Friday Song: “Run Around”

A master harmonica player, an unrequited love, and a smash hit

John Popper, the lead singer of Blues Traveler, was diverted from standup to music in high school, when he and a friend performed a sketch as the Blues Brothers. Popper loved playing the harmonica in the act, and convinced his music teacher to allow him to switch from trumpet to harmonica by playing him a solo harmonica version of Thomas Dolby’s “She Blinded Me with Science.”

A prolific songwriter and a gifted harmonica player and singer, Popper fashioned belts with enough pockets to hold his 12 diatonic harmonicas — covering all 12 keys. He wore them as a bandolier for years. This allowed him to quickly trade one harmonica for another without looking, even if the song changed keys.

David Letterman and Howard Stern have been big fans Blues Traveler. Letterman had the band on several times, and Stern had them perform at his 1996 birthday bash — which is where this video was shot.

The song “Run Around” is about the unrequited love Popper had for the band’s original bass player, Felicia Lewis, who was actually a violinist playing bass for fun. She would later go on to become a medical doctor, and she and Popper remained good friends.

This was the band’s first major hit after three albums. It stayed on the US Hot 100 for 49 consecutive weeks, a record at the time. The song won the 1995 Grammy for Best Rock Performance By a Duo or Group with Vocal.

In addition to being fantastic harp player, Popper is an excellent and distinctive singer.