This fall, Stephen Shepherd, a singer–songwriter and English lecturer in the UW–Platteville Humanities Department, watched his fifth album, “Escape Is Not A Place,” climb up the Top 50 U.S. Roots Music Chart in the True Country category.
“Escape Is Not a Place” debuted at number 32, moved up to number 23 and then made it all the way to number 4.
The Roots Music Report, Shepherd said, uses the airplay lists from 7,800 U.S. radio stations.
Shepherd, who writes his own lyrics and melodies, has had two previous albums, “Love Heals All Things” and “Einstein’s Hair,” reach number seven, but this is the first time one has surpassed that mark.
With worldwide airplay now, Shepherd has charted hit records in 17 countries, including eight Top 10 hits. Most recently, his single “Uzis in the Barn” was number two in France.
“Uzis in the Barn” is off Shepherd’s 2008 CD, “Daylight on the Rise.” The song is about, according to CD Universe, “U.S. farmers preparing for a terrorist attack on their farms.” The CD also includes “Why Didn’t We Get There,” a takeoff on 1950s car crash-related tragedy songs.
CD Universe highlighted two songs, from his current album, including “No Beer, No Smokes, No Alice,” termed “an autobiographical song about the sudden nature of lost love,” and “Bigger Than Yourself.”
“Steve’s success writing and performing folk music in an age where the music industry has fewer and fewer performers who actually write their own songs is one of — if not the — most overlooked and inspiring success stories on our campus,” said Dr. Teresa Burns, UW–Platteville English professor and Humanities Department chair.
An early musician, Shepherd learned to play the banjo at eight years old while sitting on the couch next to his mother, a music teacher. The transition to the guitar three years later, a jump from four strings to six, took some adjustment but is now his instrument of choice.
Shepherd’s songwriting process often starts with a guitar in hand, plucking out a melody that is soon joined by lyrics. After just a few bars, he said he already knows what the song is about.
Most songs come easy, but one, “Wake Me From This Nightmare,” took 23 years to finish, because “I couldn’t think of the last verse.”
Shepherd has been invited to perform live in locations including the National Old Time Music Festival near Omaha, and has been referred to as “the thinking man’s country artist.” He said he enjoys the process of writing and creating, and sometimes incorporates music into his Freshman Composition courses, pointing out metaphor, narration, description and simile in his work.
“It’s easier to talk about words and language when you have music as a stepping stone,” said Shepherd. “I really enjoy teaching.”