Biography All Music GuideWikipedia
All Music Guide:
The harmonica virtuoso and rotund frontman for jam band favorites Blues Traveler, singer/harpist John Popper was born in Cleveland, OH, on March 29, 1967. While attending high school in Princeton, NJ, he befriended drummer Brendan Hill; together, the two -- in combination with guitarist Chan Kinchla and bassist Bobby Sheehan -- would go on to form Blues Traveler, earning a fervent grassroots following during the early '90s on the basis of their relentless touring schedule and a sprawling blues-rock sound that aligned them alongside other neo-hippie outfits including Phish, Widespread Panic, and the Spin Doctors. All of the aforementioned joined Blues Traveler in 1992 on the inaugural H.O.R.D.E. (Horizons of Rock Developing Everywhere) tour, which was originally conceived by Popper and band manager Dave Frey and went on to become one of the most successful annual tour packages of the decade.
The group's momentum was derailed in the fall of 1992, however, when Popper was severely injured in a motorcycle accident; returning to the road, he played a number of dates while confined to a wheelchair. Released in 1994, Four was Blues Traveler's mainstream breakthrough, launching a major hit with the single "Run-Around." After completing his 1999 debut solo effort, Zygote, Popper -- who'd been experiencing chest pains for months -- was forced to undergo an angioplasty; the record's eventual release that September was further overshadowed when Blues Traveler bassist Sheehan was found dead in his New Orleans home on August 20. But following his record's release, Popper took his backing band out on the road for the first time through that winter. Still struggling with health problems (and obese for quite a while), Popper underwent gastric bypass surgery the next year, which led to a significant weight loss.
The sixth Blues Traveler album, Bridge, then appeared in May 2001; Truth Be Told followed two years later. When BT decided to take a break at the end of the year (to accommodate Chan Kinchla's growing family), Popper wasn't ready to sit around and so hooked up with bassist Rob Wasserman (of RatDog fame), playing a random show together in San Francisco. Turntablist DJ Logic happened to drop by for that set, and next thing anyone knew, Popper and Logic had formed the John Popper Project together in early 2004. The group, which also includes Blues Traveler bassist Tad Kinchla and Mosaic drummer Marcus Bleeker, went on to tour sporadically in between BT's schedule, eventually releasing their first album together in October 2006.
BT reunited for the 2008 recording North Hollywood Shootout on Verve's Forecast imprint and once more toured heavily in support of it. The last two years of the 21st century's first decade found Popper in demand as a session player, contributing to albums such as John Oates' 1000 Miles of Life, ZO2's Casino Logic, and Lisa Bouchelle's Blue Room with a Red Vase. In 2010 Popper assembled another band called John Popper & the Duskray Troubadours. He described it as "a scrappy roots rock alter ego to Blues Traveler," though they sound directly influenced by the music of the Band. Besides Popper, the group consists of guitarist/producer/keyboardist Jono Manson, bassist Steve Lindsay, drummer Mark Clark, and guitarists Kevin Trainor and Aaron Beavers. They issued their self-titled debut album on 429 Records in early 2011.
John Popper (born March 29, 1967) is an American musician and songwriter.
He 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.
Early life 
John Popper was born in Chardon, Ohio. His father was a Hungarian Jewish immigrant who escaped Budapest in the 1950s. Through him, Popper is related to David Popper, a 19th-century European cellist whose many solo works for the cello are staples of the instrument's repertoire. John's mother and brother are lawyers.
Popper was raised in Stamford, Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey. He attended Davenport Ridge School, Stamford Catholic High School (now Trinity Catholic High School) and Princeton High School (New Jersey). He 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 the Princeton High School Studio Jazz Band, and convinced the teacher to let him play harmonica instead, after an in-class solo on the song "She Blinded Me With Science".
He formed several garage bands with friends in Princeton, New Jersey, one of which evolved into Blues Traveler in 1987. After graduating from high school, the group's members all moved to New York City, where Popper enrolled in The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music along with two of his bandmates and high school friend Chris Barron. Popper attended for three years but devoted himself to the band full-time once they signed a record contract in 1990.
Blues Traveler 
Popper is a founding member of Blues Traveler, serving as the band's front man with lead vocals and harmonica. For some songs, he forgoes the harmonica in favor of guitar, most often a 12-string acoustic. In addition, Popper has played the tin whistle on some recordings.
A prolific songwriter, he has composed the majority of the lyrics and music of Blues Traveler's songs.
The band grew a following with its extensive touring, sometimes with over 300 dates a year, and gained a reputation in the jam band scene of the 1990s. Blues Traveler crossed over into mainstream pop/rock radio success with their 1994 album four, which garnered the group extensive media exposure. The Grammy Award for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal in 1996 was awarded to "Run-Around", a song which Popper composed.
