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John Popper

Background information
Birth name John Popper
Born March 29, 1967 (1967-03-29) (age 42)
Origin Cleveland, Ohio
Genres Blues rock, Alternative rock, Jam band
Instruments Vocals, harmonica, guitar
Years active 1987–present
Labels A&M, Relix
Associated acts Blues Traveler

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 Cleveland, Ohio. His father was a Hungarian immigrant who escaped Budapest in the 1950s.[1] Through him, Popper is related to David Popper, a nineteenth-century European cellist.[2]

Popper was raised in 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.[3][4]

He originally wanted to become a comedian, finding he could use humor to make friends and avoid bullies,[5] 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".[3]

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 Social Research. Popper attended for three years but devoted himself to the band full-time once they signed a record contract in 1990.[3]


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. 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 backing band consisted of 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.[6]

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. 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.

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.[7] The same recording was re-released by Deniro in 2001 with the title Solomon.[8]

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).

Acting and media appearances

Popper had a speaking guest role in an episode of the sitcom Roseanne as a musician similar to himself. He has also had a cameo role as a bowling tournament MC in Kingpin and an appearance in Howard Stern's Private Parts. Popper's first major role was in 2000 in Just for the Time Being, an independent film starring Eva Herzigova. Popper reunited with John Goodman when he made a cameo appearance in the film "Blues Brothers 2000", in which Goodman starred.

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.[9]

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 appeared as a guest on the IFC television comedy series Z Rock. He plays a role as himself, and befriends the band ZO2. He likes their music and decides to help them get a record deal.

Personal life

Since the success of Blues Traveler, Popper has lived in various locations, including Pennsylvania and New Orleans. He currently resides 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-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[10] performed an emergency angioplasty which saved Popper's life: he had 95% arterial blockage.[11] Popper later underwent gastric bypass surgery and lost a significant amount of weight.[12]

Popper has a tattoo across his chest that says, "I WANT TO BE BRAVE", written backwards.[5][13] He also occasionally wears glasses.

Popper has never been married.

Weapons collecting

Popper is an avid collector of weaponry, including firearms, swords, and a working $10,000 American Civil War cannon.[14][15] He cites a fascination with their aesthetic of being "life-savingly efficient" machines.[16][17] 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.[18] He carries weapons in any state where it is allowed, even wearing them onstage.[19] 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 m2) on which he built a private gun range.


Popper is a member of the Libertarian Party,[20] and has previously expressed support for the Republican Party.[21] He endorsed George W. Bush in the 2004 U.S. presidential election.[22] Popper (with and without Blues Traveler) has played at conventions, fundraisers, and ceremonies for both Republican and Democratic politicians.[23] 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"[23] and describes himself as "a libertarian who is a Republican when pushed".[16] 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".[16]

Popper has toured with the USO, both with Blues Traveler and solo.[13] His most recent tour was in 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.

In November 2008, Popper said, regarding Barack Obama, "this is the first time I've voted for a Democrat, ever."[24]


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. [25]

Legal trouble

In 2003, Popper was arrested for possession of marijuana.[26]

Popper was also arrested on March 6, 2007 near Ritzville, Washington by the Washington State Patrol.[27] 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. Officers also recovered a small amount of marijuana and a marijuana pipe. The vehicle was temporarily seized.[28][29]

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.[30] Popper and the driver had been driving back to Washington from Austin, Texas, and Popper likes to visit gun ranges during long trips.[31]


John Popper has expressed a preference for the Hohner Special 20 brand blues harp, calling them "the Porsche of harmonicas".[32]

Popper uses Shure microphones and Mesa Boogie amplifiers, a setup nearly identical to what Blues Traveler guitarist Chan Kinchla uses himself; Popper noted in an interview that "I just asked Chan what he used".[citation needed] He also uses D'Addario strings.

