Blues Traveler was formed in Princeton, New Jersey in the late 1980s by four high school students that moved to New York City after graduation. The quartet was comprised of John Popper on guitar, harmonica extraordinaire and vocals with Chan Kinchla on lead guitar, Brenden Hill on drums, and Bobby Sheehan on bass guitar. They built a loyal fan base through relentlessly performing and caught the attention of the late concert promoter Bill Graham. In 1989, after Graham became Blues Traveler’s manager, they were signed to “A&M Records” and in 1990 they released their eponymous debut album. When Graham died in a helicopter crash in 1991 his son, David, took over their management.
When the jam band phenomenon took place during the 1990s as the Grateful Dead became the highest grossing band in the world, groups like Widespread Panic, String Cheese Incident, Phish and Blues Traveler became established in popularity. Jam bands stress the importance of experiencing the live show rather than a recording which is why Blues Traveler began hosting the traveling “H.O.R.D.E.” Festival. The “Horizons of Rock Developing Everywhere” Festival took place in the summer from 1992 through 1998 when John Popper declared that “I think the festival tour has gone the way of the dodo” in a 2000 issue of “Gig Magazine.”
Their 4th album released in 1994 was titled Four and was given maximum marketing by “A&M” in its promotion. The songs “Hook” and “Run-Around” were released as singles and to Top 40 radio airplay and even reached “Billboard’s” top 40. The album won a Grammy in 1995 for “Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group” and was certified as 6xPlatinum.
After bass player Bobby Sheehan died of a drug overdose in 1999 the band decided to continue and Chan Kinchla’s brother Tad became the bass player. In 2000, they added a 5th member with Ben Wilson on keyboards. Over the course of 31 years, they’ve released 14 studio albums and over a half dozen live and compilation albums. Having their songs used in a number of motion pictures placed them in an even wider audience which enlarged their popularity with a brand new audience.
Here are Blues Rock Review’s top 10 Blues Traveler songs.
“Yours” is on the band’s 5th album Straight On Till Morning and was released in 1997. “I arranged an elaborate string section part on “Yours” which is my best written song from a structural standpoint,” Popper explained in a “Billboard” interview. The album title itself is a direct allusion to “the directions to Neverland” according to Scottish novelist and playwright J.M. Barie’s fantasy story, “Peter Pan.” The song itself is a pledge of allegiance to the person he is singing about as the lyrics demonstrate. It was the last album that bass player Bobby Sheehan played on before his untimely death.
“At your feet again I’m yours
All I am is yours
9. “All Hands”
“All Hands” is from “Blues Traveler’s” 6th studio album that was released in 2001. It was the first album with Tad Kinchla on bass after the death of Bobby Sheehan in 1999. It was also the first album that featured Ben Wilson, the band’s new keyboard player, who let his presence be known with his extraordinaire keyboard runs. It’s a seafaring song about falling overboard in a storm and drowning “An icy rest is waiting at the bottom of the sea.”
8. “100 Years”
“100 Years” Is a light hearted view of life from a young street person’s perspective, on the cusp of becoming a rock star. The song is from their 1990 self-titled debut album and employs Joan Osborne on backing vocals. She was playing at the same venues at the time with Blues Traveler and the Spin Doctors who were all on the verge of hitting the big time. About 2/3’s of the way through the song a soprano saxophone played by Master Arnie Lawrence D.M.F. begins wailing through to the song’s conclusion.
“No it won’t mean a thing in a hundred years”
7. “But Anyway”
“But Anyway” was Blues Traveler’s first single from their eponymous debut album that was released in 1990. The song was used in the cult film “Kingpin” in 1996 and appeared on the film’s soundtrack album. That resulted in the song gaining a new audience and becoming a “Top 40” hit on “Billboard’s Hot 100.” The song was written by Kinchla and Popper and is an exercise in grammar illustrating the song with an adverb title with a dozen examples in the lyrics.
“Whoops” is from 1993’s Save His Soul “Blues Traveler’s” 3rd studio album once again on “A&M Records.” Popper penned the song and the lyrical direction is a philosophical excursion into the meaning of life from the microcosm to the macrocosm. It leads one to suspect the possible involvement of entheogenic agents in drawing some of the convoluted conclusions. The recording is over 8 minutes long and allows for extensive jamming between harmonica and guitar as it reaches for the sky.
“…from fossil to fossil (whoops)
Dust to dust (whoops)
I’ll see you all in the earthly crust (whoops)”
5. “Mountain City”
“Mountain Cry” is from Blues Traveler’s 5th album, 1991’s Travelers and Thieves, and was composed by drummer Brendan Hill. It has a funky blues sound with screaming guitar and Popper’s vocals matching guitar runs between paint peeling solos. Gregg Allman contributed his talents playing a Hammond B3 organ along with his vocals. The subject matter of the song seems to be love found and then lost which has long been a common theme of the blues.
4. “Carolina Blues”
“Carolina Blues” is another cut from “Blues Traveler’s” 5th album Straight On Till Morning which was released in 1997. It’s the opening cut on the album and was released as a single and reached #4 on “Billboard’s Modern Rock Tracks charts” in the US. It’s a story about running red lights to catch a train after being waylaid by a night with Carolina.
“Trying to make a train by sunrise gonna have to run a red light
Tangling with my Carolina you know the girl kept me up all night.”
“Hook” is from 1994’s Grammy Award winning album Four and is a song that is satirical with John Popper explaining to the listener that “The hook brings you back, I ain’t tellin’ you no lie.” At one point in the lyrics, he even confesses to doing the song for money and makes reference to Peter Pan again whose nemesis was Captain Hook. An interesting feature of the song is the fact that the melody is based on “The Canon in D Major,” a 17th century Baroque composition by Johann Pachelbel, However, the piece was not published for public consumption until the 20th century and became popular after it was used for television and film soundtracks.
“Run-Around” was the 1st single released from Four Blues Traveler’s 4th album released in 1994. The song won a Grammy for “Best Rock Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group” in 1995. The song itself was about an infatuation that John Popper, who wrote the song, had with the original bass player named “Felicia,” that Bobby Sheehan replaced. The song became the band’s first mainstream “Top 40” radio hit reaching #2 on “Billboard’s Adult Top 40” chart and it became the biggest hit of their career
1. “The Mountains Win Again”
“The Mountains Win Again” was written by bass guitarist Bobby Sheehan and appeared on Four the band’s 4th album released in 1995. Warren Haynes from Gov’t Mule and the Allman Brothers Band play some stellar slide guitar on the cut. It didn’t chart after it was released as a single but the upbeat joyous melody made it an audience favorite that was impossible to just sit through.