Nick Reynolds, The Alabama 3 via The Sopranos to The Simpsons

I love to hear the harmonica adding some atmosphere to a film or TV show. Unfortunately the musician who plays the music is rarely credited.

The Alabama 3

I was watching an episode of a series on Channel 5 (British TV) called Finders Keepers and there in the background was that harmonica sound. I checked the website and wrote to the producer and he told me the music was by the Alabama 3, a group from Brixton, in London. Feeling pleased with myself, I watched the program again and saw that their name was on the opening credits…

I visited the Alabama 3 website and found out more about their harmonica player, Nick Reynolds.

Nick Reynolds

Nick was born in London in 1962 and his first band was in the Royal Navy in1979. In 1983, whilst serving in Navy Intelligence in Whitehall, he played with the reformed 60’s group The Pretty Things until 1985 when he went to Australia. On his return to London in 1989 he played in a series of groups – Les Grandes Branleurs, Backstreet Band, the Brit-pop band Octopus, and the experimental electro jazz band Blowpipe before becoming part of the Alabama 3 in 2001. There are more than 3 members and they don’t come from Alabama.

Woke up this morning

Alabama 3 were a new band to me and we don’t have any TV subscription channels. This may explain why when I started looking at their recordings I was unaware of the world wide fame they had achieved when their recording of Woke up this morning was used for the opening credits of The Sopranos. The bluesy rap song with influences from Howlin’ Wolf, Mississippi Fred McDowell and Muddy Waters.

From The Sopranos to The Simpsons

I went off in search of news of The Sopranos and found some great videos and parodies of the opening credits to the TV show.

The Sopranos opening credits
The Simpsons Parody

Alabama 3 in concert

Here are two performances of Woke up this morning by Alabama 3. The first one live in concert and a second small group acoustic one with more of Nick on harmonica.

Woke up this morning – Belladrum 2023
Work up this morning – Cigar Box Sessions 2015

More on Nick Reynolds, harmonica player, writer, sculptor, artist, composer and producer here.

Chris Barber introduces touring US Blues Artists (1958/9)

Chris Barber died 2 March 2021. Here he introduces some of the US blues performers who toured with his band in UK and Europe in the 1950s. Chris brought over a stream of American artists who helped to inspire the British Blues boom in the 1960s, through Cyril Davies and then youngsters like Paul Jones, Brian Jones and Mick Jagger. This is from the Chris Barber’ archive CD album, “Lost & Found Volume 2”, on Blues Legacy.

From CD “Lost & Found Volume 2”

Track list
1 – Intro Muddy Waters – Chris Barber
2 – Hoochie Coochie Man – Muddy Waters
3 – Intro Sonny Terry – Chris Barber
4 – Poor man Blues – Sonny Terry
5 – Intro Champion Jack Dupree – Chris Barber
6 – Merry Christmas Blues -Champion Jack Dupree

Harmonica Bench

I received an email from my friend Colin Parratt asking if I knew anything about a bench which his friend Martin had come across. I had to confess it didn’t know anything about it so he sent Martin’s photo to me. Martin lives in Folkestone (UK) and was the drummer in the barn dance band Colin used to play in.

The image looked like a bench based on a 7 hole harmonica. Across the back of the seat there is an inscription “Where Souls Meet”. The back of the bench was a strange shape so I decided to find out more about it.

There was an inscription on the side of the bench so I asked Colin to send me a picture of it so we could see what it said.

When I received Colin’s photo things became clearer. The plaque on the side read,

In memory of Arikę 

Musician, visual artist, teacher, therapist, inspirational blues harp player, father, grandfather and a proud black man.

At the bottom of the plaque was a QR code and when I scanned it it revealed a website –

The website belongs to a charity, Origins Untold, a volunteer arts organisation presenting music, poetry, visual arts, fashion and food inspired and created by people of the African diaspora.

The website shows an event was held 12th June 2022, the second anniversary of Arike‘s death, to unveil.
a Blues Harp bench, designed by Pete Phillips and made by Cut Once Woodworks. The group walked from the Bandstand on the Leas in Folkestone, down the Zig Zag path to the Lower Coastal Park, where the bench is situated.