Trademark equipment

Popper has developed some equipment innovations to accommodate his use of harmonica during onstage performance: Because diatonic harmonicas are tuned to one particular key, he has fashioned belts (worn as suspenders) with enough pockets to hold an entire set of harmonicas in 12 different keys, plus extras. This allowed Popper to change keys during a performance quickly without looking; he often exchanges harmonicas multiple times within one song. After his weight loss, it no longer fit Popper, so he gave it up in 2002. He now carries harmonicas in a small black attache case.

Popper has also rigged a special microphone with switches that change the audio effect of the harmonica as it is played through an amplifier. This is similar to a guitar effects pedal.

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



Zygote (1999)

with Blues Traveler

See Blues Traveler discography

with The Devotees

Gimme Gimme (1997)

with Frogwings

Croakin' at Toad's (1999)

with The John Popper Project

The John Popper Project with DJ Logic (2006)

Featured music appearances

Guest music appearances

Year Role Song Artist Album Notes
1989 Harmonica "Just One of Those Things" Gutterboy Gutterboy
"Growing Up Under the RR" Extra track on 1992 re-release
1991 Harmonica "More Than She Knows" Spin Doctors Pocket Full of Kryptonite Album reached #3 on Billboard 200
Backing vocals and 'Inspiration' "Two Princes" Reached #1 on Mainstream Rock; #7 on the Hot 100
Harmonica "Off My Line"
1992 Harmonica "You Can Leave Your Hat On" Merl Saunders Save the Planet so We'll Have Someplace to Boogie Randy Newman cover
"My Problems Got Problems"
1993 Harmonica "I Lost My Mule in Texas" Aquarium Rescue Unit Mirrors of Embarrassment
Harmonica "Built for Comfort" Merl Saunders It's In The Air
1994 Harmonica "What Would You Say" Dave Matthews Band Under the Table and Dreaming Reached #9 Top 40 Mainstream; #11 Modern Rock Tracks
Harmonica "Louisiana Blues" Foghat Return of the Boogie Men
Harmonica "Communication Breakdown" Jeff Healey Cover to Cover Led Zeppelin cover
1995 Harmonica "Mule" Gov't Mule Gov't Mule
1996 Harmonica and Vocal duet "Today I Started Loving You Again" Dolly Parton Treasures Merle Haggard cover
1997 Harmonica "Feather" God Street Wine God Street Wine
"She Comes Up Softly"
1998 Harmonica "Tuesday's Gone" James Hetfield
Pepper Keenan
Jerry Cantrell
Sean Kinney
"Big" Jim Martin
Gary Rossington
Les Claypool
Garage Inc. by Metallica Live Lynyrd Skynyrd cover; album reached #2 on The Billboard 200 and #3 on Top Canadian Albums
1999 Harmonica "She Caught the Katy" Taj Mahal Blues Light Boogie
Harmonica "On the Other Side" Leftover Salmon The Nashville Sessions
Harmonica "Leave Me Alone" Tino Gonzales Two Sides of a Heart
Harmonica "Twine Time"
2000 Harmonica "If Only" Hanson This Time Around Album reached #19 on The Billboard 200
"In The City"
Harmonica "Diana" God Street Wine The Last of the Wine
Harmonica "Scarred But Smarter" Kevn Kinney The Flower and The Knife
2001 Harmonica "I'm Gonna Move to the Outskirts of Town" Chico Hamilton Foreststorn
2002 Harmonica "Country Love" Cee-Lo Cee-Lo Green and His Perfect Imperfections
Harmonica "Our Greatest Year" Bad Astronaut Houston: We Have a Drinking Problem
2003 Harmonica and vocals "I Saw a Bird Fly Away" Dar Williams The Beauty of the Rain
2004 Harmonica "Curbside Prophet" Jason Mraz Tonight, Not Again Live; album reached #49 on The Billboard 200 and Top Internet Albums
"Too Much Food"
Harmonica and vocals "Invisible" Buddahead Crossing the Invisible Line
2005 Harmonica Tom "Bones" Malone Soul Bones
2007 Harmonica "Tequila Mockingbird" Stolen Ogre Tequila Mockingbird EP
2008 Harmonica "The Souk" Global Noize Global Noize
Harmonica "Purifier" Live Live at the Paradiso - Amsterdam

