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Blues Traveler
by Rev. Keith A. Gordon
Z100 Jingle Ball, New York, NY
Dec 1st, 1995

Blues Traveler's Bob Sheehan's tongue is planted firmly in cheek. "It looks like 'plan four' is working," the bass player says.

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 road show.

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 artists."

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 gadgetry.

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."