Blues Traveler is still playing the hits, and trying … the blues
Ben Wilson is in seventh heaven.
“We’re doing fantastically,” says the Blues Traveler keyboardist, calling from Texas during a break from the band’s current tour. âWe are able to get back on the road and play. It feels like heaven. “
With a new album – “Traveler’s Blues,” released July 30 – to their name, the ageless band will perform on August 15 at the Cape Cod Melody Tent in Hyannis. The band rose to prominence in the 90s with the hit trio “But Anyway”, “Run-around” and “Hook”.
For their first public show since the start of the pandemic, Blues Traveler returned to the Red Rocks Amphitheater near Denver to present their annual July 4th show. After such a long period of absence, Wilson acknowledges that there may have been some nerves among the band members, but once they started playing it all kicked off.
âThe strangeness for me was preparing for it – getting on a plane and going to the hotel and getting on the bus and going to the concert,â he says. âBut the minute we hit ‘go’ it felt like there hadn’t been a break at all. Once we’re on stage it’s like ‘yee-haw!’ “
A “life-changing deal”
Blues Traveler was formed in New Jersey in 1987, gaining popularity in the mid-90s, at the height of alternative rock. The group won the Grammy Award for Best Rock Performance in 1995 behind the hit single “Run-Around” and have been recording new music and touring ever since.
Wilson joined the group in 2000 in what feels like a rock ‘n’ roll dream come true. Wilson’s band – Big Dave and the Ultrasonics, a “blues-swing-funk band” that toured the north of the country – had split up and Wilson wasn’t sure what their next gig would be. He took the construction route and started his own home improvement business until a friend showed him an ad online saying Blues Traveler was looking for a keyboard player.
âI quickly put together a small music cassette and sent it. To my surprise a few months later I got a call saying they wanted me to come over for an audition and I was one of five guys, âsaid Wilson, who was living in the then. his home state of Michigan. âThey hired me on the spot. It was truly a wonderful, life-changing chord. I dragged music long enough to be lucky.
Blues Traveler was one of the hottest bands at the time, fresh off the popular radio song channel, so of course Wilson was already well aware of the band’s success. In fact, he was a fan before DJs started playing “Run-Around” non-stop.
“‘Runaround’ had practically made a hole in all of our ears for the rest of eternity, but I had been a huge fan of their early tricks and I kind of fell, and when ‘Runaround’ came back I did it I don’t really like this song, “he laughs.” But I love it now. When you get started, the crowd goes crazy. It’s so much fun. “
For young beginner musicians, Wilson gives some advice: You don’t always have to be the best technical player to get the gig. It’s about more than showing off.
âA lot of it’s not just how good you are with your instrument, it’s sometimes how you vibrate with the other band members. One of the things that has always been very important to me is fitting into a group. I was pretty good at my instrument, but I knew how to sit inside a band and serve the song. I think the Blues Traveler guys got to feel it and enjoy it with me, which is why I think they picked me over the hot shots that were there, because I listened to a few tapes (from the other candidates) later and I was like ‘Holy shit! This guy knew what he was doing! ‘â
“The traveller’s blues”
For a band that has been around for 33 years, the blues traveler guys, like many other musicians, trod foreign waters over the past year or so when they found themselves unable to tour. Wilson and his comrades found solace in recording a new album.
âIt was like living,â Wilson says.
Recorded in Nashville with Grammy Award-winning producer Matt Rollings, “Traveler’s Blues” is a collection of covers focused on iconic blues numbers – with one or two weird tunes. It materialized between a partnership with the band and Round Hill Records, which owns a lot of old blues songs and wanted Blues Traveler to come in and sign a recording deal where they played some of them, according to Wilson.
Ironically enough, Blues Traveler is not known for playing blues music, coming more from a rock / pop angle. The recording of “Traveler’s Blues” was an opportunity for the band to embrace their name.
âThis is one of the areas that we hadn’t really explored as a band with the name ‘blues’ in it,â Wilson says. “We’re not a blues band at all, and it was really fun to challenge ourselves and try to be as authentic as possible in honor of all that genre.”
Blues Traveler has dug deep into the blues treasure chest for some of the new album’s cuts, including “You Got Me Runnin ‘” by Jimmy Reed and “Sittin’ On Top of the World” by the Mississippi Sheiks. The latter stars guitarist Warren Haynes, one of many different guests on the record which also includes emerging blues guitarist Kingfish Ingram and singer Rita Wilson (also wife of Tom Hanks), among others. Rita Wilson can be found on the left off-field cover of Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy”.
Ben Wilson isn’t afraid to admit that he and his band mates felt some pressure and trepidation at the idea of ââpicking up blues classics, saying “Yes, we did.” The key, he notes, is to “change the pace” and stay in yourself; do not try to compete with the originals.
âYou do your best to refresh them and make them meaningful to us as a group,â he says.
Blues Traveler’s trio of early hits will always be the band’s most popular songs, and musicians are embracing it. They recently re-recorded and released them, adding “2.0” to their titles. As Wilson explains, the reason behind this was a “business decision” to own the songs, after the band sold the rights to the originals years ago and now wanted to own a version for licensing.
After more than three decades of touring and creating music, Wilson says the members of Blues Traveler have been together for so long because they genuinely love each other and enjoy playing together. He says he’s often asked when they plan to retire, to which he replies, “Why would we do it?” Taking as an example Mick Jagger, 78 years old.
Although he admits that 78 might push him.
âMy mom is 75 and I was just at her house, and I’m like ‘No way my mom is going on tour’,â he laughs.
If you are going to
Which: Blues Traveler with JJ Gray & Mofro
When: 7:30 p.m. Sunday August 15
Or: Cape Cod Melody Tent, 41 W. Main St, Hyannis
Tickets: $ 44.50 to $ 70.50; discounts for club members
Reservations and information: https://melodytent.org/