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Kenny Wayne Shepherd's perfect guitar

WANT TO GO?

Kenny Wayne Shepherd

At Charlie West Blues Fest

WHERE: Haddad Riverfront Park

WHEN: 9:30 p.m. Saturday

COST: Free

INFO: 304-349-1439 or www.charliewestbluesfest.com CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- For Kenny Wayne Shepherd, having the one special guitar just wasn't enough. He had an identical copy made. Shepherd remembers his first guitars were little plastic toys with nylon strings. His grandmother got them for him when he was 3 or 4. Shepherd said they weren't much good for anything except figuring out a few notes.

The 34-year-old's first real guitar came as a Christmas present from his parents when he was about 7 years old.

"It was a really cheap guitar," he said. "It was a hundred dollar Yamaha wannabe Stratocaster with only one pick up and a volume knob. It was nothing special."

Shepherd, who headlines Saturday night at the Charlie West Blues Fest, said he couldn't blame them. He's a dad now, too.

"Most parents aren't going to go out and spend a bunch of money on an instrument not knowing how serious their kid is about playing."

Cheap special or not, that Yamaha was his main guitar for a few years, until everybody saw that the then teenage guitarist had a bright future ahead of him playing the blues.

"I kept that guitar until my parents realized it wasn't just a phase I was going through," he said.

He got a better guitar, but having a better guitar doesn't mean having the right guitar. Shepherd said a lot of guitarists turn finding the perfect guitar, that guitar that fits them like a glove, into almost a mythic quest. He was no different.

Shepherd said found his mythic guitar when he was about 17. At the time, he was in Los Angeles playing showcases for music industry people and trying to catch a break.

He saw the guitar, a 1961 Fender Stratocaster.

"I'd actually seen the guitar before," he said. "But the first time I had to walk away. I just didn't have the money."

The second time around, Shepherd said, he couldn't pass on the guitar.

"I still couldn't afford to buy it, but I refused to leave the music store without it."

Shepherd talked it over with his father, his lawyer and his record label representative and convinced them to split the cost on their credit cards.

"I could have it provided I paid them back. And I did pay them back."

Shepherd scored two platinum albums (selling more than a million copies) and a gold album (more than 500,000 copies) after that.

"That guitar has been around the world with me," he said. "Several times. I've played it on every record I've ever made -- except that first one."

Shepherd's debut album, "Ledbetter Heights," released when he was 17, also went platinum. He didn't have the guitar at the time he recorded it.

Shepherd said it's his one guitar -- sort of. After he'd had the Stratocaster for a few years, he began to worry about losing it while traveling or what he would do it if his beloved instrument were damaged.

"That was something I didn't want to take a chance with."

So he sent his guitar to Fender. Technicians there kept it for almost a year and a half and made an exact duplicate.

"They cloned it," he said. "Now, I have an exact replica of that guitar that I play every night on stage."

He still brings out the original guitar some nights, and it always ends up getting used for recording. The rest of the time, however, he keeps it safe.

"I have the original locked up in a vault at home."

Reach Bill Lynch at lynch@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5195.


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