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Blues Traveler Biography

Home > Music > B > Blues Traveler > Biography

Birth Place: Princeton, New Jersey, USA
Years Active: 1987–present
Genres: Alternative Rock, Jam Band, Blues-rock, Psychedelic Rock

Blues Traveler is a rock band, formed in Princeton, New Jersey in 1987. The band has been influenced by a variety of genres, including blues-rock, psychedelic rock, folk rock, soul, and Southern rock. They are known for extensive use of segues in their live performances. Currently, the group comprises singer and harmonica player John Popper, guitarist Chan Kinchla, drummer Brendan Hill, bassist Tad Kinchla and keyboardist Ben Wilson. Tad Kinchla and Ben Wilson joined the band following the death of original bassist Bobby Sheehan in 1999.

Blues Traveler was singed to A& M Records and released their self-titled debut album in 1990, with the song “But Anyway” getting airplay on college radio stations. The album included Joan Osborne on backing vocals on two tracks.

Their second album, “Travelers and Thieves,” followed in 1991. Upon Bill Graham's death that year, they released a live EP, “On Tour Forever,” as a tribute to Graham, which featured guitar legend Carlos Santana. The group was becoming well known in the new wave of jam bands that was developing in the early 1990s.

Around this time, the mainstream national audience was exposed to Blues Traveler by television host David Letterman, who has introduced them as his “favorite band.” The band has since made more appearances on “The Late Show” than any musical artist. Letterman's band leader Paul Shaffer has played on a number of Blues Traveler recordings.

In 1992, the group founded the H.O.R.D.E. festival as an alternative to others such as Lollapalooza, along with other bands such as Phish and Spin Doctors. Blues Traveler began recording their third album, “Save His Soul.” Recording was temporarily interrupted by John Popper's motorcycle accident, although the band resumed touring shortly thereafter with Popper in a wheelchair. Two singles were released from the album, “Defense & Desire” and “Conquer Me,” which reached #34 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks chart.

The band's fourth album, titled “four,” was released in late 1994. The upbeat pop single “Run-Around” became a smash hit and was followed by the catchy “Hook.” “Run-Around” won a Grammy Award and reached #8 on the Billboard Hot 100 Singles chart going on to break the record for most weeks on the chart. “Four” peaked at #8 on the Billboard 200 Albums chart and was certified 6x platinum.

The double live album, “Live from the Fall,” was released in 1996. It featured recordings from the band's autumn 1995 concerts and showcased the strength of the band's live performances.

Their next studio album, “Straight On till Morning,” was released in 1997. It achieved platinum status, reaching #11 on the Billboard 200, but did not perform as well as “four.” The single “Carolina Blues” peaked at #4 on the Mainstream Rock Tracks.

By the end of 1998, the band had prepared a concept album called “The Sun, The Storm and The Traveler,” based on Aesop's fable of “The North Wind and the Sun,” and they planned to record it after a recess in the fall of 1999. That summer, John Popper had emergency heart surgery due to artery blockage, forcing the band to cancel their annual July 4th Red Rocks shows at the last minute.

During the hiatus, Popper released a solo album with a backing band consisting of Dave Matthews Band drummer Carter Beauford and members of the group Cycomotogoat.

On August 20, 1999, Bobby Sheehan was found dead in his New Orleans, Louisiana home, where he had been recording music with some friends the night before. Sheehan's death was ruled an accidental drug overdose.

The band discarded their concept album material, instead releasing a smaller online EP, “Decisions of the Sky: A Traveler's Tale of Sun and Storm,” and went to work collectively composing a new set of songs with the new lineup. The resulting album was “Bridge,” which had the working title “Bridge Outta Brooklyn” as a tribute to Sheehan (with both the acronym B.O.B. and his nickname “Brooklyn Bobby”). The songs “Girl Inside My Head” and “Just for Me” received airplay, but the album's sales fell somewhat short of expectations.

The live album “What You and I Have Been Through” and the compilation “Travelogue: Blues Traveler Classics” were both released in 2002. Blues Traveler was one of dozens of artists who were jettisoned as part of A&M's corporate restructuring. The band signed with Sanctuary Records for their next album, “Truth Be Told,” which only reached #147 on the Billboard 200.

The band left Sanctuary for Vanguard Records and in 2005 released “¡Bastardos!,” which was produced by Wilco's Jay Bennett and was touted as the band's return to music that they wanted to play. The album charted at#49 on the Billboard Independent Albums chart, and a live EP of songs from the album was released to independent record stores.

In 2007, Blues Traveler released the album “Cover Yourself,” a best-of album of previously released songs re-recorded and reinterpreted with acoustic instrumentation. It was released in October 2007 through Columbia/Red Ink Records.

“North Hollywood Shootout” was released by Verve Forecast Records in 2008. It included a spoken word piece featuring Bruce Willis.