VIDEO EXCLUSIVE: Blues Traveler Keyboardist Ben Wilson Explains Why He’s Still ‘The New Guy’ After 20 Years
Blues Traveler keyboardist Ben Wilson knows the benefits of honing his craft with his bandmates.
“I think the first thing that happens with any band — especially a high school band — is you get better individually,” said Wilson. “Not only do you get better individually at your instrument, but that individual improvement makes the whole band better.”
Wilson then went on to praise his former Blues Traveler bandmate John Popper, calling him a “great instrumentalist” and saying he helped form the rock band’s “unique” sound. Blues Traveler — which was formed in Princeton, New Jersey and split in February 2000 — grew to prominence in the 1990s with chart-topping songs like “Hook,” “Run-Around” and “But Anyway.” They were known for often improvising parts of their music, and striking a balance between singing and “jamming.”
“In the jam-band world, it’s much more musicianship-based, which is awesome,” said Wilson. “We strived to be able to ‘compete’ in that world.”
“Because of John and his singing and his melodic sensibility, we’re able to write pretty compact, three-and-a-half or four-minute songs,” he added.
Wilson also revealed that he and bassist Tad Kinchla (who replaced the late Bobby Sheehan, who died tragically of an overdose at age 31 in 1999) both joined Blues Traveler five years after it had formed and were forced to deal with “growing pains” during their adjustment period but ultimately found their place in the group and were able to voice their creative ideas and have a say in the type of music the band played. Wilson said he and Kinchla still joke today about their struggles at the time.
“It’s been almost 20 years and yet we’re still the new guys. That’s just the way it goes,” said Wilson before adding he feels this phenomenon often occurs in many other major bands.
“Ron Wood of the Stones… is he really a Rolling Stone just because he wasn’t there at the very beginning?” he added.
Although “Hook” and “Run Around” are widely considered to be two of Blues Travelers’ most famous songs, Wilson revealed he considers another track to be his favorite: “Mulling It Over” from 1990.
“John takes his solo and just the way he builds the solo and the band builds behind him,” said Wilson. “I still get excited about it when we’re playing it.”
Wilson also raved about Blues Travelers’ annual tradition of playing at the Red Rocks Concerts in Colorado over the summer and gushed over the fact that his 13-year-old son even joined him onstage to play the trumpet at one point, as the concerts often turn into a family affair for everybody. The drummer said he felt “fortunate” to perform at the event and said he was amazed at how high the attendance has been in recent years.
“It has a really special sentiment to it within the band,” said Wilson of Red Rocks. “My son has been going since he was born.”
“Yee-haw! I hope it keeps going for a long time,” he added with a laugh.