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John Popper Harmonica Interview | Grammy-winning harmonica player on composing, inspiration and squirrels

Updated: Feb 29

John Popper is a Grammy-winning harmonica player. Frontman, lead vocalist and co-founder of the rock band Blues Traveler, Popper is up there with the harmonica legends. Popper is a prolific songwriter, vocalist and, as you'll find out in this interview, good shot!


This was one of the most interesting interviews I've ever done. Popper was refreshingly candid. He was insightful when it came to discussing what it takes to live a creative life and what it truly means to make music.


This reflective, insighful and funny interview was originally recorded as audio and has been transcribed. It's an invaluable resource for established and aspiring harmonica players alike (or indeed for anyone wanting to see behind the curtain of what it means to be a musician).


I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed talking to John.


Thumbnail featuring John Popper playing the harmonica in Blues Traveler
John Popper Blues Traveler

It's a long interview so here are the links to each section with a summary of what is covered.


John talks about high school, the formation of Blues Traveler and New York in the 60s.


John talks more about Blues Traveler and switching harps mid-song.


We discuss Sugar Blue, Little Walker, Paul Butterfield and the Blues Brothers. John gives his honest opinion about Bob Dylan's and Alanis Morissette's harp playing.


John talks about the hypnotic state he gets in when he plays the harmonica and also gives details of how he goes about writing songs.


Popper talks about his role in Blues Brothers 2000.


We talk about blues harmonica and harmonica outside the blues genre; we speak about mixing genres and how that keeps things fresh. Popper discusses how musicians should do everything they can to serve the song, rather than showing off on their instrument.


Popper tells me what he is up to at the moment (including shooting squirrels)


Part 1: How harmonica saved John Popper's life


Liam:

Hey, John - how are you?


John:

Good, Liam, nice to speak with you!


Liam:

I don't have a strict set of questions so let's talk about the harmonica, your career and your bands and see what happens.


John:

Awesome. The harmonica made a big difference in my life when I started playing it. I was in high school, and my remedial class teacher heard me playing harmonica and thought maybe I would do well to join the school band, which was a big band. They didn't have a harmonica so they gave me a trumpet to play. One day I took a harmonica to band practice with me to play. I was serious, but they thought I was joking. And at that moment, it was kind of like when Babe Ruth [American baseball pitcher] hit the ball out of the park. I never even touched my trumpet again. The next day, I was in the first band, and the principal shows up... and suddenly everybody knew who I was - I was the harmonica guy in the high school.


I really had terrible prospects, as far as grades were going. I didn't believe in homework, you know, for me it was a philosophical issue. And so they were looking for what to do with me - as much as I was looking at what to do with myself!


Liam:

What were the next stages for you after high school?


John:

At a summer school programme I ran into a guy named Arnie Lawrence, who'd been a saxophone player; he was in The Tonight Show band in the 60s when Johnny Carson was on it; he's a session guy. And he started this school programme at The New School for Social Research. As the school was so new - they didn't even have a curriculum mapped out - they weren't interested in students' grades; they didn't care so much about my straight Fs. I had my harmonica and [the harmonica] got me into the new school.


The new school allowed me to be technically going to school - so that my parents would pay the bill - but for me, it wasn't so much a scholastic opportunity, but a chance to be exposed to so many really incredible musicians. That new school was an amazing experience.


Meanwhile, my band, who were in a grade below me, were still at home [at high school]. So I would go home on weekends, and we would practice and write songs. The next school year, they all figured out a way to be going to school too (the parents all gave us the opportunity to go to school or to get jobs so we are chose school - again, technically we're going to school but [really] we'd just skip school, and go practice music). It was great as we didn't have the burden on us to make money and simultaneously we're also being taught a lot about music. At night, we'd go out and look for bands we can open for and try and get into playing situations. And you learned how to sell booze and get people dancing and a lot of real practical things [you need] to be in a band. And it was this wonderful combination of both. So I was getting taught music by day, and I'd get to go out and try it out at night. And it was this wonderful time.


Liam:

It sounds like a great time. What was it like being in New York City?


