Blues Traveler Bassist's Friends Still Unable To Explain His Death

Bobby Sheehan recalled as fun-loving musical spark as band looks to move on without him.

As Blues Traveler vowed to continue without Bobby Sheehan, their

gregarious, fun-loving bass player, Sheehan's friends and fellow

artists remained at a loss to explain his death two months ago.

Sheehan, a founding member of the band and described by one friend

as Blues Traveler's onstage spark, had moved from New York to New

Orleans with his girlfriend in 1998. He bought a house there and had

been recording music at home for a planned solo album.

"He was kind of telling me how much he was digging New Orleans," said

Black Crowes singer Chris Robinson, who spent time with Sheehan in

New York less than a month before he died. "He seemed to be in a

really good place."

"I never thought this would happen," said Jeannie DeSanctis, a friend

of Sheehan's who works as a radio producer for SonicNet. "With him, I

was completely in denial. Bobby was the most living person."

The New Orleans coroner's office has yet to rule on what killed

Sheehan, who was found dead by friends in the New Orleans house on

Aug. 20. He was 31.

As friends awaited an explanation of what they called a shocking

loss, the three surviving members of Blues Traveler — singer/harmonica

player John Popper, guitarist Chan Kinchla and drummer Brendan

Hill — announced Wednesday that they will continue as a band.

"We thought it would be useless to compound the tragedy by letting

something we all, including Bobby, worked so hard for to fall apart,"

Kinchla said in a statement released through A&M Records.

Sheehan helped lead Blues Traveler onstage, according to Cree McCree,

the senior editor of Yahoo! Internet Life magazine, who became

friends with the bass player while writing several articles about the

band as a freelancer.

"Bobby was always driving the bus onstage," McCree said. "He was the

one that was calling the turn signals."

Offstage he often directed the party for himself and others, according

to several friends.

"For me, the most vivid thing is how funny he was," DeSanctis said. "He

was the funniest person I've ever known. And he was intelligent beyond

the scope of everyday people."

DeSanctis recalled a night Sheehan led an impromptu shopping spree

through New York with her and another friend. By the end of the wild

spree, DeSanctis and her friend were covered head-to-toe in new

wardrobes. Sheehan bought a hat shaped like a pumpkin and wore it all

over town.

Sheehan's humor and ease attracted Robinson, whose Black Crowes toured

with Blues Traveler on the 1992 Horizons of Rock Developing Everywhere

festival. Robinson, 32, said he kept in touch with Sheehan periodically.

"I don't like anybody in Blues Traveler except Bobby," Robinson

said. "I definitely have nothing but good things to say about

him ... you know, [his death] sucks."

Friends said Sheehan had sleep apnea, a condition that causes people

to stop breathing for long periods while they sleep.

He pleaded guilty to possession of less than a gram of cocaine in

January 1998 following a September 1997 arrest at an airport in

Winnipeg, Manitoba, where Blues Traveler were opening for the Rolling

Stones. He was placed on two years' unsupervised probation.

Blues Traveler, one of the most popular of the so-called jam bands

that came to prominence in the past decade, formed in Princeton, N.J., in

1988. They organized the H.O.R.D.E. tour, and have enjoyed occasional

rock-radio hits while racking up three million-selling albums,

including the six-times platinum Four (1994). That album

included the top-10 pop hit "Run-Around" (RealAudio

excerpt).

Their music has been characterized by Popper's harmonica solos,

Sheehan's groove-heavy bass, and onstage jams during which Kinchla and

Popper would trade riffs between the former's guitar and the latter's

harmonica.

On a solo tour this fall, Popper performed an acoustic version of the

Blues Traveler song "Sweet Pain" (RealAudio

excerpt) as a tribute to Sheehan.

Jeff Webster, production manager at New York's Irving Plaza, said

Popper's performance of "Sweet Pain" there on Sept. 7 had its intended

effect. Fans "embraced it," Webster said. "They listened to the lyrics.

It was really quiet."

Popper, who recently underwent a procedure to clear an artery and who

this week canceled nine shows for medical reasons, called Sheehan "the

best friend I've had in the world" in a statement released the day the

bassist died.

Blues Traveler will begin recording their sixth album next year. But

two Blues Traveler concerts that were to mark the end of the millennium

Dec. 30–31 at the Reno Hilton in Reno, Nev., will now be Popper

solo shows.

McCree was one of about 100 people who attended an Aug. 26 celebration

of Sheehan's life at the Wetlands Preserve, one of Blues Traveler's

favorite New York clubs. The night carried a party atmosphere, as

people drank, smoked marijuana and grooved to music by frequent Blues

Traveler collaborator Jono Manson and others.

Yet the night also carried a numbness, as many seemed on the verge of

tears even as they laughed and let loose. Manson had returned from a

trip to Italy for Sheehan's funeral and said that night he was "funeraled

out."

"When I first met Bobby, I was the teacher," Manson said, adding that

Blues Traveler used to open for his band, the Worms, in the late 1980s.

"Ten years later, I was the student. ... For me, it was how tenacious

he was. He was driven to do it."