Solo work 
In 1990, Popper began to perform occasional solo concerts in addition to touring with Blues Traveler. Several songs which originated as Popper's solo pieces have become part of Blues Traveler's repertoire, and vice versa.
Bolstered by Blues Traveler's mainstream success, Popper released a solo album, Zygote, in 1999 and toured in support of it with his own John Popper Band. The album was produced by Terry Manning, and the backing band consisted of longtime friends Dave Ares, Crugie Riccio, and Rob Clores of Cycomotogoat, with drummer Carter Beauford of Dave Matthews Band. The album's release came less than three months after his heart surgery, and only days after the death of Bobby Sheehan, Popper's band mate and best friend. The subsequent tour was canceled midway due to poor ticket sales, and Popper instead took the time to focus on his health.
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, Phish and most recently, The Allman Brothers Band in 2009; 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. He sat in with The Smashing Pumpkins on the second day of their acoustic 1997 Bridge School Benefit appearance, contributing harmonica for their song "Porcelina of the Vast Oceans"; Popper's solo garnered major applause from the audience. He also performed with the Grateful Dead at a tribute to Bill Graham in 1991. He was the harmonica player on Hanson's album This Time Around in 2000, for which he performed on "If Only" and "In The City."
Side projects 
In 1992, Popper conceived the HORDE Festival as a venue to gain exposure for up-and-coming independent musicians. It ran until 1998.
Popper was a part of a one-time studio band brought together in 1997 by New York drummer/songwriter Solomon Deniro. Other players included Trey Gunn, Bernie Worrell, Marc Ribot, and Vernon Reid. The group's only recordings were released as the album Gimme Gimme under the name The Devotees. The same recording was re-released by Deniro in 2001 with the title Solomon.
Popper took over in 1998 as front man of jam-band supergroup Frogwings, which released the live album Croakin' at Toad's. Frogwings was mainly active until 2000.
Recently, Popper formed a rock/jazz/hip-hop fusion group The John Popper Project with DJ Logic, which released an album in 2006 and performs occasionally. He also performs on the album Global Noize by Jason Miles and DJ Logic (2008).
Popper's latest side project is "John Popper & the Duskray Troubadours", which plays Americana roots music. The group's self-titled debut from 429 Records was released March 2011 and produced by band member Jono Manson who co-wrote much of the material. The first single, "Something Sweet", written by Manson and Bruce Donnola, was released February 7, 2011 on iTunes.
Acting and media appearances 
Popper had a speaking guest role in an episode of the sitcom Roseanne as a musician similar to himself. Popper appeared on Episode 30 of Space Ghost Coast To Coast as a musical guest. Popper appeared as a guest on the IFC television comedy series Z Rock. He plays a role as himself, and befriends the band ZO2, helping them get a record deal. He also played the Star-Spangled Banner prior to Game 4 of the 1996 World Series.
In film, Popper had a cameo role as a bowling tournament MC in Kingpin and also with Blues Traveler as the Ahmish band singing "But Anyway" at end of movie and an appearance in Howard Stern's Private Parts as himself. Another cameo followed in Blues Brothers 2000, with Blues Traveler appearing on the soundtrack. Popper's first major role was in 2000 in Just for the Time Being, an independent film starring Eva Herzigova.
Popper has provided narration for art projects produced by his friends, including Das Clown, an award-winning short film in slideshow style that was screened at the Sundance Film Festival.
Popper served as host of the third annual Jammy awards in 2002.
He has been a recurring guest on Howard Stern's and Bill Maher's shows and sits in with The CBS Orchestra on the Late Show with David Letterman on occasion. In 2009, he sat in with The Roots on an episode of Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. Popper performed "Something Sweet" with the Duskray Troubadours on the TBS show "Lopez Tonight" on March 1, 2011. He also sat in with the house band for the closing number of the show.
Personal life 
Since the success of Blues Traveler, Popper has lived in various locations, including rural Pennsylvania and New Orleans. He currently has a residence near Snohomish, Washington.
In October 1992 Popper was involved in a traffic accident on a motorcycle while traveling to a studio to record for Blues Traveler's third album. The accident put him in a wheelchair for several months, but Popper continued touring with the band despite the difficulties it created.
In 1999, he suffered a near-fatal heart attack brought on by years of compulsive overeating. (He had been diagnosed with diabetes a few years earlier.) Doctors at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center performed an emergency angioplasty which saved Popper's life: he had 95% arterial blockage. Popper later underwent gastric bypass surgery and lost a significant amount of weight.
Popper has a tattoo across his chest that says, "I WANT TO BE BRAVE", written backwards.
