Riding into public consciousness on the neo-jam band wave of the 1990s that included Phish, Widespread Panic, the Grateful Dead (and it’s offshoots) and more, Blues Traveler made an immediate ripple on the scene with blues-driven rock ’n’ roll. The band performs August 4 at Montalvo.
With a sound that was characterized by its willingness and ability to drift off on extended jam voyages, Blues Traveler became regulars on the live-music circuit and established themselves as a favorite of the uber-loyal jam-band crowd.
Formed in New York in 1988 by John Popper (vocals, guitar), Chan Kinchla (guitar), Bobby Sheehan (bass), and Brendan Hill (drums), Blues Traveler had a college radio hit with the single “But Anyway” off their self-titled debut album. Their next two albums, Travelers and Thieves and Save His Soul served to build their fanbase and establish their reputation as capable jammers, but it was their fourth album, the aptly-titled Four that launched Blues Traveler into the mainstream charts. “Run-Around,” a single taken from the album, became a radio mega-hit, spending nearly a year in the charts and sending Four skyrocketing to quintuple platinum status.
Behind the scenes however, things were not so rosy. While recording their third album, John Popper was in a motorcycle accident. He fully recovered but recording was put on hold and he had to temporarily perform from a wheelchair. That was just the beginning of a streak of hard times for the band. In 1999, Popper, after months of enduring chest pains, had to undergo angioplasty. While he was recovering, tragedy struck. Bobby Sheehan died of an accidental drug overdose in his New Orleans home. It was a devastating blow to the band but they decided to carry on, enlisting Kinchla’s brother Tad to take over bass duties and bringing in Ben Wilson to play the keyboards; an addition to the Blues Traveler sound that Sheehan had been lobbying for.
The 2000s have seen a handful of releases from Blues Traveler which, as its website says, “long ago graduated from the jam-band underground to mainstream stardom,” but the band members have not lost sight of what it was that brought them together in the first place.