a matter of getting the ball rolling."

He envisions a sort of "street of gold" outside the museum, which he expected would feature busts of Williams, Cash, Leadbelly, B.B. King, Robert Johnson, Willie Nelson and Louis Armstrong.

The as-yet unnamed project would be the second high-profile museum proposed in Louisiana in the past year. The town of Kentwood, some 300 miles away from Shreveport, plans to erect a museum with a more narrow, if more contemporary, focus: That museum would honor the town's favorite daughter, Britney Spears.

While Shepherd is shepherding this project along, he is also writing songs for the follow-up to 1999's Live On, although he has not set a time to record them yet. His inspirations are essentially unchanged from those that produced 1995's Ledbetter Heights, 1997's Trouble Is and Live On, he said.

"I've been listening to a lot of Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Before I go into the studio, I usually get back to my roots, stuff that I listened to [while] learning how to play guitar." Shepherd was pleased to find a quote of his lauding Vaughan in the new SRV box set Blues at Sunrise.

Next month, Shepherd will attend the Grammy Awards with his wife, Melissa. He is nominated for Best Rock Instrumental for Live On's "Electric Lullaby." His competitors are Joe Satriani, Metallica, Phish and Peter Frampton. "It'd be nice to win," he said. "I've been nominated once before, but it's an honor in itself to be nominated. So many people go through their entire careers without being nominated for anything."