Multi-plantinum-selling act Blues Traveler may have blues in their name, but their music is by no means imprisoned by that genre’s 12 bars. On the band’s sixth album, Straight On Till Morning, BT continues to use the blues as a jumping-off point for eclectic, pop-oriented extrapolations, while reining in a propensity for interminable jamming. Herewith, beefy frontman John Popper, a heavyweight among latter-day harmonica stylists, sets his instrument aside long enough to chew the fat with EW.
1. What would a collaboration between Blues Traveler and the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion sound like? It would be loud and it would be good, full of all kinds of jams. In fact, I think that’s a great idea.
2. Do women generally give you the runaround? Boy, you ask the painful ones, don’t you? I never learned the subtle art of flirtation, so women tend to think I’m not interested when I’m actually desperately interested. Now that I’m famous, they think I’m acting cool, but really I’m just so much of a dork that I can’t relate to them in an impressive way.
3. Where were you when you heard Paul Butterfield died? God, it was years after he died. I was in New York raving about him to somebody and they told me he was dead. It really bummed me out.
4. If you weren’t a musician what would you be doing? Before I got into music I was going to be a mercenary. Then I realized you had to kill people to do that. But if it wasn’t a musician, I think I would definitely be in jail for petty thug stuff — selling cigarettes that didn’t have a stamp on them or something.
5. What’s the average life span of one of your harmonicas? Between 7 and 11 days, but I can burn one out in one gig.
6. Do you realize you sometimes sound like Cat Stevens? I’ve always tried to sound like him on the ballads. I heard a lot of Cat Stevens when I was a kid and, subliminally, I guess it had an effect.
7. Can blue men sing the whites? Blue men can sing the whites, they can sing the blacks, they can even sing the grays…but they shouldn’t.
8. Do you ever run out of breath when you’re playing? All the time. I’ve even vomited in my harp. The thing you’ve gotta do then is just suck it up, chunks and all, and keep playing.
9. Which desert island disc would you pick: Canned Heat’s Future Blues or Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica? I think the Beefheart. When you’re having that Lord of the Flies moment with whoever you’re there with and start chasing them around with a big ax or something, that would be perfect.
10. Do you let other people play your harmonicas? If I feel like they’re healthy enough, absolutely. I can’t believe anyone would want to play my harps, though; God knows what diseases I have.