Popular Hot Rodding:
What's up with your infatuation with Mopars?
Kenny Wayne Shepherd:
I just like the history of the Mopar brand, all the way from the early years. It was the styling and performance. Most people viewed them as the underdog of the Big Three. When my parents met, my mom drove a Duster. On my dad's side, there were lots of Dodges.
What cars are in your garage right now?
At this moment I've got the Duster, the Xtreme Lee '69 Charger, a 2006 Dodge Charger SRT-8, a 2007 Dodge Charger R/T, and my first vintage car, a chopped 1950 Ford business coupe with a big-block Chevy. I walked into a classic car dealership, and out of the entire selection, that was the coolest car, but they had no musclecars. Once I got my feet wet, I realized I grew up with Mopars, and that's what I really liked.
Which one of them is the fastest?
Hard to say. Maybe we can do another column another time and bring them to the track. The Xtreme Lee has 585 hp, but it's pretty heavy. Maybe the Duster. Maybe the SRT-8, because it hooks up real good. Common sense would say the Duster is a lot lighter, and with 435 hp at the flywheel, it would have an edge.
Blues and rock legend Kenny Wayne Shepherd is no shrinking violet when it comes to working
If you could only own one car, what would it be, and why?
You're getting too personal. (Laughs.) Just kidding. I have the same disease as other car guys. I set my sights on something and finally accomplish it. My '69 Charger is my childhood dream, and that wasn't enough to stop me. I'll have to think hard about that one.
Got any plans for future musclecar projects? Anything non-Mopar?
I like to keep my options open because I see cars every day, and when I see them, I see possibilities. I consider myself a Mopar guy, but the car customizer in me entertains the idea of doing all kinds of cars, like a secondgeneration Camaro, for example.
Like Project g/28?
Well yeah, exactly. I kind of like the early ones, though. I like the '70-73 style with the split bumper. I was looking into the company that makes the reissue bodies, and I'd like to do the '69 Fastback Mustang too, because you see thousands of Camaros. It would be interesting to work with a car you don't really have to cut and weld and do sheetmetal on, replacing rust.
"Now all of a sudden she started to knockin', and down in the dips she started to rockin'
What do you think of the new Dodge Challenger?
I love it, dude! I mean, put me on the list of people you will see driving one. I'll order mine as the SRT-8 version with the 6.1L Hemi and the six-speed transmission.
How much hands-on stuff do you actually do on your cars?
I do a lot more now than I used to. Originally, I did stuff like changing the oil and the air filter. I always thought my dad was teaching me so he wouldn't have to do it anymore! I didn't have a whole lot of time because of my touring schedule. But the more I did, the more I wanted to get involved. Now in my off time, I'm always doing something with my cars like installing an exhaust or a stereo system.
What's the hardest thing you've ever wrenched by yourself?
I'd say tearing apart the 340 engine from the Duster. There are a few techniques you've got to know, like getting the pistons and stuff out of the engine. I take step-by-step pictures to help me the next time. I'll use the pictures as reference, and Ted [Moser, of Picture Car Warehouse] will help me. I used to open up my amplifiers and take them apart. The amp is where it really got complicated. You see the point-to-point wiring with resistors and transistors. You can eat up the better part of a year pulling out resistors and stuff and putting in new ones. When you're done, you can really tell how they sound different.
For Kenny, working on his Mopars is a welcome break from the rigors of touring. He credits
You were at SEMA this year. What things did you see that really tripped your trigger?
I was excited with what I saw at Mopar. They're getting ready to offer an all-aluminum new Hemi in the 6.1 liter. It's basically the SRT-8 Hemi, but it's all aluminum. This block will be capable of going up to 440ci. People are building these engines right now up to 426 inches and making 650 hp, so a 440 ought to be even higher, and it weighs less than a small-block. I'd like to put it in one of my cars. The Vortech and Paxton blowers are exciting, too.
What message boards do you visit? Wanna tell us your screen name?
I try to keep a low profile, but on a daily basis, I like to go to chargerforums.com for the Chargers, and LXforums.com for all the LX platform cars, like the new Charger, 300C, and Magnum. I go to moparts.org, probably the largest online community of Mopar lovers.
A lot of car guys are into guitars. Can you talk about your endorsement deal with Fender, and your forthcoming line of Stratocasters?
