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Blues Traveler – Great American Jam Band Returns To The Stage
Some bands are known for their style, others their lyrics, and still others for their on-stage persona. Blues Traveler is known for all three, and the legendary live band is returning to the stage in 2006. The group has a legion of followers that span several generations, and one commonality is present in their shows – you’ll never see the same thing twice. A look at their background will provide some insight as to how they became the band they are.
Blues Traveler was formed in 1988, and continues to be known primarily through their lead singer, John Popper. Popper was a musical prodigy from almost his first breath, and his parents noticed this talent almost immediately when Popper would effortlessly sing harmonies at the age of three. They enrolled Popper in several “traditional” musical education classes, but Popper never really enjoyed learning the cello, the piano or the guitar.
The main reason that he gave up all three was that he did not enjoy structure, and bedeviled his instructors by playing all three “by ear.” This trend continued throughout his early childhood, until Popper discovered an instrument that he could learn on his own – the harmonica. His parents could not find an instructor, and after seeing the movie The Blues Brothers, Popper learned to play their entire ensemble note-for-note.
As Popper entered high school in Princeton, New Jersey, he became a member of the school band, but did not have much success in that structured environment. He became known as “that blues guy” based on his harmonica solos. He also met and befriended the future members of Blues Traveler – Brendan Hill, the drummer, Chan Kinchla, the guitarist and bassist Bobby Sheehan. A commonality they shared was a love for The Blues Brothers. This led to their first name: The Blues Band.
The Next Step
Following graduation, all the band members except one enrolled in the jazz program at New York's New School for Social Research. Kinchla attended N.Y.U. It was here that the band not only honed their performance skills but also learned how to book performances. Their talent was so transcendent that they soon had a schedule that was too packed to manage. As a result, all the band members left school with a new band name: Blues Traveler.
The following year, after several enormously successful live performances, the band released their first studio album, Blues Traveler, and their career as a band took off. The band has since released seven subsequent studio albums and three live cuts, and they are unique in that they encourage live tapings of their performances for dissemination to the general public.
This is how they became known as a legendary “jam” band in the tradition of such luminaries as the Grateful Dead and Led Zeppelin. Their concerts were and are true events, and every show features several extemporaneous tangents, mostly by Popper and his harmonica. Their style appeals to fans of all ages, and their appeal is universal.
Trials and Tribulations
The band did have to overcome its share of problems, however. Many of their albums did not receive critical acclaim, and their reputation is mainly based on their live performances. They also tragically lost an original member of the band, Bobby Sheehan, to a drug overdose in New Orleans in 1999. He has since been replaced by Ben Wilson.
Popper also had health problems. He was morbidly obese, and weighed as much as 420 pounds at the turn of the century. In 2003, he had gastric bypass surgery, and has lost a tremendous amount of weight. Many believe that this surgery and subsequent lifestyle changes have saved his life given the energy put forth in every performance.
Overall, there is nothing like a Blues Traveler performance. They’ll no doubt continue to light up venues all over the world, and 2006 is the next opportunity for their fans to take in a true musical experience.
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