Book Review: John Popper’s “Suck and Blow: And Other Stories I’m Not Supposed To Tell”

John Popper, best known for his mean harmonica skills, and being the front man of Blues Traveler, really lets it all hang out in his new autobiography, Suck and Blow: And Other Stories I’m Not Supposed To Tell, written by Popper with Dean Budnick.

If Popper had not made it big on the stage as a musician, he probably would have done well as a comedian.  Suck and Blow is splayed with hysterical moments that will make others around you wonder what’s so funny. This book is highly recommended to be read in public places, such as on a crowded train, a cross-country flight, or perhaps waiting in a long line to use the ladies rest room.  Why? Because the stories within will make you burst out in random displays of laughter.  Any attempts to keep it in will just result in a contorted face and the appearance of tears for unknown reasons.  Do yourself a favor, read this book and get ready to release the Kracken of hysterics.suck-and-blow-john-popper-cover-2015-billboard-650-hero

Suck and Blow begins with Popper’s adventures when he was young.  He clearly regarded school as just a place to go and think of new ways to enjoy the day. His antics in the classroom, which were rare appearances, resulted in convincing adults that more time out of the class room was the way to go.  His brilliant hold on the psychology of humans at such an early age did well for him as he, and Blues Traveler, eventually came up through the ranks of the music world.

His book also unfolds the mystery of how he was first introduced to the harmonica, and discusses how he later goes on to severely crush several top musicians on stage with his masterful hold of the instrument during performances.

Like many musicians, Popper was just winging it as Blues Traveler gained success over the years. That winging it included heated arguments, a few thrown punches, and a lot of rock and roll shenanigans that prevailed. Did you know that Gregg Allman wanted to be a part of Blues Traveler?  Well, neither did Gregg Allman, apparently, who would repeatedly say that he needed to be a part of the band while drunk.

The moments were fleeting, as the morning after resulted in him forgetting he even asked. These rare glimpses of truth bring readers the crazy stories that happened behind the scenes, backstage, in the van, and on the side of the road.

The book is not all humor, however.  There are occasions of cinching heartache. Bill Graham’s death sent shock waves throughout the industry.  Best known for his involvement with the Grateful Dead, Graham was an integral part of Blues Traveler’s early years. The moment the band hears of his death is gripping and, with each page, the sorrow and heartbreak is felt through Popper’s commanding use of the written word.  Have tissues readily available, as this chapter of life will tear at the heartstrings, however, don’t be surprised when someone gets punched in the face while mourning.

Suck and Blow also winds through evolutionary tales of how songs were borne from various experiences.  If this book were a song, it would be a symphonic masterpiece, as each page brings the audience back to the melodies of popular tunes, while shedding light on how those tunes were created.  The candid stories weaved throughout make this a “can’t put down” read.

For a vivid look at the life of a musician, run out and get this book. It will make your day, week and year. The humor, heartache, and just plain craziness that John Popper has experienced will make this story seem unreal, yet every shred of it is true.

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