John Popper bigraphy, stories - Blues Traveler founder; harmonica player; vocalist; musician

John Popper : biography

March 29, 1967 -

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.


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

Popper uses Shure microphones and Mesa Boogie amplifiers, similar to bandmate Chan Kinchla. He also uses D'Addario strings.

Trademark equipment

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 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)
Go Outside and Drive (The Vestal Version) single (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)

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

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" 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"
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 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
"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 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
"Tumblin' Down"
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
Living octopus

Living octopus

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