:: Blues Traveler ::: Fox Theatre :: December 7 ::
By Chibo Acevedo
The Grammy Award winning band Blues Traveler has played all over the world during the last two decades and has repeatedly ripped its audiences faces off with thunderous jams that do not necessarily fall into the three-and-a-half minute-format of pop radio. They have been through as much as any legendary rock and roll band, and continue to seek their own path through all the muck of wannabe hit makers in the pop market.
They have endured the death of original bassist Bobby Sheehan. They have endured and survived motorcycle accidents, major health problems, the yo-yo of public support, and all the bullshit that is the music industry. Through all of this they still stand as one of the present generation’s best and most earnest rock and roll jam-bands, and have maintained their passion for the backbeat, hard-driving, blues-based improvisation that has inspired them ever since the first days that they met in a Princeton, N.J. high school twenty years ago.
Their new album, Cover Yourself, is an interesting conceptual idea in making records. The Marquee recently caught up with the band’s original drummer, Brendan Hill, and got the 411 on Blues Traveler’s present venture.
“We were in a writing session in Austin last January, and Chan brought up the idea of recording and releasing a few acoustic versions of some of our more well known songs. Gina put the word out to our fans, asking for any ideas of songs they wanted to hear new arrangements of, and came back with a list of 15 top choices,” Hill said. (Gina has worked with the band since its inception and is the inspiration behind the Blues Traveler song “Gina.”)
“It was great to have so much support and enthusiasm, so we decided to broaden the project to a full album,” Hill explained. “We chose 11 songs from that list, and went into the studio with Spoon’s drummer and producer Jim Eno. He was brilliant at helping us to make the songs breathe, letting them be different, leading us to an interesting new look at songs we have been playing the same way for years.”
One can hear the freedom and exuberant vibe that comes with the new material on Cover Yourself, which has a few guest performers, namely G. Love and Austin, Texas staple, Charlie Sexton. The renditions of past favorites are freshly recreated to sound almost like different songs entirely. This may get under some fans’ skin, but ask the band why they do what they do and you will find that Blues Traveler has never really catered to any other will than the collective will of the members of the band. This is not to say they don’t respect the people who support them. Cover Yourself is evidence of that respect and consideration, but still, it was Blues Traveler’s decision to ask their fans what they wanted.
Over the past few years, Blues Traveler have been flying somewhat out of range of the mass media frenzy they once knew in the mid- to late-’90s, and now enjoy a more liberated sense of being without the many pressures that come with major labels in the mainstream music industry. Even as they were on top of the charts, they never forgot that their purpose was to make the music they enjoyed playing, and never lost sight of themselves through the haze and warped reality that comes with fame.
“Having a big record was a blessing and a curse for us. Our fan base grew exponentially and we got to play rock stars for a while. Our feet never really left the ground, though, because we had risen through the ranks of hard working touring bands. We had developed a strong family bond with each other, our crew, and our core fans,” Hill said.
In the late ’90s Blues Traveler found itself “successful,” but was saddened watching the crest of the wave in the music industry, as record labels started to die. But the death of those entities mattered little in their world, as one of their own, founding member Bobby Sheenan died in the summer of 1999 from an apparent drug overdose.
Shortly thereafter, their label, A&M, was bought up and bands with long histories were being dropped. “Everyone was scared of Napster, and the entire industry changed to quick sales with no experiments. We just didn’t fit in with that, especially with a brand new line-up and new direction. Bridge sold over 150,000 records, but it wasn’t successful enough. So we went to the indie labels, where there is still a lot of freedom, and began making records for ourselves again. For us, the Four years were an exciting chapter in our lives. We achieved everything a band could dream of: a Grammy award; selling out Madison Square Garden; headlining big venues and making great money; but it was followed by great tragedy and change,” Hill said.
“Now we are building ourselves back to where we were before Four hit. I am very happy to be where we are, creatively satisfied, and we are playing 100 shows a year now to fans who have either just discovered us, or been with us the whole way. That is success to me,” Hill concluded.
:: Blues Traveler :: :: Fox Theatre :: December 7 ::