By Sholnn Freeman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 21, 2010; LZ14
After a long career as a roving musician fronting bands, producing bands, being a session musician and giving private voice lessons, Michael Sheppard has claimed one of the highest honors of his profession: a Grammy nod.
Sheppard, who has performed for Leesburg's "Acoustic on the Green" series for the past seven years, plays electric guitar in the kid-friendly rock band Milkshake. The band is nominated for best musical album for children for its latest release, "Great Day."
"There is nothing like a Grammy nomination," Sheppard said last week. "It's the pinnacle of your career. As far as music goes, it's the biggest day of the year, next to childbirth."
Sheppard, a native of Quantico, gained public attention when he played with Egypt, a power funk band that toured in the 1980s and '90s.
After Egypt, he moved to a fusion-type sound with the band Power Play, and then went to pop rock with Y Not. Later, with two original band mates from Power Play, he formed the Michael Sheppard Group. Its sound has been described as "power-acoustic modern-alterna-rock."
The Milkshake connection came about in a six-degrees-of-separation sort of way.
Lisa Mathews and Mikel Ghel, the leaders of Milkshake, were in the studio working on a third album, called "Play!" One of the session's drummers had been a drummer for the Michael Sheppard Group and connected Sheppard with Mathews and Ghel.
Mathews and Ghel are former band mates who tired of touring several years ago. Mathews, who is married and has a daughter, decided she didn't want to play clubs anymore. Ghel had a son and shared her sentiment. The two started writing songs inspired by their kids.
Recognition of their work snowballed when media critics decided that what they were hearing wasn't traditional and was altogether different from Barney or the Wiggles.
Milkshake is group of rockers who play rock music for children, usually ages 4 to 14. But isn't bubble-gum or dumbed-down music. Sheppard supplies a rock band-level guitar tone.
"We all come from different walks of music life and bring our own package to this," Sheppard said. "It's one of the first times a kid gets to see a rock show. There's no lip-syncing. I think kids are smart. It's all original songs for this particular audience."
Sheppard has lived in Northern Virginia for 26 years. He was married for almost 10 years and has no children.
He said "Great Day" seems a natural progression for Milkshake. Each album has paralleled the age of Michael and Lisa's kids, now adolescents. A song called "Enemies" focuses on how kids are best friends one day and adversaries the next.
The Grammy's nominations were announced Dec. 2.
"It's kind of surreal that we are even getting this nod," Sheppard said. "I've had other accolades, but nothing quite compares to this."