L-R: Blues Guitarist Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Neil Pattman and Cootie Stark tracking for upcoming Music Maker Relief Fund DVD.
PHOTO CREDIT: Amanda Gresham 2004
Blues guitarist Kenny Wayne Shepherd’s project, to capture a part of the country’s musical heritage and give something back to a community of musicians that is at the very root of American music, is underway. With two busloads of musicians, crew, documentary filmmakers and equipment, including numerous Neumann microphones, Shepherd recently toured the South to record a series of performances with some legendary and some less well-known blues artists for a forthcoming DVD release.
Warren Cracknell, who has been with Shepherd for five years as his front-of-house engineer and production manager, reports that nearly all of the microphones used on the project were manufactured by Neumann or Sennheiser. “The list was endless,” he says.
Jerry Harrison, who has produced two of Shepherd’s studio albums, is producing the audio for the project with engineer Eric “ET” Thorngren. Harrison and Thorngren were a big part of the decision to use Neumann mics. “We brought many of the microphones from my studio so that we would have some choices,” Harrison confirms.
Cracknell recalls, “There were Neumann U87s, U89s, a pair of TLM127s and Sennheiser 421s. We also had a pair of KMS105s, and there was a binaural Neumann set–the KU100. Because we were going into unknown territory, we needed something that was going to get the clarity of the sound we wanted.”
Thorngren adds, “We also brought along Neumann KM88i microphones. The Neumann mics are wonderful. We have a pair of U67s here in the studio, but because they’re so old you worry about taking them out on the road.”
The live-to-video performances are destined for a DVD, to be released in 2005, and may also be shown on television, says Cracknell. Proceeds will benefit the Music Makers Relief Foundation, a non-profit organization that helps the true pioneers and forgotten heroes of the Southern musical traditions gain recognition and meet their day-to-day needs.
The project is Harrison’s brainchild: “He came up with it six or seven years ago and approached Kenny. At the time they couldn’t do it,” offers Cracknell.
He continues, “We had 26 people on two tour buses, and a ton of gear.” In addition to the Neumann microphones, the streamlined signal path included Neve and Focusrite preamps with Pro Tools as the recorder.
The jaunt began in New Orleans and ended in Salina, Kan. Along the way, Shepherd and his band, which included Double Trouble’s Chris Layton and Tommy Shannon, stopped off at nearly a dozen locations–local juke joints, clubs and even the artist’s own front porch–to record with a variety of blues musicians.
“We’ve mixed the whole tour–two albums worth of stuff–in stereo,” reports Thorngren. “They’re in the process of editing the DVD and we’re going to be mixing it in 5.1 here at Sausalito Sound. I hope it will be an album, also.” According to Harrison, the DVD will most likely be released in winter or spring of 2005.
The tour finished with a public performance at the Church at Blue Heaven Studios with several members of both Muddy Waters’ and Howlin’ Wolf’s original bands. Artists featured along the way include Bryan Lee, Gatemouth Brown, B.B. King, Hubert Sumlin, Pinetop Perkins, Bob Margolin, Jerry McCain, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, Sam Lay, “Wild Child” Butler, Henry Townsend, Honeyboy Edwards, Cootie Stark, Essie Mae Brooks, John Dee Holman, Neal Pattman, Etta Baker and Buddy Flett, among others.