Local performer releases new music with a classic country sound
Robert Allen Shepherd hasn’t been around the East County music scene for a while. Not long ago, he was known around local live performance venues as a dead ringer for singer-songwriter-guitar-player Willie Nelson, with a tribute show that pleased all-ages listeners, by appearing in full “Willie” costume, signature braids, flag bandanna and all.
For a year, Shepherd was a regular weekly performer on guitar and vocals at Santee’s Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9327, and he also appeared during that time at the Lakeside VFW Post and at the Second Wind Santee bar. But for over half a year, he has not been staging concerts, either solo or in a band with other local musicians he jams with. He plans to return to performing this summer.
What has “Red” Shepherd been up to lately?
He sat down for an interview discussing his latest activities. Until recently he has been engaged in a labor of love, creating a new album with original songs that preserve the bluesy side of the Bakersfield country music sound popularized during the 1960’s and 1970’s. That album’s CD has been printed and was released for sale in late April. Senior-age songwriter Roy Ownbey, who also funded the project, penned all of its 10 songs.
Ownbey met Shepherd at one of those Willie Nelson tribute shows, which Shepherd describes as a fun “hoedown” in the Kearny Mesa Moose Lodge, where everybody was given “Willie” braids to wear. Ownbey approached Shepherd, relating that he was a songwriter and he’d like to hear his songs performed in Shepherd’s voice.
Six months, a songwriter-performer collaboration that “worked perfectly,” and a lot of work and frustration later, Shepherd’s recording of “Emma’s Café” was completed. Shepherd said he could “barely afford the electricity” for making the soundtracks. He played all the album’s instrumentation. He had to learn to play the piano and practice up on harmonica. He had to improvise on the bass licks.
The project began with Ownbey sending Shepherd a pack of two CD’s with his songs. “I loved them,” Shepherd recounted. He felt somewhat daunted at how good they sounded. What was he going to do with them? “I ended up rekeying some of them and rearranging them,” he said.
“I wanted to create a very earthy sound,” Shepherd said. That, he has done, quite literally as a one-man band.
Ownbey’s lyrics focus on the hard switchovers between sunniness and shadows in life, day and night, love won and love lost -- pure, classic country music themes. Ownbey knew when he heard Shepherd sing, that Shepherd’s voice, like good whiskey, has the smokiness and slightly rough edge to suit contemporary revisitation of old-school country styles. “I am not a polished vocalist,” Shepherd admitted, but he says that too is like Willie Nelson.
Ownbey’s tunes also suited Shepherd’s impressive guitar skills. “There are some originals here of licks I made up and have never heard anywhere,” Shepherd stated, “absolute creations of my own.” Shepherd further noted that he wanted the album to reflect changes in the life and career arc for most country music artists, while being refreshing and not unsettlingly attention grabbing. The album can be purchased, with a single CD cost of $10.40 including shipping and handling, at www.kunaki.com/Sales.asp?PID=PX003UBP46. (Multiple purchases will lower the per-unit price.)
Music runs in Shepherd’s family. He began playing guitar when he was six years old. “And once I performed in front of a crowd, I was hooked,” he said. That refers to when he was nine, when he started playing and singing country music with his father in Idaho. Shepherd returned to San Diego over 20 years ago. He worked in construction and remodeling for around 27 years, his music a sideline.
Shepherd recently turned 52. With a divorce behind him, Shepherd now has a second family, including a five-year-old daughter, and he has scaled back his life to spend time with her and concentrate on his music and other career changes. “My daughter is brilliant,” he said. “Whenever she hears a note of music, she starts dancing.” Shepherd’s 26-year-old son who will soon be touring with the rock band Oddball.
Shepherd is first from his family to pursue an advanced degree. After studying for a bachelor of arts in philosophy for two years at MiraCosta College, he transferred to UCSD, where he is concluding his junior year. After school is out, music performances await.
Once Shepherd sets his summer appearance schedule, information on his shows will be available at www.redshep.wix.com/rashep.