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Blues Traveler Alive With Album Number Five
by Pete Chakerian
Cleveland Scene, Cleveland, OH
Oct 30th, 1997

"We were invited by their management while we were over in Europe," begins Blues Traveler drummer Brendan Hill, calling SCENE from a half-day layover in Princeton, New Jersey last week. "I don't know how much the decision to have us on the tour was [the Rolling Stones'] to make, but they were really wonderful guys and we had a great time.

"They had never seen us before live, so it was a real trip to have them out there catching a few of our shows, too. That whole Stones experience was really an honor and a privilege," he adds, "not to mention an eye-opener. To see a band that's been around as long as they have and still selling out stadiums full of people, that was really an incredible thing."

"We felt very honored to make their 'A' list for the tour, like Dave Matthews, Sheryl Crow and some of the others did. And we got to do 45 minutes for a good segment of the tour, which was really great. But I will say that it's better that we weren't on the 'A' list for the whole tour," Hill offers matter-of-factly. "We really do need to do our own thing to stay alive."

That work ethic should come as no surprise to fans of the decade-old, blues-rock outfit from New York City. Blues Traveler's calling card has always been to let the wind carry them where it may.

Centered around harpist extraordinaire John Popper, Blues Traveler helped to bring back the extended jams of the late '60s and early '70s with a blistering blend of metropolitan folklore and fantasy and true grit. With the likes of Hill, guitarist Chan Kinchla and bassist Bob Sheehan - and the strength of 1990's Blues Traveler and 1991's Travelers & Thieves, Popper has helped to re-define rock's spicy, blues-tinged standard.

Just the same, after a successful stint with the Stones' Bridges to Babylon tour, Hill and company are ready to take control of their own headlining tour again - one that brings Blues Traveler to the Akron Civic this Monday, November 3. Offering up two sets and nearly three hours of material, this latest leg of the tour that never ends is a moment that couldn't have happened too soon according to Hill.

"We're actually looking forward to getting back to our own new tour," agrees Hill. "Touring is still a blast. It's like summer camp for us and a surprise party for the crowd. It always will be. Playing live is our bread and butter and it's very hard to get tired of. Some of the fans can be fickle and thrown off by the success that we've had with four. And others will come and go with that success. But most of our hardcore fans know that we love to play live and we won't disappoint them. And that's why it's so much more fun to have more time on stage."

Ask Hill if he would've sounded as anxious a year ago and you might have had a different story all together. After an automobile accident nearly left Popper immobilized during the Save His Soul tour, the never-ending promotion and touring behind the multi-platinum breakthrough four and the coloring in of the last North American conquests (see the tour map in the two-disc set Live From The Fall's liners) the last thing any of the band members wanted to do was toil - on stage, in the studio or otherwise. Obviously, a glance at the Blues Traveler Wellness Kit advised "Take two months and call back in the morning."

"There was a certain degree of pressure to put out another big album," Hill volunteers, "but we chose to put out Live From The Fall instead - to sort of give us some breathing room, alleviate that pressure, thank all of our fans who have been there from the beginning and to remind us how we got ourselves here. We really needed that time on the ground, because it helped us to make Straight On Till Morning a really great album.

"We also definitely needed a little time off to just recharge, and we did take a good couple of months to regroup. Then we started rehearsing in January, recording in February and before you knew it, we were playing at Red Rocks [Colorado] with the new album ready to go... We will more than likely take a few more months off this winter. Chan and his wife are expecting a baby in mid-December, and we'll probably break then so he can spend time with the baby, changing diapers and all that good stuff. But not before we hit the road for a while."

Hill sees that everything has happened for Blues Traveler at just the right time - from the album placement and degree of success, right down to their material generation and devoutly zealous fanbase. He looks for the trend to continue, given the strong fan reaction to Morning's strongest material . but not without grounding the success with a certain degree of realism.

"If four had been an earlier album of ours and had sold like it had, I don't think we would have had the bond we have with ourselves and with our fans. And who really knows where we'd be then, you know?" he asks. "Probably nowhere. Instead, we had the opportunity to sit down in rehearsal and write 25-30 different songs for Straight On Till Morning, just to get them up and running and get a feel for them.

"By recording time, everything seemed so natural that tunes like 'Business As Usual' and 'Make My Way' really came together. And so did 'Felicia,' though I feel it's considerably different. We all felt really comfortable making this album. But then again, we've always felt comfortable in uncomfortable situations."

Like choosing Europe over another headlining stint on Popper's touring brainchild, H.O.R.D.E.? "We might do that again," Hill counters. "It's still a prestigious thing. With the H.O.R.D.E., we didn't do it this time because we wanted to expand our horizons. We did a six-week tour of Europe - which included the Montreux Jazz Festival - after Red Rocks instead.

"We had done Montreux a long time ago, but this time we did a sold out show in the big room. We all felt like we made real progress in Europe, and we still had time to do three dates on the H.O.R.D.E. after we came back." Did it feel any different? "You bet," he finalizes. "It was like seeing an old girlfriend again. You begin to miss her."