John:

I was there at a time when they repealed the cabaret law. The cabaret law had been that no more than four musicians could play together without a cabaret permit. It was established in the 1960s as a noise reduction policy, because the city were tired of everybody being up at two in the morning. When the law was repealed there was suddenly work available. There were people looking for bands everywhere! We just happened to be in New York City at such a great time - that exposure was irreplaceable for me.


For my part, I looked at the harmonica as my Jimi Hendrix vehicle. You know, like Jimi Hendrix wasn't respectful of the traditions of the guitar, he'd play behind his back and play with his teeth. He tried every which way and he was into experimenting with it. And I thought that approach was what you got to do with any instrument, whatever you're playing. And so I was really trying to rip off guitars and saxophones a lot in my phrasing. And that's what I learned at the New School with Arnie Lawrence - it's the phrasing that is the thing. Before that I was so into playing scales but really, what you want to work on is the phrasing of a melody. Using phrasing is like using words to tell a story.


The school and being in New York City was just a wonderful and invaluable experience for me.


I guess what I'm saying - and I've done so in a long winded way - is rip off other instruments, not just the harmonica.


Part 2: How to become a blues-rock legend (Blues Traveler)


Liam:

Your attention to other instruments and your interest in a mix of genres both come across with your playing and the bands you play with as well. You're not just playing straight-up blues, you're playing over these different changes and I imagine you play multiple harmonicas with a lot of those songs. Have you looked at that in a theoretical way or is it more instinct for you?


John:

We were partying a lot back in the early days and it became very hard for our bass player to learn and remember songs that had more than three chords. A lot of what the band did was just sort of establishing a groove and a rhythm with one or two chords. Look at 'Sweet Talking Hippie' - it was one of our first songs, which we loved playing - and it was basically vamping on one chord. We'd discovered this pocket that we could do together.


If you take a D harp, so you get the D chord [on the exhale.] And the inhale, you get the A. So with cross harp the inhale becomes the I chord and the exhale becomes the IV. But there's also the implied the relative minor, the vi. There's a song we did where I needed that flat three chord to be really big. So I figured out I think it's a Phrygian scale or something like that.


I found that if you find which harp to make your centre then you can use one harp to cover a lot. There's a lot of implied relation in other chords and scales so if you're selective, you can sort of pick them out.


But the switching of a harp became something in the early days. In the early days I had a harp belt. The problem came when I lost lots of weight. I used to be around 400 pounds so adding a 50 pound harp belt didn't change much - I was not going anywhere. But when I lost weight the belt never really fit right again and it became this huge monstrosity. I started working back out of the [harmonica] case again and I developed this fast-draw style. I suppose what you have to remember is you're only ever switching one harp for another - you're not trying to switch out three at a time (even if you are doing three switches in one song).


I did do one song with a band where I went from the low tunings to high tunings - I did a solo where I started on the lowest Dorian scale in third position and I moved up to the blues harp position, the lowest one of those etc - in the end I did a four harp switch for that song. Really it's a lot of theatrics. Because, again, the great things about the harp is, that as long as you get it near your face, you're gonna have a lot of dexterity to jump around, so it's really just switching in between a phrase - and that's pretty easy.


Picture of John Popper of Blues Traveler pointing at camera and smiling
John Popper Blues Traveler

Part 3: The tape that changed everything


Liam:

So let's go back to the early days for you. I was speaking to Rob Paparozzi the other day. He was telling me about judging a Hohner competition and listening to hundreds of entries sent in by tape and he said they were largely crap. But three tapes were pretty good and one of them was yours. You were a teenager at the time. Tell me about this.


John:

Haha! I forgot I did that! Yes, that was when I was in high school. The first guy I heard go high on the harp was Sugar Blue. A friend of mine at high school told me "

'Oh, he's the guy who did Miss You with the Rolling Stones'. I went and listened to it and, at the time, I'd never heard a harp take a lead like that.


Paul Butterfield was the first guy I really heard rock and roll the harmonica. He took it like a lead guitar (of course there were some saxophone riffs) - and really he was just advancing the harmonica beyond where Little Walter took it.


Little Walter to me is the first guy who took the harp right up next to the mic. And in a sense he created the overtone as something you could expect from a harmonica.


