“Seventeen years after scoring the Grammy Award winning, harmonica laced Billboard Top Ten breakthrough hit that came to define pop music in the mid-90s, Blues Traveler … remain creatively focused while dramatically expanding their musical horizons upon celebrating their 25th anniversary as a band.” – JamBase
“Like Phish and Widespread Panic, Blues Traveler emerged in the early 1990s as part of a new vanguard of jam bands in the tradition of the Grateful Dead and the Allman Brothers.” – Rolling Stone
A quarter-century ago, the four original members of Blues Traveler, who had known each other since their early teens — John Popper, Chandler Kinchla, the late Bobby Sheehan and Brendan Hill — gathered in the basement of their drummer’s parents’ Princeton, NJ, home and the seeds were born for a band who have released a total of nine studio albums, four of which have gone gold, three platinum and one six-times platinum.
Over the course of their illustrious career, Blues Traveler have sold more than 10 million combined units worldwide, played over 2,000 live shows in front of more than 30 million people, and, in “Run-Around,” had the longest-charting radio single in Billboard history, which earned them a Grammy for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals. Their movie credits include Blues Brothers 2000, Kingpin, Wildflowers and others. A television favorite, they have been featured on Saturday Night Live, Austin City Limits, VH1’s Behind the Music and they hold the record for the most appearances of any artist on The Late Show with David Letterman.
“We started this whole adventure as a team,” says Brendan Hill. “We’ve taken every step of this as a group together, from the basement to moving to New York, getting signed, hiring a manager, to achieving all our goals.”
“I’m a firm believer that rock and roll keeps you young,” adds co-founding member Chan Kinchla. “Because I don’t feel any different than I did when we started, even though I’ve got a wife, two kids and all kind of life in between. We still go back to that mentality we had as kids, smoking pot and learning to jam. We had our first epiphanies about music together. This is a real family affair.”
“The way the songs have held up moves me,” admits legendary front man Popper, who has gotten down to a svelte 280 from a high of 436 after a gastric bypass 10 years ago, which he admits saved his life. “We’ve really got nothing but love from our audience. If something has quality, it’s constantly reconsidered through the ages. And that’s what we’re doing this for… posterity. We’ve never been 25 before, so having this kind of retrospective, as songwriters, it’s an opportunity for long forgotten songs get their day in court.”
From the suburbs of New Jersey, Blues Traveler moved to New York in the late ’80s, where they became part of a jam-band scene that packed clubs like Nightingale’s, McGoverns and Kenny’s Castaways, where they would share the bill with Spin Doctors and Phish. Represented early on by Bill Graham and son David, Blues Traveler’s live reputation led to a deal with A&M Records, for whom they released their self-titled debut, which produced songs like the hit “But Anyway,” “Gina” and “100 Years,” eventually going gold simultaneously with the album Four. The following year came Travelers & Thieves, also now gold, with songs like “What’s For Breakfast.” The subsequent gold release Save His Soul followed in 1993, with songs like “N.Y. Prophesie,” whose lyrics were actually co-written by John’s Hungarian father, Robert. The recording, and resulting tour, was marked by Popper having to sing from a wheelchair, the result of a motorcycle accident that almost took his life and destroyed the band, which led to a deeper investment from A&M to help support the band during a mettle-testing period in their career.
Currently putting the finishing touches on their tenth studio album—the first to feature outside songwriters in addition to the band members’ contributions—the group is taking the opportunity of their milestone to not just look behind, but ahead.
“We intend to keep going as long as they pay us,” laughs Popper, resplendent in bathrobe, Simpsons pajamas and Samurai sword dangling from a belt loop. “We’re going to be in everybody’s face this year. I feel like I’m in my prime. I was convinced I’d be dead at 37.”
“We’re brothers,” concludes Chan. “We’re not done. We’ve got a few more swings left, some more damage to do. I’m sure we bug the shit out of one another at times, but it’s an honor to play onstage with these guys. They are awesome musicians. You have to keep touch with that. And never forget it.”
John Popper: Vocals, harmonica
Chandler Kinchla: Guitars
Brendan Hill: Drums, percussion
Ben Wilson: Keyboards
Tad Kinchla: Bass