John Popper Talks About His “Summer From Hell”

“This has been the summer from hell. This is the part on the VH1 special where they go, ‘And then tragedy struck.’”

That was John Popper’s reply when MTV News’ Kurt Loder asked him about the year he’d been having in a one-on-one interview held on September 3, just two weeks after the death of bandmate Bobby Sheehan.

Indeed, it had been a “summer from hell” for the singer. First the Blues Traveler frontman was hospitalized in July after suffering three months of chest pains, requiring heart surgery to remove an arterial blockage. Then Sheehan, the band’s bass player, was found dead on August 20.

“He was really a guy who dared us to dream about the band,” Popper said of Sheehan. “He pushed us.”

Popper says he and the rest of Blues Traveler didn’t realize Bobby Sheehan was involved with drugs until last year, when the band was on tour. Crossing the Canadian border, Sheehan was arrested for possession of cocaine.

The band did, in fact, announce on October 7 that
it would be sticking together, a move which followed Popper’s striking out on his own for the first time with a solo album called “Zygote,” the medical term for a fertilized egg. The LP is definitely his baby.

“Blues Traveler is a democracy,” the singer said. “This was my deliberate attempt at total dictatorship.”

“Do you have certain songs that you hold aside because they wouldn’t be quite right for Blues Traveler?” Loder asked.

“Exactly. What it really was, is I really wanted to pursue what they call ‘singer-songwriter’ stuff,” explained Popper. “Stuff I’m not allowed to pay attention to, because I have a penis.”

Another development to come out of the singer’s solo pursuits are his solo shows, which have a different on-the-road atmosphere from his Blues Traveler trips.

“The cool thing is, when we are touring on the bus, with Blues Traveler, if I wanted the back lounge to myself, I’d have to fake an injury,” Popper said. “Like ‘Oh, my knee, aah,’ you know, ‘Got
some sort of plague’ or something. But with this band, Elvis wants the back lounge, Elvis gets the back lounge.”

“They’re just running alongside the bus or something,” Loder suggested.

“Yeah. If I so desire, yes.”