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
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
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
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
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. 3031 at the Reno Hilton in Reno, Nev., will now be Popper
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
"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."