Yeah. I've been an endorsing artist for Fender since I was like 16. Probably about two years ago, I was approached by the guy who is the head of Fender now, and he said they wanted to do a Signature Series guitar, and that's very prestigious. People like Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Stevie Ray Vaughn have their own line. For the last year I've been designing a line of guitars that will have my name on them, and that's really cool. The first three guitars will be Signature Series Stratocasters. These will be at an affordable price point. A lot of my younger fans are guitar players, and I wanted a model that would be within reach.
Your Grammy-nominated CD, "10 Days Out," isn't the normal Kenny Wayne Shepherd fare. It's a historical record of a rapidly disappearing art. What was it like playing with such blues greats as BB King, Hubert Sumlin, and Gatemouth Brown?
If you can imagine being a blues fan, which I am, and a guitar player, there's not too many cooler things than what I got to do with that project. Part of it was the honor to play with these musicians before they die. You know, six of those guys have died since the CD was recorded. I feel really honored to be part of a project that pays tribute and honors an important part of American history and American music.
The Strat you posed with on our cover will be in your new Fender line. How much is that gonna set me back?
'Cause I've got to own that. I'm not sure exactly, but it will probably be somewhere between $500 and $900. They will tell me once they get all their manufacturing costs figured out. That guitar was painted to match the Duster, but the one you can buy will be painted black and silver.
You use really thick strings, like an .011-gauge high E string. My hands are a bloody mess when I play those. That's got to be murder on your fingers.
I would say that if you condition yourself to it, it's like busting knuckles working on a car. They just get conditioned to it and build up calluses. It makes your hands stronger. I do it because I get great tone out of doing it. There's no sacrificing great tone, and one of the ways I get it is by using the larger strings. It might be painful, but it's not any different than a guy working on engines everyday. And-I've done both! I've busted my knuckles and played guitar!
What kind of amp do you use to get that awesome sound?
I use a variety of amps in the studio, but I'd say my favorite amps that I'm using right now are 1964 Vibroverbs made by Fender. They only made them for one year, maybe two, but it's a 45-watt amp with a 15-inch speaker, sometimes a JBL, and sometimes a Celestion. I really love the sound of those amps. Fortunately, Fender just reissued it, and I use two of them on stage.
If you had a choice, guitars or hot rods, which would you choose?
Well, uhh, you know what, that's a really hard question to answer, like trying to pick your favorite child. But I have to point this out: If I didn't have the guitars, then I wouldn't have the cars!
When you're out on the road, do you ever go crazy not being able to drive your cars?
(Laughs.) Yes, when I'm in the middle of a project car and I'm on the road, I have a yearning to be involved. I really hope to get to a point in my career where I can afford to bring one of my cars out on the road with me.
Any other car nuts in your entourage? What about Noah Hunt, your singer?
Noah isn't so much a car nut, but our drummer, Chris Layton, who was also the drummer for Stevie Ray Vaughn's band, Double Trouble, sure is. Chris used to collect and restore cars. When I first met him, he was trying to sell me a '64 Mustang convertible he had just restored. We spend many hours out on the road talking about cars and benchracing.
Have you ever run any of your cars at the track?
No, officially, I have not, but that's because of my touring schedule. Most drag racing is in the spring and summer, when the touring is heavy. I just never had the opportunity. I'd like to take out the SRT-8. People don't recognize it so readily as they do the Xtreme Lee Charger, and I don't know if I'd want to be recognized on my first time out. I did the Panoz driving school on the road course at Road Atlanta. That was fun.
Tell us about doing the Hot Rod Power Tour in the Duster.
I handed the keys to the Duster to the guys at Year One at SEMA last year, and they took it back to Georgia. We set a deadline to get it running to make its debut on the Power Tour. They did it, and we headed down the road. I'm very proud to say I did the whole Power Tour with no mechanical problems. I'll be there next year too. After the first year, I went to my management and told them to never book me during Power Tour, whatever week that is. Both years doing it, I've been a guest of Year One, so if anybody wants to find me, all they have to do is look for the Year One trailer.
Compared to other celebrities, you're really approachable. You don't seem to mind car guys you've never met before hanging around you. Do you ever get tired of it?
No, I can't say that I've ever gotten tired of it. All my life, whenever people ask me if I wasn't playing guitar for a living, what would I do? And it would be doing car stuff. Building cars and hanging out with car guys.
By the time you were 18, you had pretty much achieved everything. Now that you're 30, what is it in life that you really want?
At the top of the list is to provide for my family, and to be able to play music for the rest of my life. Somewhere between all of that, I really would like the opportunity to have my own shop. Restoration and customization, you know.