Shepherd's parents were from the West Indies. His father took a job working on the Panama Canal and sent his pregnant wife to Philadelphia; Shep Shepherd was born en route, in Honduras, and despite his Caribbean background grew up in a largely Jewish neighborhood in Philadelphia.
Shepherd had an early interest in music, particularly drumming, and could read sheet music for drums by the age of 14, and began to take on paid gigs. Music was not his sole focus; attending a vocational high school, he trained as a cabinet maker. As a touring musician, he apparently carried cabinet making tools and a fishing pole in addition to his instruments.
In the 1930s, Shepherd worked in Philadelphia for band leader Jimmy Gorham.
In 1941, Benny Carter contacted Shepherd after hearing him play, and this resulted in Shepherd working for Carter and eventually moving to New York City. Shepherd also started working for Artie Shaw in 1941. Due to musician's union regulations, Shepherd was initially able to acquire occasional jobs as a musician, playing a night here or there, but not allowed to take steady employment. As with many jazz musicians of the era, he made his income from several sources, including working as a music copyist and working as a session musician for various recordings. As a session musician, he was versatile, playing not only drums, but also vibraphone and xylophone, and was desired for his ensemble playing, being skilled at supporting a group without attempting to grab the spotlight. He was in enough demand as a copyist that "Get Shep" become a sort of catchphrase within the microcosm of New York jazz.
Shepherd served four years in the United States Army, composing, arranging, and conducting vocal music as well as playing trombone in Army bands. Soon after his discharge, he was hired by Cab Calloway to replace a drummer who hadn't shown up. Shepherd worked for Calloway for a year, eventually being replaced because Calloway needed a "show drummer", but Calloway continued to use Shepherd as an arranger.
In 1952, Shepherd began working as part of Bill Doggett's group, and in 1956, Shepherd helped write Doggett's signature song, Honky Tonk.
Leaving Doggett's combo in 1959, Shepherd worked extensively for Broadway musicals and other stage productions as a performer and arranger. During a tour with a production of Miracle on 34th Street, Shepherd decided to relocate to San Francisco. There, Shepherd found work as the house drummer at Finocchio's for 23 years. Finocchio's was from the 1930s onward a nationally famed hotspot of gay life in San Francisco, featuring a drag show with female impersonators and Vaudeville-styled acts, as well as occasional belly dancing.
Late in his career, Shepherd switched his primary focus from drums to trombone, claiming that it was easier to carry. In 1995, he and Art Harris formed the group "Blue Fuse", with Harris playing Hammond Organ and singing, and Robert Labbe on drums, and they regularly performed in San Francisco through at least 2000 and released at least one CD.
Musicians Shepherd has worked with include Patti Page, Lionel Hampton, Lena Horne, The Ward Singers, Earl Bostic, Buck Clayton, and Odetta. He has also appeared in several television commercials.
Shep Shepherd is listed in The Biographical Encyclopedia of Jazz and Who’s Who Among Black Americans. He's related to activist John Francis
Famous quotes containing the word shepherd:
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