Think rock stars don't appreciate how good they have it? Blues
Traveler lead singer John Popper is thankful just to be walking
On Halloween 1992, Popper was riding his worn-out motorcycle to
the studio to continue recording the blues-inflected quartet's
third A&M album, "Save His Soul." Going 70 mph, he
saw a car ahead of him had stopped; he felt he couldn't stop
safely enough so he decided to pass the car, then the car turned
The heralded blues harp player suffered a severely broken leg,
confining him to a wheelchair for more than a year. It didn't
deter him from touring, but it did become an enlightening
"The next thing I'm getting is a car," the New York
native says, with a laugh. "I'm going to get back on a bike
some day, but I'm thinking probably when I retire because I have
too many people depending on me, and I learned that lesson the
The way he sees it, the accident taught him three things.
"To appreciate what I had, what I still have and,"
Popper says, "it taught me a huge lesson in patience.
"My cousin's spent most of his life in a wheelchair. He slid
down a slide head first and broke his neck when he was 17. He's
41 now. He functions; he's getting married and plays an active
role in politics.
"He lives every day with this. I mean, I did it for a year
and was going out of my mind."
Popper also saw firsthand how the disabled are treated.
"What it is really, the handicapped are expected to stay at
home," he says. "Wheelchair access is all well and
good, but there are so many things that keep you from going
outside. You can't really go anywhere unless you have people to
wrangle you or have some specially developed car. You're supposed
to stay at home, but I went and toured for a year. It was
Being in a wheelchair didn't limit his performance, Popper says.
In fact, not having to stand up increased his wind for the
harmonica, allowing him better stamina.
Earlier this month, Popper and his bandmates - guitarist Chan
Kinchla, bassist Bobby Sheehan and drummer Brendan Hill - timed
the beginning of their current U.S. tour with the day Popper's
doctor said he could walk again.
"We were worried that we hadn't toured in a while and that
people would start to forget about us," Popper says.
Since the tour began three weeks ago, the group's audiences have
more than doubled, from an average draw of 2,000 last year to
about 4,500 a show now.
After the spring dates, Blues Traveler will lead the third annual
H.O.R.D.E. Festival, with the Allman Brothers Band, Big Head Todd
& The Monsters and others. The tour kicks off July 14 in
Cleveland and runs for eight weeks.
Blues Traveler has also finished up its fourth, still-untitled
album, tentatively due Aug. 23. Popper guarantees that fans of
the jam-induced band won't be disappointed.
"I would say this is the first album where we were receptive
to a producer, where we were able to utilize a producer's talent,
and it's also the first time where the producers kind of got what
we're about," he says of Mike Barbiero and Steve Thompson,
who mixed last year's Save His Soul."
"This record, I think, really captures our live energy. I
really think it's going to be the best one we've done."