Jimi Hendrix Bassist Billy Cox Defends Kenny Wayne Shepherd

via Billy Cox (Facebook)

Last week blues guitarist Kenny Wayne Shepherd had his 2021 nomination for Best Blues Rock Artist by the Blues Foundation and the Blues Music Awards rescinded, and his father Ken Shepherd was kicked off the foundation’s Board of Directors after revelations that Kenny Wayne Shepherd previously owned a replica Dodge Charger similar to the one featured in the popular CBS television show Dukes of Hazzard.

The daughter of blues legend Muddy Waters posted to social media, “It has come to my attention that a winner of the Blues Foundation Award for Best Blues Something or Other proudly displayed a Confederate Flag on his social media pages, drove around with it on his **cking car … Why haven’t y’all descended on the Blues Foundation in droves and demand they rescind that award to that mother**cking racist?”

For his part Kenny Wayne Shepherd explained that he’d retired the car “years ago” and covered the Confederate symbol that sits on top of the car. He said in part, “It was completely against my values and offensive to the African American community which created the music I love so much and I apologize to anyone that I have unintentionally hurt because of it … I want to make something very clear and unequivocal; I condemn and stand in complete opposition to all forms of racism and oppression and always have.

Nonetheless, the Blues Foundation has stood by their decision to exclude Kenny Wayne Shepherd from consideration for awards, despite Shepherd’s long history of supporting black blues legends, including his Grammy-nominated project 10 Days Out: Blues from the Backroads from 2004.

Now, a high profile member of the rock and blues community who toured and collaborated with Kenny Wayne Shepherd over the years has come out in support of of the blues guitarist. Billy Cox was the bass player who backed up Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock, and later became a member of Hendrix’s “Band of Gypsys” that proceeded The Jimi Hendrix Experience trio. The 81-year-old has also collaborated with Sam Cooke, Slim Harpo, Etta James, and many more. He also performs in Jimi Hendrix tribute bands trying to keep the Hendrix legacy alive.

“The Mrs. and I know Kenny,” Billy Cox said in a statement on Sunday (3-21). “We have traveled many miles together with Kenny, his band and his management. Lots of days and nights together in close quarters. The Mrs. even calls, Kenny and Noah (vocalist KWS Band) her ‘youngins.’ For us that says it all about the kind of person that Kenny is and we know that he does not deserve the ‘cross-town traffic’ that he is caught in … I value Kenny Wayne Shepherd’s talent as an artist, respect and applaud the way he treats his family and fellow man.”

Billy Cox—who is also well-known for collaborating with Charlie Daniels over the years and participating in Charlie’s cross-genre Volunteer Jams—also spoke specifically about The Dukes of Hazzard, and about the hazards of dismantling history in his statement. Billy Cox also spoke about how people should be focused on the real injustices for black artists in music, which is the undervaluing, and underpayment over the years.

The full text can be seen below.

I hope everyone has been doing “OK” since we last talked. In challenging times like these, “OK” is an Ok place to be.

I came out of hibernation because I heard about Kenny Wayne Shepherd having his nomination for Blues Rock Artist of the Year being rescinded by one of those Blues outfits. It seems that the basis of this rescinding is this: Kenny has a replica car like the one in the very popular DUKES OF HAZZARD television show.

I have not talked to Kenny and will not take the liberty of getting off into his head. But I do believe that since Kenny is around our son’s age, he saw a car that was a replica of the car in a favorite tv show that he watched growing up and being a successful musician, he had the money to buy the replica. Why not? I understand he had the controversial flag on top of the car covered….Why the selective outrage? “Who Knows “? I just don’t understand.

Being an African American musician for over 60 years and starting out in Jim Crow south, you must know that I have some deep tire tracks across my back. Most importantly, if one wants to be outraged about something: why not about those black artists from back in the day that have not rightly received recognition or payment for their music? Most of popular American music is based on their contributions. It can be rightly argued. Some of these cats were my mentors, I knew many, played with a lot of them and heard about others. That is my History. I could tell you some stories that would make you pull out a towel. Financial misuse, abuse, being neglected, living and dying broke, while the profiteers continue to live large off naive and vulnerable black artists.

By the way, my son and his friends would watch the show many Friday nights on a big screen television at a local pizza restaurant. His mom and I would be there, all enjoying the show. We are not politically naive or historically ignorant, we saw the flag and heard the name(s) but never did we detect any hint or suggestion that demeaned our culture or our ancestors. Neither do I remember any defending, justifying or attacking either side of the issue(s) and conflict. So, there was no temptation to fight the war again, while watching a television show.

Trust me, we were more than aware but we never- ever stopped to resent or be angry about the car or some of the historical names mentioned and shown. There were “some good ol’ boys” and then there were the comically bad guys. We enjoyed the show, the laughs together and the pizza.

With all that being said, the Mrs. and I know Kenny. We have traveled many miles together with Kenny, his band and his management. Lots of days and nights together in close quarters. The Mrs. even calls, Kenny and Noah (vocalist KWS Band) her “youngins”. For us that says it all about the kind of person that Kenny is and we know that he does not deserve the “cross-town traffic” that he is caught in.

Let us not overlook that this controversy speaks to a BIGGER ISSUE and that is the dismantling of our country’s history. I believe, to avoid and to correct previous mistakes, we must see it all. History must be comprehensive, although most times it has not been. WE OVERLY KNOW THAT…. and…that is why we speak now. To dismantle and to do away with, could make it easier to later claim certain events or atrocities never happened; because, there would be no reminders. Show the history, the good, bad and ugly, warts and all. It can serve as a reminder for us to avoid the pitfalls of human nature and the knowledge that we are obligated to pass on.

American History is filled with great contributors, many were flawed statesmen, geniuses and trailblazers but their flaws should never be the excuse to dismiss or undermine their value. Most especially, I’m reminded of the Master who challenged: “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone…”…By the way, we remember all the accusers, turned and left.

It is a spiritual attribute; therefore, Love or its kindreds can never be legislated or forced. Everyone should have the right or freedom to like or to NOT like me, appreciate or NOT appreciate me, agree with me or not agree with me. In that way I’m protecting my expressions by protecting yours.

I value Kenny Wayne Shepherd’s talent as an artist, respect and applaud the way he treats his family and fellow man. All else, Kenny Wayne Shepherd should be STONE FREE to do as he pleases.

Stay Free, The Last Gypsy, Billy Cox-A bass player

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