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.
- 1 Early life
- 2 Career
- 3 Acting and media appearances
- 4 Personal life
- 5 Equipment
- 6 Discography, performances and appearances
- 7 Notes and references
- 8 External links
John Popper was born in Chardon, Ohio. His father was a Hungarian immigrant who escaped Budapest in 1948. 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. 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.
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 that Popper composed.
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."
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.
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 Amish 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 and Popper also recording Buster Blues' (J. Evan Bonifant) harmonica parts for the film. Popper's first major role was in 2000 in Just for the Time Being, an independent film starring Eva Herzigova.
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.
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 where he lives with his wife Jordan. On November 23, 2015, the couple welcomed their first child, a daughter, Eloise Ann.
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 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 (13 ha) 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 "We are the Future Rally", 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.
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.
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". Since 2015 he uses mainly his own signature harmonicas manufactured by Fender. Popper uses Shure microphones and Mesa Boogie amplifiers, similar to bandmate Chan Kinchla. He also uses D'Addario strings.
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 fashioned a number of floppy-brimmed hats with flattened harmonica cover plates on the band, which he almost always wears during appearances with Blues Traveler.
Discography, performances and appearances
- Zygote (1999)
- Go Outside and Drive (The Vestal Version) single (1999)
with Blues Traveler
with The Devotees
- Gimme Gimme (1997)
- Croakin' at Toad's (1999)
- The John Popper Project with DJ Logic (2006)
with The Duskray Troubadours
- John Popper & the Duskray Troubadours (2011)
- Something Sweet single (2011)
Featured music appearances
- "Northbound Train" from Broadway musical soundtrack The Civil War: The Complete Work
- Duet with Eric Clapton on "Christmas Blues" from A Very Special Christmas Live
- Duet with BB King on "Back Door Santa" from A Very Special Christmas Vol. 5
- Solo instrumental track "Harmonica Musings" from the soundtrack of Blues Brothers 2000
- Harmonica solos of character Buster Blues in the Blues Brothers 2000 film
- "Regarding Steven" from the 2000 compilation VH1 Storytellers Live
- "Alone" from Warren Haynes Presents: The Benefit Concert, Volume 2
- "Devil Got My Woman", "Alone", and "Sign on the Door" from Warren Haynes Presents: The Benefit Concert, Volume 3"
- "The Preamble" from Schoolhouse Rocks The Vote!
Guest music appearances
|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"||Col. Bruce Hampton and The Aquarium Rescue Unit||Mirrors of Embarrassment|
|Harmonica||"Built for Comfort"||Merl Saunders||It's in the Air|
|Harmonica||"I Was Made to Love Her"||Paul Shaffer and the Party Boys of Rock 'n' Roll||The World's Most Dangerous Party||Stevie Wonder cover|
|"Middle of the Road"||The Pretenders cover|
|Harmonica and vocals (background and duet)||"Sip of Your Wine"||The Hatters||LIVE Thunderchicken||studio recording|
|1994||Madcap Adventures of the Avocado Overlord|
|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"|
|Harmonica||"Walk not Run"||Solomon Deniro||Dot Calm, Not Calm||RE first released in 1997|
"Big" Jim Martin
|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||Blue Light Boogie||live|
|Harmonica||"On the Other Side"||Leftover Salmon||The Nashville Sessions|
|Harmonica||"Leave Me Alone"||Tino Gonzales||Two Sides of a Heart|
|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 Green||Cee-Lo Green and His Perfect Imperfections|
|Harmonica||"Our Greatest Year"||Bad Astronaut||Houston: We Have a Drinking Problem|
|Harmonica||"On the Run"||Todd Wolfe||Wolfe|
|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|
|Harmonica||"Stranger Blues"||Wolfe||Delaware Crossing|
|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||studio recording|
|Harmonica||"Ghost Town"||John Oates||1000 Miles of Life|
|2009||Background vocals||"No Way Out"||ZO2||Casino Logic|
|2010||Harmonica||"Only the Tequila Talkin'"||Lisa Bouchelle||Blue Room with a Red Vase|
|Harmonica||"Last to Know"||Ron Noyes Band||Dust Bowl Diary|
|Harmonica||"There Ya Go"||Beats Antique||Blind Threshold|
|2011||Harmonica||"Burn that Bridge When We Get To It"||Joey Cape||Lagwagon's Let's Talk About Feelings reissue bonus disc||acoustic; originally recorded for Acoustic (2004)|
|2012||Harmonica||"Closer I Get"||Rebelution||Peace of Mind|
|2015||Harmonica||"What Would You Say"||Dave Matthews Band||Live; DTE Energy Music Theatre Clarkston, MI||Electric Set; Reprise of the original recording from Under the Table and Dreaming (1994)|
- Popper performed a duet with Dolly Parton on her Treasures television special in 1997
- Appeared on a 1996 episode of the Late Show with David Letterman to surprise Manny the Hippie with a harmonica duel
- Appeared as a guest on an episode of the Cartoon Network comedy talk show Space Ghost Coast to Coast
- Had speaking lines on an episode (#9509 "Of Mice and Dan") of the sitcom Roseanne as character Stingray Wilson, a musician similar to Popper himself (Popper later wrote lyrics for the show's bluesy theme song, which was performed by Blues Traveler in the final season of the show.)