But really the first place I saw harmonica was in the Blues Brothers. Anyway I was led to the old blues guys. When I heard Butterfield I was like, 'Oh, my God, what's this?' And that's really, I'd say, the first point when I noticed the harmonica had potential for a lot more dexterity than people give it credit for.


You know, it's really the bad players ruin it for everybody. Because they come in and they play a riff. And you've heard it before and you hear it again, and again and again. And you're like 'that's all the harmonica does'. And as much as I love Bob Dylan as a songwriter, his harmonica playing drove me nuts. Because he taught an entire generation of people how badly you get to play the harmonica and get away with it. And I always use Alanis Morissette as the culmination of that progression of doom. I can hear [her] song 'One Hand in My Pocket' and I hear her break a harmonica! You can hear the reed give out and I feel like saying 'why are you killing a harmonica on the radio?'. There's a lot of bad harp playing out there so people just don't expect a lot from [the harmonica].


If you're anal enough you can pursue [the harmonica] and then be just as annoying as the sax players and guitar players.


And I think that's really what we're all trying to do, because there's such expressive vocabulary written for them in the twentieth century. The first half of the twentieth century belongs to the horns, and the second half really belongs to guitars. And also, you know, I think synthesisers are coming into it.


But I remember when we first started trying to sell our tapes, people thought what I was doing was a synthesiser. That kind of makes you laugh. If you got the notes that intrigue people, a scale or phrase, it doesn't require as much as you think. Take Neil Young: he'll play one note, but it's actually a really god note.


My friends used to try to impress me with their harmonica playing, and I'd be so anal, obsessed about the notes. But it's easy to forget that the point isn't precision, it's about your intention. So that's where we come full circle and get back to basics. And I think that it's a fun journey and it's a trip you go on over and over again. Maybe over time you appreciate that. I think retrospectively it helps your playing. Yeah, it's just a fun thing about getting old I guess.


Part 4: Flapping around trying to get airborne


Liam:

I saw something recently that Jason Ricci had said. Someone asked him what his favourite thing about the harmonica is. And he said 'just the chords now'. He just likes playing those chords down the bottom end. Of course, he still plays the way he plays. But I think it's a bit of that cycle that you're talking about.


John:

Yes, of course. You still are expressing chords because they're always going to be in relation with each other; there's always going to be a sweet spot. That's why I always call the harmonica the instrument of instant gratification. Because you can find a pleasant sound pretty fast on a diatonic harmonica. I think that even if you do play notes through the scale, you're expressing that chord and it's always reliable, it's always going to relate to the other one, you're always going to find a branch you can reach. Like, if you're leaping from branch to branch, it's not like we have to strain and get past that tritone.


We have to go out and make trouble on our harmonicas. And so I think [what Jason said] is true. It's hypnotic - those chords and just the repetition of these chords. And it's a great expression of how the blues doesn't require a lot of chords. You know, it's more of a droning thing, and it gets hypnotic. I think when it's done right, that's how it should be.


Liam:

It seems to me that you use the harmonica to serve the music. A lot of harmonica players play thinking 'well I'll just play the harmonica', not necessarily thinking about the music as a whole. I love your vocals and you're an interesting songwriter and it seems that the harmonica is part of that, rather than a separate thing.


John:

It's funny because the harmonica was at first all I could do. I tried not to sing. I sounded like Bill Murray wailing and I was terrible. That all took time to learn. Songwriting is the actual aspect of music - the music that I do anyway - where I have to try. You know, because if you're singing right or playing right, you kind of go to sleep, you don't want to consciously affect it. You get to a place where its hynotic and you're self hypnotising. You go into this kind of zone where it's meditative. But when you're writing a song, that's when you're sitting down thinking - well, what do I want to say? Because you're using words, you're now back to using the English language as your vocabulary and that gets limiting, but also, it's another puzzle itself.


You know, I think my favourite thing about songwriting is that I can actually express an idea. And I think that's the harder part. I think playing is like flying. You know, if you've learned how to manipulate your wings, and it's really flying, it's just about falling into a good air current turn and coasting on that. But with songwriting, I'm flapping - I'm trying to get airborne from the ground.


