Mishap led band to mend its recording ways

April 02, 1993|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,Pop Music Critic

Harleys have been a part of rock star macho since before the days of "Easy Rider," but that born-to-be-wild abandon hasn't always come cheap.

Motorcycle crashes claimed the lives of Duane Allman, Richard Farina and Allman Brothers bassist Berry Oakley, and nearly ended the careers of Bob Dylan and Billy Idol. So when Blues Traveler harmonica man John Popper wrecked his bike on the way to a recording session late last summer, everyone involved was relieved that his injuries were no more serious than a broken femur.

"We were down in Louisiana, north of New Orleans, recording this record," recalls guitarist Chandler Kinchla, over the phone // from New York. "We lived on this big ranch with horses, and about 10 minutes down the road, there was the studio. So we'd commute every day.

"But then about three weeks into it, we get a call from the police that John wasn't coming down. He got in this sick motorcycle accident while we were sitting at the studio."

Naturally, work on the album, "Save His Soul," was suspended while Popper recovered. Yet Kinchla says that the accident, for all its tension and trauma, was in some ways a lucky break for the band, because it helped Blues Traveler get a better sense of what it was doing in the studio.

"It was kind of an interesting opportunity to step back from all the stuff we've been doing and take a look at how we could maybe improve some things," he says. "Seeing as we were producing ourselves, that break gave us kind of an opportunity to confer and make sure we were doing it right.

"In the end, other than the obvious pain that John went through, it was actually kind of helpful. All the stuff the growing up we had to do, to be dealing with such a serious accident, added a lot of depth. The record came out great."

It also helped that the band realized that the jam-oriented approach it used onstage didn't really work in the studio. "I think the main improvement with this record was the songwriting, and learning how to make arrangements," says Kinchla. "Over the last couple records, we've learned how to look at it as trying to get it to come out of the speakers as a record -- as opposed to just having a documentation of your live music.

"Live, you have that flow going with the crowd," he adds. "Jamming and improvisation works because everyone's in there, and you have the energy of the moment. But to listen to someone just soloing endlessly on a record is really boring. So you have to step away from those long explorations of your soloing skills, and keep things moving."

Does that mean the band's stage show is going to be more self-conscious and contained? Not hardly. "Live is what we know," says Kinchla. "It's what we've always loved to do, and what, I think, we do best."

Blues Traveler

When: Monday at 8 p.m.

Where: Hammerjacks

Tickets: $10

Call: (410) 659-7625 for information, (410) 481-7328 for tickets.

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