For the first entry into my fancy new column, I’m going to remind you of a great band that has always been one of my favorite groups, and remain so to this day:
A rock-jam band formed in New Jersey back in 1987, BT has seen some definite ups and downs in their career. While Blues Traveler is best known among us fans for their improvisational live shows – I’ve been to five of them, and each one is different and amazing – the general public is probably most familiar with the group from their hit singles “But Anyway”, “Run-Around” and “Hook;” the latter two songs came from the same album. BT hit the peak of their mainstream popularity from this disc, their fourth studio album – appropriately-titled Four – released in 1994.
The group’s current lineup includes three of the four original members: founder, lead singer, and insanely talented harmonica player John Popper, guitarist Chan Kinchla, and drummer Brendan Hill. Bassist Tad Kinchla and keyboardist Ben Wilson joined the band following the death of BT’s original bassist, Bobby Sheehan, who passed away in 1999 of a drug overdose in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Sheehan’s death wasn’t the only major obstacle the group had to overcome. Popper’s long-time struggle with obesity also put a damper on the group’s success, and these and other issues compounded to the point where A&M dropped the band from their label in 2002. Fortunately, instead of folding, both Popper and the band took this transition period as an opportunity to start in new directions musically, going largely independent and releasing on smaller experimental labels, while still maintaining their “core sound” that made myself and many other fans fall in love with them in the first place.
Blues Traveler had a great success story from the get-go: in the mid-‘80s, high school mates Popper and Hill formed “garage band” group they called The Establishment, with Hill’s brother on bass and a rotating roster of guitarists. The band produced a few cassette tape demos; in addition to some original songs, their repertoire included upbeat covers of “Gloria” and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” The group soon added guitarist and football player Chan Kinchla; although he was a promising athlete, Kinchla decided to commit to playing music instead after a knee injury sidelined him from sports. Popper soon met bassist Sheehan and the two became good friends, with Sheehan becoming the new bass player for newly-christened Blues Band in 1987. The quartet held a basement jam session, later christened “The Black Cat Jam.” which spawned the core grooves for several songs on their first album. A black cat happened to be nearby, and the group took this as a sign and adopted the Black Cat as their iconic mascot figure. The group soon changed their name to Blues Traveler, taking the “Blues” both from their style and from their love of the film “The Blues Brothers,” and the “Traveler” from the name of the primary demon in the film “Ghostbusters,” Gozer the Traveler. As a nerdy sidebar, Gozer was also known in the film as Gozer the Gozerian and Gozer the Destructor, but I don’t think that “Blues Gozerian” or “Blues Destructor” has quite the same ring to it. Well, maybe “Blues Destructor…”
Between 1990 and 2008, BT has produced 14 different albums, including 3 live albums and one album, 2007’s “Cover Yourself,” where the band uniquely decided to do cover versions of their own songs. Their best-known (and sometimes only-known) album is easily 1994’s “Four,” and the disc’s singles “Run-Around” and “Hook” reached #8 and #23 on the Billboard chart, respectively. The album itself reached #8 on the Billboard chart, going 6-times Platinum. Only one other BT album, 1997’s “Straight On till Morning,” went Platinum.
To this day, Blues Traveler continues to tour and perform live shows. BT is also one of the few groups that encourages their fans to record and exchange fan-made productions of their live shows; they only ask that it is a free exchange and that no one attempts to profit from it. You can legally download recordings of Blues Traveler’s live shows at www.archive.org and bt.etree.org. You can view BT’s complete discography here, and you can learn more about the band on their website, www.bluestraveler.com.
I love BT, and I have all of their albums, as well as having seen them live on five different occasions. This is one band that I am proud to say that I have not abandoned!