Liam:

That's a nice analogy. I like that. I spoke to Howard Levy recently. He had this curiosity about working things out and obviously learning all the overblows and kind of formalising that system. He just wanted to try things. And I think you seem to be similar - you've found ways to do things and you've wanted to explore. And I think that's a great thing to have.


John:

I think it's important to have and it's made it fun for me. As a professional musician, you're going to be doing a lot of the same things over and over and over and over and over and over again. And that's your job - you go out and do the same song every night. But it has to vary otherwise you'll go nuts. You've got to find some new aspect to explore [within] the same thing.


That's kind of how jazz improvisation started in the first place. It was the tedium of knowing a song so well because you've done it for so long. But then you make new opportunities and change the way you look a song. That's the valuable thing about music [and] that saved my life - and maybe [at] 5 or 6 different times.


Picture of John Popper singing and holding harmonicas
John Popper (Credit: Rafael Rezende - originally posted to Flickr as New Orleans Jazz Fest 2010)

Part 5: Becoming a movie star


Liam:

Some point along the way you've become a very in-demand musician. The sheer volume of session work you've done is huge. You mentioned the Blues Brothers thing as well. I was 11 when Blues Brothers 2000 came out (I'd seen the first one but, of course it was before my time). I couldn't believe that harp solo that the kid plays. So, how did it get to the point where you were asked to do things like that?


John:

Well Dan Aykryod [writer and star of the Blues Brothers films] was a fan. He's a big harmonica player himself. He's very into it. I've made no bones about the fact that he's the guy that got me playing the harmonica.


There was one point where we did a special for TBS, from the House of Blues, and he introduced us as Elwood Blues. For me, that's what got me into playing the first movie and then second time round I am in the movie. It was very surreal. Things that you've pictured when you're a little kid start to happen. It's so different than you think it's going to feel. And it's valuable.


One of my favourite things is the chase scene. I remember that from the first movie and then suddenly Paul Shaffer is saying 'can blow on this?'. I'd fantasised so many times in my head about that solo and playing with the Blues Brothers and then I got to lay it down. I laid down the perfect little solo; I got to show off my shots and do something really slow and tasteful and it danced! And it's about my favourite 12 bars I've [ever] played.


At the end of the Rawhide scene I got to do a nice little flurry. It was a really good sound. And I love that those things got to last forever, because they'll always be on TV somewhere. It's nice to have a perfect example of what I do. And when you've got a couple of those in the can you feel pretty good. Now you don't ever have to do it again.


Liam:

Do you have songs or solos (or whatever) that people always ask for - things that are associated with your music?


John:

'Run-Around' or 'Hook'. 'Hook' is the one that has the liveliest harp solos of the big hits that we did. People always want to hear that one. And they respond to it really well. Sometimes, it's songs that they don't know so well - like Regarding Steven. It's a deeper cut for us but it's got a beautiful melody. That's kind of my favourite thing to do with a harmonica - when I can sort of riff off a classical sounding instruments. On the studio version, we had a cello and I sort of did a little counter-melody with the cello. I'm a sucker for that stuff. I could do that all day. I think there's a part of me that wishes that I was playing the cello with my face but also grateful that I'm not!


Part 6: Taking harmonica beyond the blues


Liam

Have you heard Corky Siegel's stuff? He's a harmonica player and he plays piano as well. He plays with classical arrangements and he has a chamber blues band. So it's kind of like this sort of mix of classical and blues music.


John:

I've not heard of Corky. You mentioned Howard Levy and I think he's still the best (looking at it clinically). He showed me a trick and I still don't know how he does it. And it's the only thing I can say about him that I can't say about any other harp player!


He was doing a Bach melody and somehow the left hand side of his face was moving independently of his right side. I thought he must be cheating but even then I couldn't work out how he was doing it! He explained it to me in great detail. (He was also keen to teach me about overblows. Really, he was the first guy that I got overblow stuff going with. He's pioneered that.) But he wouldn't show me how he moves his face in different directions. They call him the man with two brains, because of how he can move his face in two directions at once. That's not a harmonica thing, that's a brain thing! It's an enigma - he is a sick, sick man!


