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Blues Traveler

band popper rock playing

the archetypal rock band in atypical times (formed Princeton, N.J., c. 1983). M EMBERSHIP: John Popper, voc, har. (b. Cleveland, Ohio, 1967); Chan Kinchla, gtr; Bobby Sheehan, bs; Brendan Hill, drms.

In many ways, Blues Traveler led the “movement” of “jam bands” like Phish and the Spin Doctors that flew in the face of the prevailing alternative sounds of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Fronted by harmonica virtuoso and vocalist John Popper, the band plays a loose-limbed rock that owes as much to the Grateful Dead as it does to Bruce Springsteen. Like both of the latter, they often play sets that run to three or more hours. Popper also peppers his lyrics with references to Cyrano de Bergerac and Rudyard Kipling. The band came together when Popper, who had moved from Cleveland to Conn., finally landed in Princeton, N.J. He met drummer Brendan Hill in high school, and they started playing as the Blues Band. They added the “Traveler” part after seeing the film Ghostbusters —the villain who takes the form of the marshmallow man is Gozer The Traveler. Six foot, five inch Chan Kinchla joined the band when a knee injury curtailed his participation in football and his disaffection with the limited vocabulary of punk led him to explore other avenues for his guitar playing.

The trio moved to Brooklyn, N.Y., attending classes at Manhattan’s New School for Social Research. Adding bassist Bobby Sheehan in 1987, they started playing clubs in the East Village and cutting demo tapes, which they sold from the stage. One person who became aware of the group and befriended them was Late Night with David Letterman band leader Paul Shaffer. Another was impresario Bill Graham. He booked them with bands like the Allman Brothers and Santana, getting them a far higher profile. This eventually landed them at A&M Records, who put out their eponymous debut in 1990. Shaffer helped get them booked on the Letter-man Show, where they became regulars.

In addition to appearing on Letterman over a dozen times, the band played over 800 concerts in three years. In answer to Jane’s Addictions successful alternative music festival Lollapalooza, Blues Traveler created the HORDE (Horizons of Rock Developing Everywhere) tour in 1992, headlining Spin Doctors, Phish, and Widespread Panic, among others. Over the intervening years, artists ranging from the Allman Brothers to Bruce Hornsby to Smashing Pumpkins to Neil Young have joined the HORDE.

Blues Traveler’s first three albums sold modestly with Save His Soul actually charting at #73. Immediately before the album came out, Popper was in a serious motorcycle accident. After six months of recovery, the band hit the road again, with Popper taking the stage in a wheelchair for the second annual HORDE.

Their fourth album—aptly titled Four —sold over six million copies when the band’s song “Run-Around” became ubiquitous on pop and rock radio (it peaked at #8, #27 sales and #3 airplay) and won a Best Rock Performance, Duo or Group, with Vocal Grammy. The follow-up single, “Hook” topped out at #23 and the album peaked at #9

The band appeared over the closing credits of the movie Kingpin . They played “But Anyway” dressed in Amish garb. Popper also had a cameo in the Howard Stern movie Private Parts .

Blues Traveler put out the double-live album Live from the Fall, which captured the spirit of their set but failed to chart. They followed this a year later with Straight on Till Morning . In addition to the radio track single “Carolina Blues,” the album featured strings and other production touches the band had previously avoided. The songwriting was more structured and the playing reflected the band’s maturing status.

Blum, Stella (1916–1985) - Curator, Fashion History [next] [back] Blue Oyster Cult

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