A veritable New Orleans gumbo of blues, jazz, R&B, funk,
psychedelia and good ol' rock 'n' roll, Blues Traveler took the
city by storm last Sunday night at the New Orleans Entertainment
Center where the band cut loose with its newest material to show
loyal fans that it is indeed back and here to stay.
Bassist Bobby Sheehan explained more about the band's current
album, Travelers & Thieves, in a recent interview.
"It came out about four months ago and we've been touring
around the country promoting it and doing a lot of shows and
having a really good time."
Travelers & Thieves is a stunning sequel to the
group's first bow, which sold over 100,000 copies on virtually
word-of-mouth basis. Across the U.S., fans were stirred by Blues
Traveler's jolting live shows - sweat-drenched marathons that
delivered a new unclassifiable synthesis of American sound.
The diversity of influences that have been channeled into Blues
Traveler's music is reflected in the backgrounds of the band's
four young members, all of whom are now from Brooklyn, N.Y. and
in their early 20s.
Sheehan explained that their influences "are all varied from
your classic rock, to your classic jazz, to your classical to
your punk ... That's one thing that Blues Traveler is. That all
of our influences are so wide! All four of us have different
favorite bands and all four of us like all the same bands."
Lead singer/harmonica player John Popper studied cello, piano,
baritone saxophone and guitar as a boy in Stamford, Conn. Having
listened to Paul Butterfield, Elmore James, B.B. King and John
Lee Hooker, he realized with the discovery of Jimi Hendrix that
he wanted to be a musician.
Guitarist Chan Kinchla styled himself after Jimmy Page from the
age of 12. Brendan Hill, a native of Great Britain, took up the
drums at age 10, learned the blues from his father and changed to
punk before he joined Blues Traveler.
Despite its name, blues aren't what the band is entirely about.
Sheehan explained, "I think this is definitely more of a
rock album [than its self-titled debut album]. I think we got
better at playing and we got better at the studio so I think this
album is an improvement ... This one shows more ability."
Brooklyn-born Sheehan played over 230 shows last year with Blues
Traveler, and will break that record this year. Having taken up
the bass in high school, he has been playing seriously for six
years and was trained in jazz. He believes that Blues Traveler
"definitely feels that our strength lies in our live shows.
Live is what we do right now to keep going and make money so we
can support ourselves and do what we love to do."
So what does Blues Traveler mean? It is basically a rock band
which has attracted a Grateful Dead style following, so what's
with the name?
"It comes from when we were first starting the band. We were
playing in Brendan's [the drummer's] basement and sometimes when
we do the improvisational jams we feel that there's a fifth
entity in the band. There are four members but we feel like
something else is there.
"The movie 'Ghostbusters' was out at that time and Gozer the
Traveler came up ... Once we had a huge fan base we couldn't lose
the name. But it's taken a lot of different connotations since
then. It's a fitting name."
Travelers & Thieves, which sports great tunes like
"All in the Groove" and "Sweet Pain," also
features Gregg Allman of the Allman Brothers band playing
keyboards and singing backup vocals on "Mountain Cry."
"It was definitely an honor having him come in,"
Sheehan said. "We did a tour with them last summer when we
were recording our record. We sent him a letter and he did it. It
sounded really good."
Also having performed with Santana, Jerry Garcia, the Neville
Brothers, Little Feat, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Youssou N'Dour and Hot
Tuna, Blues Traveler's live performances are high voltage,
harp-driven and electrically charged - they should not be missed.