What Happened to Blues Traveler?
Jamming where the music never stops is Blues Traveler. The band’s sound is alternative blues, and the rock rolls from one improvisational tune to another.
There’s also some great guitar and harmonica work at play. But what happened to this popular 90s band? Join us as we learn more about them and where, if anywhere, they are today.
Let’s jump in!
The Story of Blues Traveler
The band calls itself Blues Traveler, but its style is an extraordinary mix of rock genres. Their unique sound, accentuated by harmonica player John Popper, continues three decades later.
Blues Traveler formed in Princeton, New Jersey, in 1987 as a high school garage band. John Popper (harmonicist, singer, and guitarist) and drummer Brendan Hill called themselves The Establishment and later the Blues Band. They had several guitarists, including Hill’s brother.
The group did what all kid bands did in those days, create cassette tape demos with their original songs. Eventually, bassist Bobby Shehan and guitarist Chan Kinchla joined the group.
They held basement jam sessions and coined themselves The Black Cat Jam, after a neighborhood black cat they adopted as their mascot. The talented young men honed their acoustical skills and moved to New York City after graduating high school.
The group changed their name to Blues Traveler, based in part on the demon in the movie Ghostbusters, Gozer the Traveler. They were relentless performers and grew a dedicated fan base.
Evolution of the Band
The band’s notoriety was due in part to their non-stop, improvisational live shows. They helped put the jam back in jam session and were a mainstay in the alternative music scene.
Blues Traveler hit the mainstream in 1994 with their fourth album, Four. They played Woodstock ‘94 and opened for The Rolling Stones. The group was also a last-minute switch for Prince on Saturday Night Live. They made additional TV appearances, and their acoustic music fit well with film and TV soundtracks.
The band lost original member Bobby Sheehan in 1999 due to an accidental drug overdose. Despite the loss, they agreed to continue playing and brought on Kinchla’s brother Tad and added a permanent keyboard player, Ben Wilson.
The group suffered another shakeup when their label A&M let them go along with dozens of other artists as part of a corporate restructuring. However, this was only a minor setback as they continued to be successful as an independent band.
Blues Traveler’s Best-Known Songs
We’re highlighting three great Blues Traveler songs. If you’re a fan of 90s music, we bet you’ll know all of them.
Run-Around is featured on Blues Traveler’s fourth studio album, Four. As their breakthrough hit, they won a Grammy with it in 1995.
The group first debuted this great tune at the CBGB music club in New York City. The song reflects the affection Popper had for original bass player Felicia. It’s a winding story that melds in and out with Popper’s harmonica. And it seems to peak with just the right amount of angst.
Hook is a play on the word and a way to catch people’s attention. The song is kind of an inside joke for musicians. If you have great music, you can sing whatever you want.
The tune also reflects the more shallow elements of society. Essentially, it’s saying you don’t need anything to be meaningful for people to like it.
The line, “It doesn’t matter what I say as long as I sing with inflection,” strikes a bit true. The entire hit is based on elements of Pachelbel’s Canon in D. It’s a well-established melody, and it sure hooked us.
These guys are jokesters at heart. The song But Anyway is a grammar exercise. The title is an adverb, and the lyrics run through a dozen grammatical examples.
This tune fits right in with Hook. It doesn’t matter what the guys sing; the music is outstanding. In fact, we wonder if they really need any words to their music. With the steady beat, rhythmic guitar, and teasing harmonica, why sing?
Has John Popper Played With Any Other Bands?
In addition to Blues Traveler’s well-known jam sessions, John Popper is the lips behind the iconic harmonica sound. The multi-talented man sings, plays guitar, writes songs, and does guest acting.
Besides Blues Traveler, Popper also performs solo and conducts side projects. He’s lent his voice or harmonica specialty to many other musicians, including the Dave Matthews Band, Eric Clapton, and Jason Mraz.
Popper lends his artistry to other causes, including performing for both Democratic and Republican politicians. Additionally, John toured with the USO and the Band of the Air Force Reserve.
The singer performed with several other bands over the years. The John Popper Project is his American jam band. They specialize in a combination of rock, hip-hop, and improvisational jazz and often play along with Blues Traveler.
Where is John Popper Today?
In 1992, Popper suffered a motorcycle accident on the way to the recording studio for Blues Traveler. He continued to perform via wheelchair for several months.
Then, in 1999, after dealing with weight issues his entire life, Popper suffered a near-fatal heart attack. Fortunately, emergency surgery saved his life, and he later underwent gastric bypass surgery.
Most recently, a bus accident in 2021 forced Blues Traveler to cancel the rest of their tour dates due to an injury John sustained. He’s fine now, and the group continues to play concerts.
The musician is still active today with Blues Traveler and The John Popper Project. Additionally, he continues to support political causes. If you’re curious about his opinions, follow him on Twitter.
The Music of Blues Traveler Lives On
If you like a bluesy jam with or without lyrics, Blues Traveler is the band for you. They have great mainstream hits, but you’re just scratching the surface with those tunes. When you attend one of their concerts, be ready to dance or at least tap your foot along.
Stay up to date with Blues Traveler on their website or follow along on their social media pages. They’re everywhere online these days.
What do you like best about Blues Traveler? Tell us in the comments below!