Today, March 29th, Blues Traveler frontman John Popper turns 56 years old. In honor of the harmonica master’s birthday, we’re taking a look back at one of our favorite Popper stories from his decades-long career, as told in his 2016 autobiography Suck and Blow: And Other Stories I’m Not Supposed To Tell, written with Dean Budnick.
The book touches on a number of amusing anecdotes, including a near-threesome with porn star Ron Jeremy and the time he congratulated Trey Anastasio on the birth of his first child with a literal truckload of diapers. The histories of Blues Traveler and Vermont jam titans Phish are certainly intertwined. The two bands and their various members have worked together on numerous occasions, most notably during the inaugural H.O.R.D.E. (Horizons of Rock Developing Everywhere) tour in 1992, which many people now view as the catalyst for the modern jam band scene. Their connections would extend beyond H.O.R.D.E. as well, with Popper joining Phish onstage a number of times in the early-to-mid-90s.
While Popper and Blues Traveler admired Phish (Popper refers to Anastasio as “our Mozart”), the fact remained that the two bands were, in many ways, in competition for bookings. That friendly competition gave way to one of our favorite Popper/Phish stories. In 1997, Phish had a hold on Madison Square Garden for New Year’s Eve, but Popper wanted Blues Traveler to have the spot.
As Popper writes,
[Phish] had what’s known as a ‘first hold,’ and we had decided to challenge them for it… We put up half the money — it was over a half-million bucks — and they had 48 hours to respond, when they had to put all their money down.”
Popper also timed the challenge to coincide with Phish’s trip to Europe, and the band and a majority of their representatives were in Scotland for the 48-hour window. The band’s accountant, however, was in town holding down the fort. Naturally, to distract him, Popper “sent a stripper every 15 minutes for eight hours to his office to read from Sammy Davis Jr.’s ‘Yes I Can’.”
Through some frantic work, Phish’s accountant was able to muster up the $600,000 to reserve the gig with only two hours to spare. According to Popper, he never told the band who kept sending their accountant all the strippers, so they found out the news along with the rest of the memoir’s readers in 2016.
You can grab a copy of Suck and Blow: And Other Stories I’m Not Supposed To Tell to hear more fantastic stories from John Popper’s career. Below, you can watch Popper sit in with Phish in St. Louis, MO in 1996:
Phish w/ John Popper – “Funky Bitch” – 11/15/96
[Originally published 3/29/18]