Origins Untold was founded in 2015 by the late, great Arike (aka Stan Grant), who sadly passed away on 12 June 2020 after a tragic accident.

Arike’s vision for the organisation was to broaden and change the conversation about race and about members of the African diaspora. To honour this, it is committed to breaking stereotypes, making unseen connections and unearthing buried histories, acknowledging the contributions that Black people have made to the history of this region and to its present.

In memory of Arikẹ, founder of Origins Ontold1949-2020

“Whatever a Black man can do to remind himself that he is fully human, to do it and to keep doing it… I don’t think we need to do more than that…it is just to remind ourselves that we are fully human.”

Arikẹ, 2020

(from the Origins Untold website)


Pre Harmonica Blues

I met up with some friends in Ealing, West London, last week for a post-Covid meeting of Vinyl Addicts Anonymous. After a nice lunch in the Kings Arms we wandered down to the Oxfam Charity Shop, which specialises in second hand music recordings and books. We wanted to test our ability to fight the temptation to buy more vinyl and failed miserably. My wife tries to enforce a strict “one out, one in“” policy but when I saw the new box full of records from a collector of traditional jazz (mainly British) my resistance crumbled. I resisted buying over 20 recordings including 78rpm discs by Bessie Smith and Mead Lux Lewis but could not resist 4 10″ LPs which were a part of my music education in the mid 1950s.

The first was “King Joe” (Columbia 33S 1065) by the King Oliver Band (1923) with a young Louis Armstrong on cornet. Great blues tunes like “Dippermouth Blues” but unfortunately not “Canal Street Blues“, the two sides of one of my early 78s.

Dippermouth Blues

The second was a solo piano recording by Jelly Roll Morton (1939) on Vogue L.D.E 080. One of the founders of jazz, he recorded many tracks by his band “Jelly Roll Morton and his Red Hot Peppers“. Here he shows the range of his own compositions including blues. He was ill when these recordings were made for the Library of Congress and he died two years later.

Mamie’s Blues

Josh White was thought by serious blues collectors to be unauthentic but his more sophisticated vocal and guitar style was more appreciated by mainstream British listeners. This collection “Josh White – Ballads and Blues” (Brunswick LA 8562) was recorded in 1949 and released in Britain in 1952 also features a track with Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee.


The final 10″ LP was “New Orleans Joys” by the new Chris Barber Jazz Band, with Pat Halcox on trumpet. It was issued in 1954 and it contains two tracks by the Lonnie Donegan Skiffle GroupRock Island Line and John Henry. Lonnie was the band’s banjo player and they played during the band’s concerts. Trad Jazz had taken off and the Skiffle boom was about to start.

Chimes Blues

This is where harmonica starts to come into my story. You can read more about this in my blog about Cyril Davies

Back to the Future – Skiffle and Blues Harp (1956)

Lonnie Donegan was the King of Skiffle. In the 1950s he played some great country blues songs like Rock Island Line, Stewball,  Midnight Special, Mule Skinner Blues… but he never had the chance to play with a blues harp player.  

30 years later Lonnie got more recognition for what he has achieved and made a tribute album with Rory Gallagher, Elton John, Brian May Ringo Starr and Leo Sayer on blues harp.

One of my favourite Donegan recordings is one called “I’m a Roving Rambler” and earlier this year I was playing this track for my friend , Marty McFly, who was over from Chicago. I said I thought it was crying out for a bit of blues harp.

Here is how it starts….

Lonnie Donegan – Roving Rambler intro

Marty was playing around with his valve amplifier at the time and suddenly there was a blue flash and some white smoke and he disappeared. The clock was about to strike midnight so I sorted out the amplifier. I plugged it back in and it sparked, crackled back to life and the valves (tubes) started to glow.

Suddenly Marty reappeared looking all excited. He said that when the smoke cleared after the explosion he had found himself in the studio with Lonnie Donegan, back in 1956. And then, just as they finished recording a take of Roving Rambler, he had a blackout and when he woke up, he was back in the UK with me again in 2020.

