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Blues Traveler is back on the road again
by Steve Morse
Boston Globe, Boston, MA
Apr 27th, 2001

Blues Traveler was nearly derailed two years ago by the death of bassist Bob Sheehan, who died with heroin, cocaine, and Valium in his system. The band had enjoyed great success in the '90s - scoring hit singles and launching the H.O.R.D.E. tour - before Sheehan's demise.

"We lost an old friend. We had been friends since high school," Traveler's Chan Kinchla says. "But then we realized that we might be doubling the tragedy if we didn't play again. Bob would have wanted us to go on."

The New York-based Traveler is back with a proudly funky CD, Bridge, coming out May 8. It will no doubt be previewed at tomorrow's free WBOS Earth Fest at the Hatch Shell, where the band shares an afternoon bill with Joan Osborne, the Cowboy Junkies, Double Trouble, and Fisher.

"Right now, we're on cloud nine to have the band back. The longer you do this, the more you appreciate it," says Kinchla. "We feel it's a rebirth."

It is certainly a rebirth for singer John Popper, who was in a "race with Bob to see who would be the first to go, so to speak," says Kinchla. Popper had ballooned to 400-plus pounds but has since shed 180 pounds and is looking almost svelte in new photos of the group.

"He got surgery and changed his life," says Kinchla. "It's really nice to see him so healthy. We all feel that he has a new lease on life."

The band, with lyrics by Popper, wrote a song in remembrance of Sheehan called "Pretty Angry," a seven-minute opus on the new CD. As Popper sings, "I guess I'm still pretty angry, and I don't want to be. I don't know which was a bigger waste of time - missing you or wishing instead it was me."

The group replaced Sheehan with two new members - bassist Tad Kinchla (Chan's brother) and keyboardist Ben Wilson. Both contribute brightly to the new CD.

"Tad is my younger brother," says Kinchla, who, at 30, is four years the elder. "He played in another band, Dowdy Smack, and was a Web designer before we got him. He's very dynamic and more funk-driven than Bob. Sonically, that works well with the addition of keyboards."

As for Wilson, the new keyboardist whose lacy runs bring a crisp expansiveness to the album: "He's from Michigan. His band had just broken up, and he was going to Thailand to decide what to do with his life. We went on a national search through various keyboard magazines and other sources to find him. We narrowed the list to five people and brought them to Austin, where we were getting our ship righted. Ben came in last. From his tape, we thought he might be the one - and halfway through the rehearsal, we said, 'You're it.'

"Ben is great because he's had a lot of music theory. If we were stuck in a chorus or had to open up to a bridge, he was great with coming up with chordal ideas."

Blues Traveler's sense of humor has also returned; witness new songs "Girl Inside My Head" and "You Lost Me There." There's not a weak cut on the disc, though the standout is the tribute to Sheehan. "It was important that the song not be a self-serving, cathartic experience," says Kinchla. "We wanted people to relate it to their own lives as well."

Mission accomplished. A further note: Apart from tomorrow's Hatch Shell gig, Traveler will headline Avalon on May 10.