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Bobby Sheehan 8/1999

bobby sheehan, bass for blues travelerAugust 20, 1999 – Robert Vaughan Bobby Sheehan (Blues Traveler) was born on June 12th 1968 in Summit, New Jersey. After high school in Princeton where he met the the other 3 members of what became later Blues Traveler.

The hallways of that same Princeton, New Jersey,  high school served as the meeting place for all of the future members of Blues Traveler. Popper and drummer Brendan Hill first hooked up in 1983; they were joined by guitarist Chan Kinchla in 1986, and bassist Bobby Sheehan in 1987. Out of their shared fascination with the Blues Brothers was born a worthy name by which to call themselves – the Blues Band.

Following graduation, Sheehan briefly attended the Berklee College of Music, but soon joined Popper and Hill, who had enrolled in the jazz program at New York’s New School for Social Research and would co-found Blues Traveler in 1987. Kinchla briefly attended N.Y.U.) . The New School was just what Popper et al. needed to get their act together: not only did they have the use of free rehearsal space, but the curriculum taught them how to get gigs. As it turned out, they learned a little too well, as before long, they had lined up so many gigs that there wasn’t any time left for school, so they all dropped out of the program.

Newly baptized as Blues Traveler, the band signed a record deal with A&M in 1989, and released their self-titled debut album later that same year. Travelers & Thieves followed in 1991. Their next album, Save His Soul (1993), was marred by a near-tragedy. Twelve days into recording sessions on the album, Popper was riding his motorcycle in the remote area of Louisiana where the studio was located when a turning car plowed into him. He sustained a broken arm, leg, and hip and had to
endure months of rehabilitation in a wheelchair.
Injuries aside, the band resumed recording after only a single month’s break; and not even the fact that he was confined to a wheelchair could keep Popper off the road after Save His Soul was released.

Throughout their early years, Blues Traveler built its reputation and its fan base by touring constantly, averaging more than 250 shows a year. Despite a lack of any radio or MTV coverage, the band secured a devoted following by word of mouth alone. The grapevine method worked well: the band managed to sell hundreds of thousands of copies of each of its first three releases, although none of the albums quite achieved gold status (sales of 500,000). That all changed with the release of
1994’s four; the album spawned two Top 10 singles, “Run-around” and “Hook,” and went on to sell over six million copies. Apart from the healthy boost in record sales, the band’s profile was also rising due to the ever-growing popularity of the
HORDE (Horizons of Rock Developing Everywhere) Tour, which Popper had organized in 1992 after the band failed to get a support slot on a major tour.

HORDE has become a summertime staple for concertgoers–it was the fourth-biggest grossing tour of summer of 1996–and as it grew, so did its ability to attract some of the biggest names in rock; over the years, Phish, Spin Doctors, the
Black Crowes, Neil Young, Beck, Sheryl Crow and Dave Matthews Band have all played the traveling summer fest. (Note: The last one was held in 2015 after a 17 year hiatus, as  the result of Bobby Sheehan’s death and John Popper’s heart problems in 1999.)

In 1994/95 on their rise to the lofty ranks of the multi-platinum, the members of Blues Traveler achieved some significant career milestones:

• they reached their goal of having played in all fifty states in December 1995;

• they guest-starred on an episode of Roseanne in 1995;

• they have appeared on Late Night With David Letterman more than any other band in the history of the show;

• and they sold out Madison Square Garden for their annual New Year’s Eve show in December 1996.

Somehow, during all that excitement, they also managed to compile tracks for a two-CD live set called Live From the Fall, which was released in 1996.

Sheehan moved to New Orleans in 1996. The upbeat pop single “Run-Around” became a smash hit and was followed by the catchy “Hook”. “Run-Around” won a Grammy Award and broke a record for most weeks on the chart. The group recorded the Johnny Rivers song “Secret Agent Man” for the film Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls and the Bob Seger song “Get Out of Denver” for the film Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead, as well as Fats Domino’s “I’m Walkin'” for Rebel Highway: Cool and the Crazy. Several previously-recorded Blues Traveler songs were included on film soundtracks, including The Last Seduction, Speed, Very Bad Things, White Man’s Burden, and The Truth About Cats & Dogs. The band also appeared in the 1998 film Blues Brothers 2000 and on its soundtrack, playing “Maybe I’m Wrong”.

Sheehan pleaded guilty in January 1998 to possession of less than a gram of cocaine. He had been arrested at an airport in Winnipeg, Manitoba, in September 1997, where Blues Traveler were opening for the Rolling Stones. He was placed on two years’ unsupervised probation. He almost completed the probation time, but almost is not completely.

Bobby was find unresponsive in his house in New Orleans on August 20, 1999, and tragically died of an accidental drug overdose. He was 31.