Blues Traveler's John Popper

Though John Popper's band, Blues Traveler, has decided to rest throughout

most of 1999, the harmonica-playing frontman is scheduled to tour with

two other musical outfits.

Popper's 1999 plans include gigs with Frogwings, featuring members of

the Allman Brothers Band and the Aquarium Rescue Unit. The indefatigable

Popper will also tour with High Plains Drifter, a band that also includes

Blues Traveler bassist Bobby Sheehan.

Popper was born 32 years ago today in Cleveland. He grew up in

Connecticut, where he taught himself to play harmonica. In Princeton

High School in New Jersey, Popper met drummer Brendan Hill. In 1988, the

pair formed Blues Traveler -- inspired by "The Blues

Brothers" movie -- with Sheehan and guitarist Chan Kinchla.

The band, based in Brooklyn, N.Y., played the New York club circuit.

Popper enrolled in the New School for Social Research, where he honed

his harmonica playing. A&M Records signed Blues Traveler based on its

virtuoso live jamming.

Blues Traveler slowly built a cult following by traveling around the U.S.

performing sets heavy on Grateful Dead-style jamming, with Popper

playing his frontman role to the hilt -- he carried a harmonica pouch

that also contained a Swiss Army knife, a sewing kit, a watch, a

flashlight and a baton. The band's eponymous debut, released in 1989,

finally cracked the Billboard album chart two years later.

Travelers and Thieves (1991) also made the lower half of the

Billboard charts as Blues Traveler raised its profile by gigging

with the likes of the Jerry Garcia Band. But the following year, Popper

was seriously injured in a motorcycle accident and spent a good deal of

time in a wheelchair, slowing the band's touring schedule. Around

this time, Popper conceived the H.O.R.D.E. (Horizons of Rock Developing

Everywhere) concept, which found expression as a multi-act annual

roots-rock tour.

In 1995, buoyed by headlining that year's H.O.R.D.E. Festival (which

also included the Black Crowes and Joan Osborne), Blues Traveler enjoyed

their first top-10 hit with "Run-Around" from the multi-platinum Four.

Also that year, the band contributed "Imagine" to the John Lennon

tribute LP Working Class Hero.

"Run-Around," for which Blues Traveler won a Grammy Award for Best Rock Vocal

Performance, Duo or Group, went on to have the longest run in history

(49 weeks) on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

After Live From the Fall, Blues Traveler issued Straight On

Till Morning, featuring cuts such as "Canadian Rose" (RealAudio

excerpt), in 1997.

Last year, Popper contributed "The Preamble" to the Schoolhouse Rocks

the Vote compilation CD. Blues Traveler also headlined another

H.O.R.D.E. lineup, though hot Canadian act Barenaked Ladies often stole

the spotlight.

Popper arranged for the proceeds from a 1998 Florida H.O.R.D.E. gig to

go to that state's Fire Emergency Relief Fund, established to aid

victims of the fires that devastated the state last summer. Blues

Traveler also played the 1998 Tibetan Freedom Concert in Washington, D.C.

Other birthdays: Vangelis, 56; Terry Jacks, 53; Bobby Kimball (Toto), 52; Michael

Brecker, 50; Perry Farrell (Jane's Addiction, Porno For Pyros), 40; and Bernard Georges

(Throwing Muses), 34.