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Truth Be Told
by Eric Ward
Glide Magazine,
Aug 25th, 2003

It's easy to claim that life on the road, long tours and some struggling years together give a band some legitimacy, but when you've endured well over a decade that included a severe motorcycle accident, major surgery, creating your own touring festival, a Grammy, a founding member's death and over 10 million in album sales, youve pretty much seen it all. Though with a skewed line-up that for now seems solidified, the Blues Traveler story is apparently far from over. Following the unfortunate death of bassist Bobby Sheehan in 1999, the band went through a tumultuous period that included the release of their rather forgettable, though perhaps aptly named sixth album, Bridge. And where that record was forced and uncomfortable, their newest release, Truth Be Told is Blues Traveler finally back to business, pushing forward rather than merely looking back.

When you've had a past as colorful as theirs, and created some classic records like the first three BT releases, its understandable that they would look back, but with Chan Kinchla's brother Tad taking the bass role, and the crucial sound change addition of Ben Wilson on keyboards, they had to reinvent their signature sound in order to keep forging ahead. And rather than continuing on where the past few records have stumbled, Truth Be Told is vintage Blues Traveler, complete with self-disclosing lyrics, fiery harmonica, powerful solos and those Popper ballads that never fail to evoke emotion. Still far from a throwback, and miles from the repetitive-beat-bandwagon most have succumbed to, its the album you hoped they'd make once everything they've been through eventually settled down.

Locking into familiar territory, the deep and grooving "Cant See Why" leads off with Tad's thumping bassline before Popper wails through his poignant lyrics. "Stumble & Fall" hits on more classic BT with soft and subtle acoustic lines that foreshadow the climactic raucous that storms full speed into the chorus. Chan's choppy and pounding guitar work grinds out "The One," which very well may be the one that stays with you when the album concludes. As with the extraordinary commercial success of "Run Around" (the longest charting single ever) and four, Blues Traveler has always been able to craft the Hollywood soundtrack staple, and this album has its share as well. "My Blessed Pain" features Popper's vivid storytelling over pop-hooks and gritty guitar, while "Let Her & Let Go" is the quintessential romantic comedy closer.

It's hard to imagine those epic BT songs with a keyboard competing against Popper's harmonica, but Wilson has not only found his place in the mix, he's made his valuable presence known. Throughout the album, his delicate key work, and sultry organ create a unique framework for Poppers distinct vocals and raging harmonica with no example greater than the outro of "Sweet & Broken." If you didnt think Blues Traveler was capable of writing another "Crystal Flame" or "Alone," this song should put your doubts to rest. As Popper sings the last few lines, Wilson accompanies his voice beautifully on piano, closing out one of the band's best songs of their long and storied twenty-year career.

Blues Traveler...Travelin' to the Top


why are they famous?

Blues Traveler broke out in 1994 with their multi-platinum album, four, which spawned the hit "Hook" and the record-setting single, "Run-Around." Known for their extended jam sessions and boogie blues rock, Blues Traveler and their groovy rhythms are back with their latest album, Truth Be Told. quick bio

Fronted by harmonica virtuoso John Popper, Blues Traveler have become synonymous with soulful, groovy rock music. Ever since their breakthrough single "Run-Around" was released in 1994, the band has taken off and has yet to land. The Grammy-winning single still holds the record for longest-charting single ever in the history of the Billboard charts. Blues Traveler's four was certified six times platinum in the U.S., while the band boasts 10 million albums sold... and counting.

But the band's history has not been all rosy. After all, founding bassist Bobby Sheehan passed away in 1999.

Moving on after tragedy with their latest album, Truth Be Told, Blues Traveler continue to shake and stir their fans.

We caught up with frontman John Popper to chat about music, fame, and all that rhythm and blues...

The Interview

Q: Your latest album, Truth Be Told was released on August 5th, 2003; tell us about the album.

It's the best, most accurate reflection of the group, by far.

Q: Artists always say that their latest album is their best; you have the floor, why is that so with this one?

It just reflects where we are now -- there is always change... artists want the album to reflect where they are at. What I like more about this one is that Ben [Wilson] and Tad [Kinchla] were full partners. Every band member really owns this album, we just were able to... you know the analogy about the cat and the bull... this one I was really able to walk down and f*ck them all.

