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
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
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.