One of the greatest harmonica players in rock, John Popper formed his band, Blues Traveler, along with his high school friends Bobby Sheehan (bass), Chan Kinchla (guitar) and Brendan Hill (drums), in the late 80s, in New York City. They released their eponymous debut album in 1990 and hit the charts with 1994’s “Four.” Meanwhile, Popper started to appear as a cameo in several films: the Farrelly Brothers’ “Kingpin” (1996) (which included a Blues Traveler performance at the end), Howard Stern’s “Private Parts” (1997) and “Blues Brothers 2000” (1998). The year 2000 was a tragic one for the band. Popper had to canceled some tour dates due to some hard pain in his chest. Then, later that year, bassist Bobby Sheehan died of a heroin overdose. That same year marked Popper first actual role in movies. He acted in the indie film, “Just for the Time Being” (2000), with supermodel Eva Herzigova. He also released his first solo album in 2000, “Zygote.” After all that, he went through a gastric surgery to reduce his weight and Blues Traveler rejoined forces with two new members, and released the album “Bridge,” a new beginning for the band.
In 1990, Popper began to perform occasional solo concerts in addition to touring with Blues Traveler. Several songs that 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.”