I came up with the idea for Hempilation in 1994. I'd seen other cause and benefit albums like Sweet Releaf and thought, why not one for marijuana legalization?
I was working at High Times and I was able to enlist NORML and Capricorn Records to produce and release the album, officially titled Hempilation: Freedom Is NORML, in 1995.
It was a big success, thanks largely to the bands and artists that contributed songs to the album - 17 in total.
In 1995, there was no bigger band in the jam band scene than Blues Traveler. I lived and worked in New York and Traveler had famously played and hung out at joints on Second Ave. like NIghtingale. Around the pool table one night I told bassist Bobby Sheehan about the project. He liked it and later reported back that the band wanted to be on the album and had picked a song: Sly and the Family Stone's "I Want to Take You Higher."
I was thankful and happy with the song selection. Yes, of course, I said. Hempilation songs needed to refer to weed or getting high in some fashion.
Blues Traveler, like all of the groups, received a modest recording budget. They went to Electric Lady, Jimi Hendrix's old studio on 8th St.
This is peak Blues Traveler, a deep track buried in the annals of artists stepping up to do good things.
A few months later, a CD containing the song arrived at my office late in the afternoon. It came with a simple note. I slid the disc in and was quickly taken by their sharp reading of the soul classic.
The band consisted of John Popper on vocals and harmonica, Chan Kinchla on guitar, Brendan Hill on drums and Sheehan. It was the original lineup.
This is peak Blues Traveler, a deep track buried in the annals of artists stepping up to do good things. They're super tight, running through the verses and choruses with monumental jams in between. Popper is in his best "Hendrix of harmonica" form, nailing it every step of the way until the fade ending.
On the album, "I Want to Take Take You HIgher" hits cleanup, so to speak. In other words, it's the fourth track. Other groups on Hempilation include Cypress Hill, the Black Crowes, Sublime, Ziggy Marley & the Melody Makers, 311 and Widespread Panic.
The album raised $150,000 for NORML at a time when it was most needed in the mid-'90s. Hempilation 2: Free the Weed, also on Capricorn and featuring 20 more tracks, came out in 1998.
Sadly, Bobby Sheehan passed away in 1999.