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Blues Traveler set to jam in the sun
by Joe Warminsky
The Collegian, State College, PA
Apr 23rd, 1993

Blues Traveler set to jam in the sun By JOE WARMINSKY Collegian Arts Writer

Blues Traveler has had one of those good luck/bad luck kind of years.

While recording the band's latest album, Save His Soul, singer/harmonica player John Popper was in a serious motorcycle accident, which has left him temporarily in a wheelchair.

But Save His Soul has been selling well nationally, and the band has experienced a rise in popularity along with other "jam" bands like Phish and the Spin Doctors.

Bassist Bobby Sheehan doesn't mind being lumped in with those sons of the Grateful Dead, but he believes the comparisons are a little awkward.

"I think there are some similarities in philosophy but not in sound," he said. "We're alike in that we are out just to have fun and do some improvising, but we all sound nothing alike."

The 19th Annual Beta Sigma Beta Sy Barash Regatta on Sunday will be the band's first outdoor show of the year. Rich Bundy, regatta co-chairman, said the band selection committee was looking for someone a little newer to play the event, especially after the previous two years, which featured REO Speedwagon and .38 Special.

"Getting Blues Traveler was kind of like a cross between looking for a college band and taking what was given to us," he said.

Sheehan said the band avoids pigeonholing itself into one label.

"We play colleges just because they're a cool place to play," he said. "We're just a rock band."

Popper's image as one of the premier rock harmonica players ever has given the band a distinctive sound, one based on talent rather than gimmicks, but Sheehan said the band has no problem taking a back seat sometimes.

"It doesn't bother me at all. We're a very equal band," he said.

But one local harmonica player finds Popper's presence on the blues scene somewhat annoying. Nick Conrad of Bob Hideycat & The Groovy Boots said that people often try to find comparisons between Popper's playing and his.

"I really dislike his playing -- it's too many notes," Conrad said. "It's frustrating that a lot of people just know him... they don't know anything about greats like Little Walter or Sonny Boy Williamson."

But whatever Blues Traveler's stance in the blues community (they have played the Memphis Blues Festival the past two years), their cohesiveness has given them the ability to prosper musically. All of the band members write music and lyrics and have grown up together since their early days in Princeton, NJ.

A move to New York City was inevitable, where they became favorites of David Letterman and got an early chance to strut their stuff on TV. Unlike other acts, Letterman spares them some of his biting commentary.

"We've been on the show four or five times," Sheehan said. "He listens to us and likes our music."