Q: It's the second album since bassist Bobby Sheehan passed away, right?

We're the same family and we're an extended family. Ben and Tad were part of it, last album was a bridge to the new family and this album is us on the other side of the bridge.

Q: You formed in 1983 in Princeton, New Jersey...

It was really 1987, [in] 1983 we played some bad Police covers, we were called the Establishment, it was pretty cool...

Quick fact

The seeds of Blues Traveler were planted at a Princeton, New Jersey high school in 1983. John Popper, along with high school buddies Brendan Hill, Chan Kinchla and the late Bobby Sheehan, headed for New York City, where they got experience in the Big Apple's bar scene.

Q: You are known for your live shows... I read how you and Bobby argued quite a bit; did you miss that when you went into the studio?

I found others to argue with (laughs)! We argued all the time, everywhere... it was like Keith and Mick.

Q: You mentioned the Police; who else influenced you?

I like a band after I hear them a lot. I forgot how influenced I was by Springsteen. You rebelled, growing up in New Jersey, against him... but he did influence me. I love being clunky... I play that way, like a salmon swimming upstream... a lot of phrasing... Tom Waits has also been a huge influence; I also like Hendrix, Coldplay, the Dixie Chicks...

Q: What did you think when the Dixie Chicks criticized President Bush?

Nothing wrong with that, I think everyone agreed that it was wrong to criticize them, they did nothing wrong. I think it is unfortunate, I mean, music is one thing, but whether you are a Democrat or Republican... I mean, is there such a thing as a Democrat musician? I mean, I voted for Bush but there is plenty to be embarrassed about. George Carlin summed it up best: Maybe the public sucks, George Bush represents America pretty well, whether that is a sad statement is up to us decide, there will always be cool and not so cool things about being American.

Q: One thing that is American is McDonald's; you mentioned how much you liked that but no longer stop by... why is that?

For me it was a real addiction, it was like crack. I could not imagine driving by one and not stopping by. But now, I just cannot have that. It is like candy, I had these superhuman teeth and stomach that never hurt, so I just ate and ate... but I discovered cigarettes and alcohol...

Q: What's next, crack?

Sex addict; but what good is sex without the cigarette? I'll have that cigarette but I will not have the gratuitous cigarette after jerking off.

Quick fact

Blues Traveler are responsible for the launch of the H.O.R.D.E tour (Horizons Of Rock Developing Everywhere), which is a touring music festival that started out with Rescue Unit, Phish, Spin Doctors, and Widespread Panic on the bill. Blues Traveler can still be found on the list of performers.

Q: As an artist and a fan, what are your thoughts on file sharing?

Legally, Napster should not put someone's work up there to be ripped off, but fact is that people had to move away from songs for the government to get in. My job as a musician is to make a living; I do believe though that Napster is a good promotional tool... Fans like that, maybe they need not the case 20 minutes afterwards, but they do like it when they get a CD. We encouraged fans to bootleg us at our shows, I do believe that fans will buy the music... some will pirate, but the numbers are small, I think that 5% of people pirate, which was how many analog cassettes they were making in relation to CDs. No matter when, you are set up to be ripped off or make a killing, it is up to you to decide how to make a killing... Creed was a band that did that well; we have an audience, how do we tap into it? That is business... figuring out where to tap into it. Napster is not the enemy, it is just there.

Q: What is more important, being creative or being business savvy?

Creative. Business is good to know, the law of the jungle makes you play better, but being creative is the only way to survive. Knowing the business helps you get more; being a businessman is not for me, playing music is what I love to do...

Q: What would you be doing if you were not in music?

A petty thug, I mean, I was raised in legalese, my brother and mother are lawyers. I would have passed on it, done something dumb, and then something like Internet porn (laughs)!

Q: You are a big Dallas Cowboys fan...

Good one! I hate them... I got into the Bulls, so I do not mind dynasties, but I was a Steelers fan... I predicted that the Broncos would win 'cause they have new uniforms... I do not know much about sports, but I do [know] about business... new uniforms, more spending, must mean a championship.

Q: Well John, it sounds like you guys are heading for a championship of your own. Good luck with the new CD, and we'll catch you on the flipside.