Another guy I love is Mickey Raphael - what a beautiful player. If you think of the body of work he has done - wow - basically if you heard a harmonica in the 70s, it was him! If you saw a Burt Reynold's movie, Mickey was in it! You gotta respect that!


Oh - and Charlie McCoy! I saw him at the Grand Old Opry with Mickey in Nashville. That was a really fun night!


Oh - and Jason Ricci, of course! He's just amazing.


Liam:

I met Charlie McCoy in London. We sat and did an interview in the little green room out the back of the basement of a pizza restaurant where he was playing. To me he's a hero! Some of the stuff he's played on! He was telling me about the number of sessions he'd played on - a crazy amount - but when you're the go-to guy in Nashville for 60 years I guess that will happen.


John:

Exactly! It's basically the same story as Mickey, only a good forty, fifty years earlier. Yeah, he was 'the guy' for a long time. Think of the players he played with - it's pretty freaky. That's the good thing about harmonica playing! If you're solid at it and people want someone to do it... they can dismiss [harmonica] all they want, but they always want it!!


Liam:

All the stuff you've done as well - wow! I had a look at some of the session work you've done and you've played with some massive names. I saw you'd done a duet on a TV show with Dolly Parton and you've worked with some massive blues guitarists...


John:

Yep! I've worked with so many different genres and I just love breaking down that illusion that genres are different. It's so fun! We're all part of a super genre.


I think it's very easy for somebody who grew up listening to James Brown to rip off Dolly Parton in a phrase - that's the thing. It really becomes about style at a certain point. I think being a musician is about that - if any kind of music has a connection to you, then you can apply [your instrument] to whatever genre you want to. It's all a big mess.


Liam:

Yeah, I think that's really nice and refreshing to hear. I love your positivity and that feeling of everything being connected. It's great that you're expressing that.


John:

I'm glad. Sometimes people get too into their genre. And they think their genre has defined something. You mentioned we were a jam band. And I think it was handy for us to be a jam band at the point when that started catching on.


Sure we were a 'jam band' but we could easily be a 'rock band'. We were whatever we needed to be. At the end of the day, as long as you get to play your music, it's never going to officially be adhered to a genre (if you're doing it right). It's original. It's yours. That's what I always tell people - [they ask] What kind of music do you play? I say 'ours'.


Liam:

Yeah. I like that.


John:

Yeah, I was pretty pleased with that answer.


Part 7: Serving the song


Liam:

I like what you said about the harmonica's place in the song. And also you mentioned Mickey Raphael. One of the great things I love about Mickey Raphael is (and I think maybe this has come from just being a sideman for so long and having this kind of dream job with Willie Nelson) he always, always serves the song. I like that you've talked about that - the musicality of it.


John:

[In the past] I had no respect for that. It's all about 'step out in front, swing for the cheap seats, and just belt it out, don't be a sideman'. I've found that sometimes the biggest joy I have is in backing somebody up.


Mickey is such an expert at [backing somebody up]. It's about the song and 'serving the song' is a great way to put it. The song should be served more than anything else. If you are doing it right, you're going to put you in that song; you'll be indistinguishable from the song. Mickey is so great at that. He's going to play one note if that's the thing that is needed - you don't want to overpower Willie. Mickey has got a sense of that. And he's got chops for days but he doesn't want to just murder you with it. It took me a long time to get a hold of my chops because I was saying 'look at me, look what I can do'.


I completely agree with what you are saying [about serving the song].


Liam:

Do you play much guitar with the band at all?


John:

I play a little guitar. I haven't in a while due to a spinal injury where I needed surgery. That was 2016. I need to work on getting some of that strumming back to play so I can play for the band.


Liam:

Was that about the time that you wrote a book? I know you've released an autobiography that I'm definitely going to have to get hold of.


John:

Oh yeah! That was the year before, in 2015. I wrote it right before [my daughter was born]. I had my then-wife looking over my shoulder so a lot of romantic details were kind of edited. I wanted to throw no-one under the bus, including myself! So there's plenty of addendums we can add to the book later but certainly I didn't then!