Weapons collecting 
Popper is an avid collector of weaponry, including firearms, swords, and a working $10,000 American Civil War cannon. He cites a fascination with their aesthetic of being "life-savingly efficient" machines. Popper is a supporter of Second Amendment rights, and appeared on an MTV-sponsored roundtable discussion on gun control which included panelists from the Law Enforcement Alliance of America and Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government. He carries weapons in any state where it is allowed, even wearing them onstage. On his Daily Show appearance, he stated that he decided to move away from New Jersey because of the state's tight gun laws. He said that his Bucks County, Pennsylvania property had 32 acres (130,000 m) on which he built a private gun range.
Popper is a member of the Libertarian Party, and has previously expressed support for the Republican Party. He endorsed George W. Bush in the 2004 U.S. presidential election. In November 2008, Popper said, regarding Barack Obama, "this is the first time I've voted for a Democrat, ever." John Popper was a supporter of Ron Paul during the 2012 Presidential election, even participating in phone-banking at Ron Paul's New Hampshire campaign headquarters. He also played a short set during Ron Paul's "P.A.U.L. Festival", an alternative convention for Paul supporters which was held in Tampa the day before the 2012 Republican National Convention.
Popper (with and without Blues Traveler) has played at conventions, fundraisers, and ceremonies for both Republican and Democratic politicians. He has stated that politics do not influence his choice of performance setting.
Popper has said, "I was a bleeding-heart liberal, until I got a job" and describes himself as "a libertarian who is a Republican when pushed". Popper summed up his political position by saying "I believe in freedom for markets and freedom for individuals, so I guess that makes me a libertarian".
Popper has toured with the USO, both with Blues Traveler and solo. In the mid-2000s, he toured the Middle East, performing with the Band of the Air Force Reserve and Jamie O'Neal at various military camps.
He has appeared with Rock the Vote and recorded "The Preamble" for the Schoolhouse Rocks the Vote! album.
Popper was raised Catholic, and for a time attended Stamford Catholic High School in Connecticut. However, he does not actively practice in his adult life. He has described himself as a "recovering Catholic". The song "Trina Magna" was written as an exploration of his religious views.
Legal trouble 
In 2003, Popper was arrested for possession of marijuana. Popper was arrested again on March 6, 2007 near Ritzville, Washington by the Washington State Patrol. He was the passenger in his own vehicle, which was stopped for speeding, and was found to be in the possession of a small amount of marijuana and weapons. Popper was released the same night. The vehicle had a stash of hidden compartments which contained four rifles, nine handguns, a switchblade knife, a Taser, a set of brass knuckles, and night vision goggles. The vehicle was temporarily seized.
No charges were filed for the weapons, as they were all registered and securely locked away, and Popper was licensed to carry them, with the exception of the brass knuckles and switchblade knife which Popper agreed to surrender. A deal was reached that allowed the marijuana charge to be dropped if Popper remained free of further drug infractions for one year and attended eight hours of drug counseling. Popper and the driver had been driving back to Washington from Austin, Texas, and Popper likes to visit gun ranges during long trips.
John Popper has expressed a preference for the Hohner Special 20 brand blues harp, calling them "the Porsche of harmonicas".
Popper uses Shure microphones and Mesa Boogie amplifiers, similar to bandmate Chan Kinchla. He also uses D'Addario strings.
Trademark equipment 
Popper has developed some equipment innovations to accommodate his use of harmonicas during onstage performances. Because each individual diatonic harmonica is tuned to one particular key, he fashioned belts with enough pockets to hold harmonicas in all 12 keys (plus extras) and wore them as a bandolier, or slung over his neck. He frequently has to switch keys multiple times within one song, and this arrangement allowed him to quickly trade one harmonica for another without looking. In 2002, he stopped using the belts because they no longer fit him properly due to his weight loss; now he carries his harmonicas in a small black attaché case. He uses a special microphone with switches that change the audio effect of the harmonica as it is played through an amplifier, similar to a guitar effects pedal. Popper was inspired by Jimi Hendrix's guitar playing to make his instrument sound however he wanted. He has also fashioned a number of floppy-brimmed hats with flattened harmonica plates on the band, which he almost always wears during appearances with Blues Traveler.
Discography, performances and appearances 
SoloZygote (1999)Go Outside and Drive (The Vestal Version) single (1999)
with Blues TravelerSee Blues Traveler discography
with The DevoteesGimme Gimme (1997)
with FrogwingsCroakin' at Toad's (1999)
with The John Popper ProjectThe John Popper Project with DJ Logic (2006)
with The Duskray TroubadoursJohn Popper & the Duskray Troubadours (2011)Something Sweet single (2011)