It did not make any sense to me or my other friend, “Doc“ Brown. Then I noticed that there was an alternative, previously unreleased take on the CD I was listening to. I played the track and I began to wonder if it might have been true. Have a listen….

Lonnie Donegan and Blues Harp

Who do you think is playing harp on the recording?

The answer is at the end.

It wasn’t Michael J. Fox!

More Skiffle information.

I have been through a few hundred Skiffle tracks from the 1950s from the UK, in the last few weeks, looking for any bands that featured the harmonica with little success.  What I found was that the only person playing anything like blues harp at this time was Cyril Davies.

Cyril recorded sessions with Beryl Bryden and his own group with Alexis Korner which played at the Skiffle, and the Barrelhouse and Blues Club at the Round House Club in Soho. Cyril eventually became the friends with Sonny Terry and James Cotton on their trips to the UK and he moved to amplified harp and in 1962 he and Alexis recorded the ground breaking “R&B at the Marquee” which helped to launch the British Blues Boom.

Other examples of harmonica in Skiffle bands include Chris Barber on the “Backstairs Session” and some melodic chromatic solos by John Wadley Original Barnstormers Spasm Band. In the mid 1960s the blues music scene split into pop music and a more traditional blues scene in the folk clubs where many good blues harp players could be heard.

Skiffle came out of the British interest in US country blues and traditional jazz. The interest in American music of the people went back before the Second World War and was heightened during the war period with the mixing of American servicemen, coloured and white, and their music and recordings, with the British people. One attraction was the associated dances. After the war, British traditional jazz bands were formed and regular venues were established where you could listen, dance and even get to play.

By the early 1950s this had become very popular and the bands of Ken Colyer, Humphrey Littleton, Sandy Brown and Chris Barber were well established. It was quite normal to have a beer break and in this interval, some of the musicians would get together and play songs by Leadbelly, Woody Guthrie, the Jug Bands, and other country blues numbers. The instrumentation was very basic – guitars, a wash-tub bass and maybe a suitcase for percussion.  As the Chris Barber Band started to play concerts in the big theatres they included some of their interval “skiffle” music into their performances. These songs were led by their banjo player, Lonnie Donegan, who played guitar on these songs. It was the unexpected success of their recording of their concert version of Leadbelly’s “The Rock Island Line” which launched Skiffle as a mainstream music style.

The success of the recordings by professional bands led to the proliferation of skiffle bands in youth groups, church groups, scouts and schools. They were the sort people who had previously started harmonica groups.

The Pioneer Skiffle Group

The Pioneer Skiffle Group of Sidcup, Kent.
The Harmonica is an ideal instrument for taking the melody line with the usual skiffle backing of guitar, bass, drums and piano. The instrument is regularly featured by the popular Pioneer Skiffle Group, shown in this photograph sent to us by Mr. K. S. B. Clark of Sidcup. From Harmonica News, December 1957

The fire of the Skiffle movement burned brightly for three or four years but it became much more of a pop music style. Out of the ashes of Skiffle came many young people who had got a taste for performing and playing guitars and they started to make their own Rock and Roll and Blues music, the Beatles, the Shadows, Jimmy Page …

Skiffle still lives on. There is a band called The Lonegans who play around the South East of England and raise money for the MIND Charity. Lonnie Donegan’s son Peter is a well known musician and singer of Country Music.

The harp player on the Lonnie Donegan track is Joe (one-take) Filisko – !

Harmonica Music sur Cher 2017

Harmonicas sur Cher is my favourite festival. Great location, great organisation, great music and great local support from the people of Saint Aignan. For three days, harmonicas can be heard on the streets, in the cafes, the church and the Salle des fete.

Saint Aignan is a small old town with narrow cobbled streets in the wine valley of the river Cher, near where it joins the Loire at Tours in Central France.

There are some small daytime events but the core of the festival is the three evening concerts in the Salle des fêtes. Each concert features two artists/bands and this blog features music from all of them. As usual at this festival, the range of music and harmonica styles is very wide. You can look for something that you like or, maybe, sit back and listen to some of the places the harmonica can take you. You might be surprised!

