Star-Bulletin Features

Friday, November 16, 2001


Around, down
and back again

Blues Traveler returns to the
public eye after enduring bumps
in their musical journey

By Tim Ryan

Blues Traveler returns to Hawaii for the first time in six years with four concerts on four islands, including a Waikiki Shell performance tomorrow night.

Some six years ago when the quintet was at its peak -- before a key member died of a drug overdose and hefty lead singer John Popper underwent angioplasty to save his life -- the group came to Hawaii for two performances. Interviews were hard to arrange because of their popularity, and the group's publicist warned me to be ready for a call at any time from an unnamed band member.

When the call finally came, the band was at a hotel in Denver. The conversation was hard to hear because of a bad connection and room noise, and the interviewee seemed to be feeling way too much joy early in the day.

I repeated questions several times; most answers were yes and no, or long pauses. After the phone went dead, I called back.

A "Yeah, who's this?" was followed by a hang-up. The Los Angeles publicist I called back said the interviewee was now "not available."

"He was available five minutes ago," I said.

"You called him back!" she said, incredulous. "You can't just call them like that. It has to be arranged."

"It was arranged. ... The line went dead."

"You should have called me," she said.

"You're in L.A. and he's in Denver."

Then she hung up.

This time around, I figured the matured band, responsible for such hit singles as "Run-around" and "Hook," would follow through with scheduled interviews, and I was notified that guitarist Chan Kinchla would call me at an appointed time.

After waiting 90 minutes, I e-mailed a new publicist, who replied she would track him down. Thirty minutes later, she asked if I had heard from Chan, as in guitarist Chandler Darren Kinchla, who forms the Blues Travelers along with Popper, Ben Wilson on keyboards, Tad Kinchla on bass and Brendan Hill on drums.

I hadn't.

One hundred thirty-five minutes later, I got his call.

Chan, a confident-sounding, pleasant man and father, apologized for the "mix-up."

"I guess we were supposed to do this earlier; I'm sorry about that," he said.

Later he told me he was playing basketball at a San Fernando Valley Park, then picked up his 3-year-old son "when I was blowing off your conference call."

I think he was joking.

Chan, 32, who started out as a punk-rock, new-wave disciple, played his first gig in 1986 at a church across the street from his high school. During his first solo he broke a string and was "very embarrassed."

Not embarrassed enough to give up. He wrote the music for five songs on the Blues Travelers' latest album, "Bridge." Released in April, it is the group's most emotionally complex album, delivering punchy, tight arrangements throughout the 12 tracks.

The music has a new direction with the addition of Chan's brother Tad on bass guitar and adding keyboards, following the overdose death of founding member and bassist Bobby Sheehan.

"Bobby's passing was a horrible way to go, but the one thing we salvaged was to have new, fresh blood and ideas that reinvigorated the original three members," he said. "We wanted the new members to bring their ideas and techniques into the mix and not try to play like they think Blues Traveler wants them to play."

The group plans to write new songs next spring, tour in the summer and "maybe" release a new album in fall 2002, he said.

During downtimes, Chan, who's 6-feet-5, 225 pounds and wears size 15 shoes, loves basketball, which he started playing about five years ago, often finding games during tours. He's proud of his ability.

"I bang the boards hard, have a good post-up game, a nice short jumper; my teams usually win."

Blues Traveler in concert

Where: Waikiki Shell
When: 7 p.m. tomorrow
Tickets: $25 to $40
Call: 526-4400
Also: 7 p.m. today at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center and 8 p.m. Sunday at the Hilton Waikoloa in Kona; and 7:30 p.m. Monday at the Marriot Ballroom Kauai. Tickets for the MACC performance are $38.50; Big Island and Kauai tickets are $40 in advance and $50 at the doorr.

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