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Blues Travelling in circles
by Jane Stevenson
Toronto Sun, Toronto, ON
Nov 25th, 1997

A conversation with Blues Traveler's singer-harmonica player John Popper and guitarist Chan Kinchla is anything but a straight line.

It's late June in Toronto and the two New Jersey natives are in town ostensibly to talk about the blues-rock quartet's sixth album, Straight On Till Morning, released in July.

The record, which follows on the heels of their 1994 surprise breakthrough, the six-million selling Four, brings the band to the Warehouse tonight.

It seems, however, that Popper and Kinchla would rather talk about bomber Timothy McVeigh, sensationalized killers Paul Bernardo, Karla Homolka, Jeffrey Dahmer, Charles Manson, the death penalty, abortion, Republicans and publicly-funded TV.

And this is just in the first five minutes.

"Let's downshift," Popper finally says.

You just know these two guys - particularly the opinionated Popper, who's pro-legalization, has a major gun collection and is pals with Howard Stern - would have plenty to say about the cocaine bust of Blues Traveler bassist Bob Sheehan in September in Winnipeg, where the band was supposed to open for The Rolling Stones.

But a more recent interview with the band, who were also in Toronto late this summer to make an appearance in the film Blues Brothers 2000, was denied.

Anyway, there really is a lot to talk about with Straight On Till Morning, which was written and rehearsed in drummer Brendan Hill's adopted home of Seattle in May 1996.

"I wanted to call it Those Bastards. I wanted a funny title," says Popper. "Blues Traveler - Those Bastards, hey!"

Kinchla groans: "We didn't really jump on that bandwagon, John."

"I was alone on that one," admits Popper. "But I watched this cool documentary, while we were making the record, about Buffalo Bill Cody and his Wild West show and how the cowboys really did perpetuate their own mythology in order to make money. They were really cowboys and stuff, but they really milked it.

"And I thought that's kind of what rock 'n' roll bands do. I mean there's cool stuff going on, but they sure know how to convert it to mythology. So I was thinking, why not make a title that's conducive to that."

Neither musician would come clean about the new song, "Canadian Rose", in which Popper appears to have fallen for a girl from up north, as he sings, "And she called me her ugly American and I called her my Canadian rose, Especially when the fall comes to Burlington, we were in so close."

Kinchla steps up to the plate with this explanation: "It kind of typifies the symbolic relationship between America and Canada."

When I ask for the straight answer - silly me - Popper says: "We've decided mystery's the better part of valor. This is the first song I've ever written that's not an entirely true story."

Kinchla adds cryptically: "But there very well may be a Canadian rose living in Vancouver."

Besides giving evasive answers, Popper and company are known as much for their love of the road - averaging 250 shows a year - as creating the H.O.R.D.E. Festival in 1992.

This summer, however, Blues Traveler passed on H.O.R.D.E. and gave the top spot to Neil Young and Crazy Horse.

They still own and run the tour. But "After five years of doing it, that became all we had done every summer," says Kinchla.

"We really started to miss our three-hour show," says Popper, who hints they'll be back on the H.O.R.D.E. lineup next year.