During a lull in my family’s holiday activities I found myself watching an advance copy of the DVD portion of the new Kenny Wayne Shepherd release, consisting of a documentary film entitled Ten Days Out: Blues From The Backroads.
My immediate response was, “Wow.”
Armed with his guitar, a film crew, a portable recording studio and producer Jerry Harrison (of Talking Heads fame), this documentary follows Shepherd as he embarked on a ten-day journey into the heart of the South, as he documented and recorded an impressive lineup of blues veterans.
How impressive? Guest starring, are: Tommy Shannon, Chris Layton, Jerry “Boogie” McCain, Cootie Stark, Neal Pattman, Buddy Flett, B.B. King, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, Bryan Lee, John Dee Holeman, Etta Baker, Henry Townsend, Honeyboy Edwards, The Howlin’ Wolf Band (with Hubert Sumlin, Henry Gray, Calvin Jones, and Wild Child Butler,) and The Muddy Waters Band (with Pinetop Perkins, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, and Bob Margolin.)
That’s hellaciously impressive, to me.
From the very beginning Ten Days Out lays out the foundation of what is to follow, as the film opens up with Shepherd and Harrison discussing the idea behind the project, which was to introduce Shepherd’s fans to a varied lot of his blues predecessors. The goal, ultimately, was to get intimate recordings in intimate places, and maintain the authenticity of the music and the moment by leaving the results alone.
The album has no overdubs, no high-tech fixing, as it were. “It is as live as it went down,” says Shepherd in the press release accompanying the release. “What happened is what you hear. We kept it as real as possible.”
The DVD lays bare the simple truths concerning the lives of people seminal to the creation of blues music, by taking us into the small rooms, the kitchens, and the dense woods where the music was originally made. “I was trying to convey the place that produced this kind of music,” says the film’s director Noble Jones. “The elements that came together to produce the blues. The environment these people came from and how it weighed on them.”
To the eyes and ears of a simple country boy like myself, the film manages to do all of that and more.
Simply put, the documentary is a series of magic moments, such as Gatemouth Brown instructing the band on the finer points of listening to others play before going into their own groove, Etta Baker talking about the overhaul she intends to give her kitchen, a pre-show BBQ meal with legendary members of both Muddy Waters’ and Howlin’ Wolf’s bands as they shared stories.
While the CD which accompanies this DVD is sure to be an amazing listen, there is a part of me that is glad that I’m getting to experience this project originally through the DVD. Otherwise, for instance, I may have been able to enjoy listening to the wonderful playing of Etta Baker on “Knoxville Rag,” but I’d have missed out on getting to know the wonderful woman that was behind all of that beautiful playing.
Of course, I do realize that I don’t really know Etta Baker, but Shepherd and his team ably take me along as the viewer, as they settle down in this amazing woman’s house, and let her tell her own story.
That’s as close as I’m likely to come, I figure.
Sadly, the reality of filming a project concerning artists well into their later years, was brought home by the unexpected death of harmonica player and vocalist Wild Child Baker shortly before he was to go out on tour with Shepherd in support of the album.
“He was laughing constantly when we were with him in Salina,” Shepherd remembers. “It was a real shock that he passed away. But that further magnifies the importance of this project.”
Henry Townsend at 96, Honeyboy Edwards at 90, Etta Baker at 93, and B.B. King at 80 — Shepherd expresses gratitude at being able to capture them while they’re vibrant and vital, so that they’ll be able to inspire others through this project like they’ve inspired me.
While the record and DVD were being prepared for release, death took three more of the featured artists: Neal Pattman, Cootie Stark, and Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown.
“I wanted to get people in contact with the eternal spirit of the blues,” says Jones about Kenny and the film. “As long as there’s a struggle, there will always be a voice — the blues — that comes out of human beings.”
Ten Days Out, he continues, was intended to let people see that that spirit is still alive, even though the people that originally inspired it are dwindling.
In all of that, Jones and Shepherd, and everyone else involved in this project, have succeeded. Much like one of my favorite blues films of all times Lightning in a Bottle, Ten Days Out takes the viewer for a ride through nothing less than America’s spiritual history.
I simply cannot wait for this to be officially released, as I will rush out and purchase a copy. While I do have this advance copy, I’m hoping my money will support Shepherd and encourage him to think about perhaps doing a sequel to this work in the future.
Those interested in learning more about this project should aim their trusty web-browsers in the general direction of the official website.