After being sidelined for most of 2020, Blues Traveler returned to the road in early July. The summer tour for the platinum selling act behind the hit song “Run-Around” includes a stop at JD Legends in Franklin on Friday, July 16.
“All things considered, my family and the band all did just fine over the last year,” keyboardist Ben Wilson said before the tour began, speaking over the telephone from his home in Austin, Texas. “When you’re just looking at your one individual life, it was pretty crappy to not play music for 18 months but it’s so hard to focus on what was a modest inconvenience for yourself when people were losing relatives.”
Wilson and his bandmates used the downtime during the pandemic to record an album. “Traveler’s Blues” (Round Hill Records/Black Hill Records), releasing on July 30, is Blues Traveler’s 13th full-length since its 1990 debut.
“The one cool thing about the last year is our manager was able to finagle a little deal and we were able to go into the studio and do a blues record,” Wilson said. “It was super fun to be able to work with our friend Matt Rollings as a producer and play a style of music we haven’t really played despite our name. It was also nice to have something to look forward to in the middle of the pandemic because it was tough on the psyche.
“We’ve worked with Matt just the one time before,” Wilson continued. “We did ‘Hurry Up & Hang Around’ with him but it feels like more than that because he has almost become like a sixth member of the band when we’re together. He’s an amazing musician, an amazing piano player, and we just really trust him. It’s always great to be able to bounce ideas around and have him be that crucial sixth voice so we don’t make too many dumb decisions.”
“Traveler’s Blues” is not your typical blues album. Blues Traveler takes some chances with the material but it works. There are covers of established cuts from the genre like “Sittin’ on Top of the World” and “Trouble in Mind” but the group also puts an extra bluesy spin on less conventional selections like “Crazy” by Gnarls Barkley, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “They Call Me the Breeze” and “Roadhouse Blues” by the Doors.
“A lot of it was just sort of serendipity,” Wilson said. “We went into the pandemic and started wondering if this thing goes on for a year or even longer, if we’d be able to afford our houses in January. So, we set up some deals with Round Hill. There are a lot of these publishing deals going on and we set up a deal with them. They purchased some things so we had some income but we also entered into a record contract with them.
“Up until now, Round Hill has been primarily a publishing company where they buy old songs,” Wilson continued. “These companies hold onto those songs and over time gather up the revenue. Round Hill had a bunch of these old blues songs they had bought over the years. One of the facets of the deal was we do a bunch of these songs they own. We also brought in our own material and the label had a lot of ideas about that.”
“Traveler’s Blues” features guest appearances by Keb’ Mo, Warren Haynes, Rita Wilson, John Scofield, Crystal Bowersox and others. Despite the big name features, this is still very much a Blues Traveler album and each member put his own individual imprint on the material. There’s John Popper’s distinctive voice and indelible harmonica, the slippery interplay of the rhythm section, Chan Kinchla’s ripping guitar and Wilson’s tasteful keyboards.
“It was so great to get these amazing artists to sit in with us,” Wilson said. “Most of that stuff just kind of came together through from who knew who. People just reached out to see who was interested. To me, getting Scofield on this was as cool a get as anybody but all of the guests are fantastic in their own way.”
Return to the road
Blues Traveler launched its summer tour at Red Rock Amphitheater in Colorado on July 4, which was several weeks after Wilson was interviewed for this story.
“We can’t wait to get back on the road,” he said at the time. “We played two Blues Travelers gigs during the pandemic and John and I did one weekend, just a duet, up in Colorado. Otherwise, we’ve done nothing but make this record.
“We’re just so excited,” Wilson added. “I can’t even tell you how excited I am and I know the other guys feel exactly the same way. It’s going to feel so good to get out there and rock.”
Contact this contributing writer at 937-287-6139 or e-mail at email@example.com.
HOW TO GO
Who: Blues Traveler
Where: JD Legends, 65 Millard Drive, Franklin
When: 7 p.m. Friday, July 16
More info: 937-746-4950 or www.jdlegends.com
Artist info: www.bluestraveler.com
About the Author