Writing the book was fun. I'm glad I have things written down because I am starting to forget a lot of the stories. Whenever I read the book I think about a story and hope that I put it in, and most of the time it's there a couple of lines later.


Writing a book is like writing songs. When you write songs you never want it to be done at a certain point [e.g. put a limit on it]. But there's a point where you got to say ' Yup, it's over.' If I hadn't put a limit on it, I'd still be writing it.


Part 8: The present


Liam:

Let's come to the present now. You mentioned that you live out in the mountains now.


John:

Yeah. I'm about 20 minutes from Everett, Washington - north and east of Seattle, in the hills there and I've lived here for about 15 years now.


Liam:

Did you just want to get away from the city and get some space?


John:

Oh yes. I was never a city mouse. I lived in Brooklyn for the formative years of Blues Traveller. But once I broke my leg in a motorcycle wreck, we had to move. We were still touring and we finally had money so I bought a house. I bought one in Bucks County, PA, and lived there for about eight, nine years. And then I moved [to where I live now]. It's gorgeous, really!


What you do is you find a part of the country where you can sleep and watch cable TV and you know, the odd TV dinner, and then you go back on the road - that's basically what our lives have been for 33 years. I don't really build [a community] where I live. I know a couple of people around here, but not a lot, because I'm only home for like a week here, a week there. And all I want to do is sleep. I hate to say it but I've been sort of enjoying the pandemic [in this one way] because now I'm actually finally unpacking tuff.


Liam:

Yeah, my wife and I have been saying a similar thing. Obviously, there's a lot of shit going on but we're trying to see the positives in it - we've been spending more time at home together; I've been getting things done around the house; it's been quiet, it's been lovely. We live by a main road and there's no cars going past. It's lovely. You can hear the birds sing.


John:

That's adorable. The thing is that I live in alone. So I'm not even getting that cabin fever you can get when you live with someone and they start to drive you nuts. My ex-wife has my daughter down in San Francisco. That's been the only bummer [for me] - not seeing the kid. Other than that [lockdown] is kind of how I live anyway. Only now I've got more time. I've been reading books and started to work on the guitar playing again because now I've got a chunk of time.


Part 9: Balancing musical obsession with real life


Liam:

Do you do any recording from home, such as remote session work or anything like that?


John:

I just started doing that. I've always wanted my home to not be a workplace but [because of the pandemic and lockdown] I did [record] a couple of songs already [at home]. The key is to not get obsessed. I had it where I'd get a recording back [of a song I'd been asked to play on], see the results, which I'd not like, and then start obsessing and it was driving me nuts.


Liam:

I've had that before when I've done bits of session work online. I'd get results back and couldn't believe how songs had been mixed. I would think 'how could anyone think I had intended the harmonica to be placed on the song like that'?


John:

I had it one time where someone approached me for work. I finally hear the end project say three, four years later. Everyone seemed to love it [but I didn't]. In the end I thought 'look, the cheque cleared, I don't want to diss anyone's taste so if you liked it, you liked it!'


Liam:

Yeah. I don't know if it's connected to what you were saying earlier when you mentioned that the bad harmonica playing ruins it for everyone meaning people will accept anything. I wonder if they just don't know what harmonica should sound like.


John:

The way the person on the project was wanting to use the harmonica was for a little sentimentality so it was being used as a 'old-country-back-on-the-farm' kinda sound. And so it wasn't quite be in the time signature where it was rocking. He was sort of using [the harmonica] for something old, retro.


Liam:

Kind of a nostalgic sort of thing?


John:

Yes exactly - a little nostalgic application of the harmonica there. And you know it still works, you can still move your head to it. So I'll take it. Who knows how he got there though? I remember putting the cassette on and I heard myself playing - I was like 'wow, there's a whole lot of new vocabulary'. I surprised myself with vocabulary I didn't know I [could] speak!


Liam:

I think it's interesting what you said about not wanting your home to be a workplace. I feel that way but I have a home office because I can't afford to have an office somewhere else (and it is convenient) but I very much have to close the door. And I have to have time off and all that kind of thing. Often if you're playing music people assume that you should want to do it all the time. I've always found, however much I love music, I need that time away from it, you know?