- An animated clay caricature of Popper fought a match in the MTV series Celebrity Deathmatch, defeating singer Fiona Apple.
- Popper appeared on Penn and Teller's Sin City Spectacular, playing harmonica during a card trick performance
- Was a guest on Comedy Central's The Daily Show in 2003 promoting Blues Traveler's album Truth Be Told
- Was a celebrity coach in the final round of America's Got Talent
- Popper has played his Jimi Hendrix-inspired harmonica rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" at National Basketball Association, National Football League and Major League Baseball games, including the World Series (Game 4 of the 1996 World Series at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia).
Notes and references
- "WTF with Marc Maron Podcast – Episode 346 – Blues Traveler". Wtfpod.com. December 24, 2012. Retrieved 2013-07-23.
- Blues Traveler brings part of U.S. to Pacific forces Cindy York. Air Force Print News. January 19, 1999
- John Popper interview Toni Brown.
- Truth Be Told by Eric Ward Glide Magazine, Aug 25th, 2003. archived by BluesTraveler.net
- "Blues Traveler Biography". Sing365.com. Retrieved 2007-10-15.
- "Stamford on stage". StamfordAdvocate.com. Retrieved 2008-06-20.[dead link]
- "Blues Traveler's Harmonica Guru". John Popper Interview. The Austin Daze. Retrieved 2007-10-15.
- Ragogna, Mike (March 1, 2011). "The Patagonia Music Collective Launches – Plus a Conversation With John Popper". Huffington Post. Accessed July 2013.
- "Blues Traveler". Rock on the Net. Retrieved 2007-10-15.
- Cole, Samuel (Summer 1998). "CD Reviews". Good Citizen magazine, Issue 9. Big Heavy World. Retrieved 2007-10-16.
- "Pop & Rock Reviews, March–April 2001". CD Reviews Archive. MWE3.com. April 2001. Retrieved 2007-10-16.
- John Popper, Others, All Over Sundance Craig Rosen. Yahoo! Music.
- BluesTraveler.net – Info
- Skanse, Richard. "Popper's Inferno", Rolling Stone, September 7, 1999.
- ""Hollywood's Obsession with Weight" transcript". Showbiz Tonight. CNN.com. December 29, 2005. Retrieved 2007-10-16.
- Schatz, Robin (January 10, 2005). "Blues Traveler's Popper Talks About Air Force, Tattoo". Bloomberg. BluesTraveler.net Media Archive. Retrieved 2007-10-15.
- The Howard Stern Show. September 19, 2005. [dead link]
- Schlussel, Debbie (December 15, 2005). "Hypocrite Celebs". FrontPage Magazine. Retrieved 2007-10-16.
- "50 Dumbest Rock-Star Extravagances". Blender Magazine. blender.com. December 2005. Retrieved 2007-10-16.
- "John Popper – Libertarian". Celebrities. Advocates for Self-Government. Retrieved 2011-12-20.
- Dave, DiMartino (October 10, 1997). "Blues Traveler Talks Straight on Till Morning". LAUNCH interviews. Yahoo! Music. Retrieved 2007-10-16.
- Elber, Lynn (May 25, 1999). "MTV Continues Anti-Violence Effort". re-published at BluesTraveler.net. Associated Press.
- Malkin, Ryan (July 20, 1998). "BNL steals show at H.O.R.D.E.". The Michigan Daily. Archived from the original on November 3, 2007. Retrieved 2007-10-16.
- "John Popper". The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. August 5, 2003. Retrieved July 22, 2013.
- MP3.com: Music News – John Popper: Ready for the apocalypse
- Bleyer, Jennifer (September 6, 2004). "Party Person". New York Magazine. Retrieved 2007-10-16.
- Appleman, Eric M. (2004). "National Endorsements". Democracy in Action. George Washington University. Retrieved 2007-10-16.
- The Adam Carolla Show November 12, 2008.
- "John Popper phone banks for Ron Paul". YouTube. December 21, 2011. Retrieved 2013-07-23.
- "John Popper, Ron Paul's most famous fan". The Washington Examiner. August 26, 2012. Retrieved June 7, 2015.
- "7-10-2000 news". BluesTraveler.net. July 10, 2000. Retrieved 2007-10-16.
- "FAQ: BT Lore". bluestraveler.com. Archived from the original on June 8, 2007. Retrieved 2007-10-15.
- Mug shot of Popper
- Associated Press. "Singer Busted With Arsenal Of Weapons In Car", March 8, 2007.
- Geranios, Nicholas K. "Manager says Blues Traveler's Popper legally had weapons", Associated Press. March 9, 2007.
- "Blues Traveler rocker arrested on gun, drug charges", The Times of Trenton, March 9, 2007.
- "Blues Traveler's Popper Settles Pot Case". The Huffington Post. July 12, 2007. Retrieved 2007-10-16.
- "Singer John Popper arrested with weapons, drugs". Reuters. March 8, 2007. Retrieved 2007-10-16.
- Rutman, Misha (May 1995, 2003(v2)). "Question 10.1". Frequently Asked Questions. bluestraveler.net. Retrieved 2007-10-16. Check date values in:
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to John Popper.|
- John Popper at the Internet Movie Database
- John Popper's biography at BluesTraveler.com
- John Popper collection at the Internet Archive's live music archive