Television appearances

Other appearances

Notes and references

  1. ^ Blues Traveler brings part of U.S. to Pacific forces Cindy York. Air Force Print News. January 19th, 1999
  2. ^ John Popper interview Toni Brown.
  3. ^ a b c "Blues Traveler Biography". Retrieved 2007-10-15. 
  4. ^ "Stamford on stage". Retrieved 2008-06-20. 
  5. ^ a b "Blues Traveler's Harmonica Guru". John Popper Interview. The Austin Daze. Retrieved 2007-10-15. 
  6. ^ "Blues Traveler". Rock On the Net. Retrieved 2007-10-15. 
  7. ^ Cole, Samuel (Summer 1998). "CD Reviews". Good Citizen magazine, Issue 9. Big Heavy World. Retrieved 2007-10-16. 
  8. ^ "Pop & Rock Reviews, March-April 2001". CD Reviews Archive. April 2001. Retrieved 2007-10-16. 
  9. ^ John Popper, Others, All Over Sundance Craig Rosen. Yahoo! Music.
  10. ^ - Info
  11. ^ Skanse, Richard. "Popper's Inferno", Rolling Stone, 7 September 1999.
  12. ^ ""Hollywood's Obsession with Weight" transcript". Showbiz Tonight. December 29, 2005. Retrieved 2007-10-16. 
  13. ^ a b Schatz, Robin (January 10, 2005). "Blues Traveler's Popper Talks About Air Force, Tattoo". Bloomberg. Media Archive. Retrieved 2007-10-15. 
  14. ^ Schlussel, Debbie (December 15, 2005). "Hypocrite Celebs". FrontPage Magazine. Retrieved 2007-10-16. 
  15. ^ "50 Dumbest Rock-Star Extravagances". Blender Magazine. December 2005. Retrieved 2007-10-16. 
  16. ^ a b c "John Popper - Libertarian". Celebrities. Advocates for Self-Government. Retrieved 2007-10-16. 
  17. ^ Dave, DiMartino (1997-10-10). "Blues Traveler Talks Straight On Till Morning". LAUNCH interviews. Yahoo! Music. Retrieved 2007-10-16. 
  18. ^ Elber, Lynn (May 25, 1999). "MTV Continues Anti-Violence Effort". Associated Press. re-published at 
  19. ^ Malkin, Ryan (07-20-98). "BNL steals show at H.O.R.D.E.". The Michigan Daily. Retrieved 2007-10-16. 
  20. ^ Music News - John Popper: Ready for the apocalypse
  21. ^ Bleyer, Jennifer (September 6, 2004). "Party Person". New York Magazine. Retrieved 2007-10-16. 
  22. ^ Appleman, Eric M. (2004). "National Endorsements". Democracy in Action. George Washington University. Retrieved 2007-10-16. 
  23. ^ a b "7-10-2000 news". 2000-07-10. Retrieved 2007-10-16. 
  24. ^ The Adam Carolla Show November 12 2008.
  25. ^ "FAQ: BT Lore". Retrieved 2007-10-15. 
  26. ^ Mug shot of Popper
  27. ^ Associated Press. "Singer Busted With Arsenal Of Weapons In Car", 8 March 2007.
  28. ^ Geranios, Nicholas K. "Manager says Blues Traveler's Popper legally had weapons", Associated Press. 9 March 2007.
  29. ^ "Blues Traveler rocker arrested on gun, drug charges", The Times of Trenton, 9 March 2007.
  30. ^ "Blues Traveler's Popper Settles Pot Case". The Huffington Post. July 12, 2007. Retrieved 2007-10-16. 
  31. ^ "Singer John Popper arrested with weapons, drugs". Reuters. March 8, 2007. Retrieved 2007-10-16. 
  32. ^ Rutman, Misha (May 1995, 2003(v2)). "Question 10.1". Frequently Asked Questions. Retrieved 2007-10-16. 

External links

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