Blues Traveler's Bob Sheehan's tongue is planted firmly in cheek.
"It looks like 'plan four' is working," the bass player
The New York band's fourth A&M release - appropriately titled
four - has been their most successful to date, spawning a top 40
hit in the song "Run-Around" and breaking through to a large
mainstream audience, all without alienating their hard-core fan base.
four represents a slight departure from earlier Blues Traveler
albums, not so much musically as in the entire creative process. "We
put a lot more work into these songs," Sheehan says. "Not that
we didn't before. We just placed more emphasis on these songs than we did
on either Save His Soul or Travelers and Thieves."
Guitarist Chan Kinchla provides lots of fat riffs, while vocalist John
Popper injects a large helping of his soulful mouth harp. Bassist Sheehan
and drummer Brendan Hill keep a steady rhythm behind it all. It's a
chemistry that can only come from years of playing together.
Blues Traveler's roots reach back more than a decade, to when the band
first formed. "We were a high school band together in Princeton,
NJ," Sheehan recalls. "When we graduated from high school, we
thought that we would move to New York City and try and play bars there
and see what we could get going."
After years of playing in school gyms, basements and garages, the band
made a jump in 1987. Their enormous live shows, featuring extended
instrumental jams, blues-infused hard rock and incredible amounts of
energy, created a rabid cult following the likes of which you seldom find
in jaded New York. That following soon brought the band to the attention
of legendary rock promoter Bill Graham.
"His son, David, was going to Columbia University, and we were
playing around New York at the time," Sheehan says. "David saw
us and told his dad about us. [Bill] came and checked us out and said that
he would like to manage us." The band signed with Graham, landing a
deal with A&M soon after.
It seems like Blues Traveler has been on the road continuously since their
self-titled debut's 1990 release. A limited-edition version of their
second album, 1990's Travelers and Thieves, features a second
live disc jokingly titled On Tour Forever. Only in this band's
case it's no joke.
"We play 200 or more nights a year," says Sheehan. "One
year I think we even played 265 nights."
For the hard-working band, touring is no drawback. "We love to play
live," Sheehan insists, "It's the best thing in the world."
"The band gained further exposure from its role in the development of
the annual H.O.R.D.E. (Horizons of Rock Developing Everywhere) touring
The H.O.R.D.E. concept was the brainchild of Traveler's frontman, John
Popper. "It's been real successful," Sheehan says. "It's
gained us a lot of new fans and helped to expose a lot of other deserving
Blues Traveler often is mentioned in the same breath as bands like
Widespread Panic, the Dave Matthews Band and Phish. These bands are at the
forefront of a musical revolution that is reviving the live rock show of
old, emphasizing musicianship and songs more than trends or studio
The biggest similarities between all these folks are that they all have
built an audience through constant touring, and they all like to jam.
"Yeah we're lumped in with a lot of other bands," Sheehan says,
"But we share a lot more philosophically than we do musically. We all
like to play, and all those guys are great musicians."