John:

Yes, of course. Because you're a human being. Yeah, people always use our love of making music as somehow an excuse or justification to not sleep, not to have a life.


I always was doing this. I'd get up at three in the morning for a brilliant song that had just come to me. And I felt I just had to get up and write it down. What I've learned to do, (and it took me a while to learn) was to roll over and go to sleep and say 'I'll probably write something roughly as good in the morning'. By and large that works out. And no-one hears that three in the morning version so...


Now that being said, if a song is good enough it will get me out of bed. But not every single flash of inspiration that passes through my brain gets me up with the notepads. You wind up doing it to yourself and you never get a good night's sleep. Just drive yourself crazy. And that's what I always hated about having the idea.


You know, I understand why people work at home. A lot of friends of mine have a studio in their house. And they think, yeah, 'it's convenient, I don't have to commute to work'. My problem would be that I would never get home, I would be working. I'd think of one more thing I got to do, and then another thing, and before you know it, I would have spent months in my studio.


I need to have a separate space where you're not allowed to work. And my Wi Fi is also an issue! I have the worst Wi Fi ever. Also I sort of like being in the last century a little bit - I don't want to be in lockstep - it just makes me nervous.


Liam:

Yeah, that's really refreshing to hear actually. I think it's healthy. And I think it's great that you've got that.


John:

Yes I've got people who could answer an email for me. As long as someone is paying the rent - you know? I think 'pay attention to as little as you can'.


Part 10: Shooting squirrels


Liam:

So post-pandemic, when the world gets back to normal, what are your plans? Will you be back on tour with the band again?


John:

Yes, [we plan to] tour again. Generally what we do is tour eight months out of the year - sometimes it gets up to ten months but ten months is the busiest it gets. With touring, you get into a great routine and you also get really good at your job. There's a pride in that. When we find the zone we all start to read each other's mind and it feels like you're doing something valuable and substantial. We will definitely be back on the road.


[Also touring is] really how I get to see the country. I miss Charlotte, North Carolina. I miss New York City. I miss you Maine. That's the reason I can pick where I live capriciously [because I'm] gonna see everywhere.


Liam:

Is where you live Northwest way?


John:

No, Northeast. I'm off Route Two which actually snakes across the entire country; it winds up by the Grand Coulee Dam and then goes on to Michigan. I think it goes up to Maine or something crazy like that. If you're looking at the map, you go north to Seattle and then take a right. We have the whole issue of the winter snow here.


I had a squirrel break into my house. I came down to breakfast one morning and there was all these plates knocking around. There is a squirrel and he is freaking out and I can't get to the door [to let him out]. So I went to the gun safe and got a .22 with the silencer. I had to kill him. I have this ridiculous lamp that is like an eternal flame bucket and it caught him. He landed in the lamp! And he started to bleed. That's the thing - if you shoot a squirrel, they bleed a lot. And luckily this lamp caught the entire squirrel and [the blood] filled up the [lamp] bowl so I poured it all out in the yard. I just went to work with the Clorox wipes, cleaning everything that he had touched. Two weeks later I found a little .22 bullet that must have bounced onto the floor of my rug.


Liam:

Wow! Yeah, I read that you are into your guns; you must be a good shot then?


John:

No - I wasn't that good a shot, until I had to shoot a squirrel. I've been a bad shot but let's say then [in that situation] I was a good shot. That was before breakfast too!


Liam:

Do you get red squirrels?


John:

Yes, this guy was a red squirrel. When I put him aside in the yard, all the other animals were quiet.


Liam:

They know that you mean business.


John:

Yeah, they know that a squirrel came in [alive] and he didn't come out.


Liam:

Thank you so much, John. It's been refreshing. You've talked about things in a different way from everyone else I've spoken to and I can't put my finger on quite what it was. But it's been really great. And as I say, it's been so refreshing. I really appreciate you chatting with me. Cheers, John. Take care.


If you liked this interview, you can catch more of my interviews with harmonica greats, such as Mickey Raphael, Rob Paparozzi and Jason Ricci, on my podcast.


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