John Popper is most famous for his role as frontman of rock band Blues Traveler performing harmonica, guitar and vocals.
He is widely considered a harmonica virtuoso, and is listed by harmonica
manufacturer Hohner as a “Featured Artist”, an accolade reserved for only the best and most successful harmonica players. Growing up, Popper took lessons on the piano, the cello, and the guitar, but none of those instruments appealed to him and he hated being forced to practice. He originally wanted to become a comedian, finding he could use humor to make friends and avoid bullies, but when he and a friend performed a routine as The Blues Brothers, he found that he enjoyed musical performance.
From there, he took up the harmonica. Popper played trumpet in his high school jazz band, but convinced the teacher to let him play harmonica instead, after an in-class solo on the song “She Blinded Me With Science”. Popper and friends created Blues Traveler in the mid-80s and signed a record deal in 1990. The band became known as David Letterman’s favorite band and had hits like “Run-Around” and “Hook,” and later opened for the Rolling Stones. Popper has co-written songs with Trey Anastasio, Warren Haynes, Chris Barron, and Jonny Lang. He also frequently appears as a guest performer with musicians both famous and obscure, from a diverse variety of genres. He has performed with, among others, jam bands Spin Doctors, Dave Matthews Band, and Phish; bluesmen Eric Clapton and B.B. King; singer-songwriters Jason Mraz and John Mayer; saxophonist Karl Denson; San Francisco’s Culann’s Hounds; heavy metal band Metallica; rock trio ZO2 and even with the Hungarian Ambassador to the United States, András Simonyi.
* Virtuoso harmonica player.
* As leader of Blues Traveler, co-wrote the 1994 hits, “Run-Around” and “Hook.”
* Has performed with Dave Matthews, Eric Clapton, B.B. King, Jason Mraz and John Mayer.
Sound Observations with John Popper
By David Moye
After 21 years with Blues Traveler, John Popper is attempting to travel over new territory with his new band, the Duskray Troubadours.
The band’s self-titled debut CD, “John Popper and the Troubadours” hits stores March 1 and he will be testing the waters on the new group at Anthology two days later on March 3.
“We love San Diego,” he said. “We have great fans there.”
Still, while Popper does have fans in town, they are also fans of Blues Traveler and the jam band they’ve been rocking since debuting on the national scene in 1990.
This is a different project so what can fans expect?
“We’re doing songs from the new album as well as songs by guitarists Jono Manson and Aaron Phillips,” Popper said, before cracking wise. “We also did focus groups beforehand suggesting that we throw in one or two Blues Traveler tunes.”
So what can the average Popper fan expect, besides virtuoso harmonica playing? Is this band his Plastic Ono Band? Or is it his Wings?
“Actually, it’s more like Derek and the Dominoes,” Popper said, alluding to the Eric Clapton side project that many fans believe is his best work ever. “Or maybe it’s like Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.
“This is music that is a part of me, but a different side. For instance, Blues Traveler songs tend to have these ringing huge endings. They’re great songs, but this project is about doing the songs they go and so sometimes they might end quietly.”
Although Dylan Thomas might have said, “Do not go gently into that great night,”Popper has found the gentle touch can make for great evenings of music.
“The fans who’ve heard it so far have reacted with surprise and approval and they like hearing something different,” Popper said.
It’s a new band, but not necessarily new relationships. For instance, Popper goes way back with Jono Manson, who produced the album.
“He was the first musician we connected with when Blues Traveler first moved to New York,” Popper said. “We took lessons on the aesthetics of jazz at the New School of Social Research during the day and, at night, we opened for him and learned to sell drinks.”
Popper’s work with the Duskray Troubadours marks the first time he has co-written songs with others.
It is something that is already paying off with his new band.
“Next year is the 25th anniversary of Blues Traveler and last week marked the first time we’ve ever done a songwriting session in earnest. Usually, someone comes in with an idea that is a jumping-off point.”