Thursday (Jeudi) 25 May. The concert was opened by the Zanella Trio who play acoustic jazz and world music featuring Jérôme Peyrelevade : diatonic harmonica, Gilles Zanella : guitar, and Cyril Cianciolo : bass. Jérôme’s latest CD is called Somewhere on the Edge of The track which is featured is Nadia’s Nights.

The concert was closed by Cory Seznec, a band playing a mix of blues, country and African music. Cory plays guitar and banjo and David Chalumeau is the featured harmonica player. Their latest CD is called Backroad Carnival The track which is featured is Sell You My Soul.

Friday (Vendredi) 26 May. The concert was opened by French Canadian harmonica player and storyteller, Gérald Laroche, who presented sound images to illustrate his stories. He used harmonicas, Celtic flute, Indian mouth bow, Jews Harp and percussion instruments to create a unique fusion of sound and speech. His latest CD is called Rubato: Stealing The track which is featured is Last one to leave.

The concert was closed by jazz chromatic player, Will Galison, who performed a musical fantasy based on Homer’s story of Odysseus. He was accompanied by a jazz trio with the composer, Karim Maurice on piano and a small string section, la The track which is featured is Circe. The website for Karim Maurice’s Odysseus project is

Saturday (Samedi) 27 May. The concert was opened by new group, Liouane, led by chromatic player, Thomas Laurent. The music included traditional compositions and music influenced by Eastern Mediterranean and Balkan music played on oud, clarinet, percussion, harmonica and double bass. Their latest CD is The track which is featured is From Bethlehem to Angers.

The concert and the festival was closed by Mountain Men, featuring Barefoot Iano on blues harmonica. They played their own mix of rock and roll and blues (with a touch of Madness) which had grandparents, parents and children dancing in the isles as the evening drew to a close. Their latest CD is Black Market The track which is featured is Still in the Race.

That was the end for 2017 but Christophe Minier will be back with another Harmonicas sur Cher festival in 2019.

If you want to see what the town and the festival looks like, here is a video I made at the festival in 2011.

1 – Jérôme Peyrelevade – Nadia’s Nights – 00:00
2 – Cory Seznec – Sell You My Soul – 03:26
3 – Gérald Laroche – Last one to leave – 08:17
4 – Will Galison – Circe – 11:51
5 – Liouane – From Bethlehem to Angers – 19:03
6 – Mountain Men – Still in the Race – 24:20

Popular Harmonica Recordings after 1962 – a personal choice

An earlier programme on this site, Cyril Davies – From Trad Jazz to the Rolling Stones, described the start of the UK blues boom in 1962. This is a celebration of the popular harmonica recordings which followed in Europe and America with examples drawn from R&B, Rock, Popular Music, Film Music, Rap and Beatboxing. We had to leave out many great recordings. Maybe we need to select Vol 2.

It includes three tracks from the UK R&B scene by The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Manfred Mann. A couple of on rack-harp from Bob Dylan and Neil Young. The Doors track features a guest appearance by John Sebastian. Canned Heat was founded by blues historians and record collectors, Al “Blind Owl” Wilson and Bob “The Bear” Hite – Al played the harp. Mr Bloe was originally a Bubblegum B-side from New Your but a group of UK session musicians recorded this 1970 hit. Magic Dick soloed on Whammer Jammer. Stone Fox Chase is the theme for the BBC TV programme, Old Grey Whistle Test and it became a ‘right of passage’ for UK harp players. Stevie Wonder has a style of his own. It took a long time to find the right harmonica break for Runaway. Norton Buffalo eventually developed this version using four harmonicas to cover the chord changes. John Popper shows off his technique and musicality on But any Way. Ray Jackson is the harp player with Lindisfarne. Motorhead lead singer, Lemmy put together this acoustic version of Ace of Spades, which was featured in a TV advert. The Leo Diamond and Larry Adler’s recordings of film themes are from the 1950s, but they add a little more chromatic into the collection. Toots plays like only Toots can. US Rapper, Pitbull, uses a Lee Oskar riff from San Francisco Bay, played by Paul Harrington, in the Country tinged Timber. Son of Dave’s San Francisco was used as the theme for the BBC Radio series Tales of the City.

Track listing

1 – The Beatles – Love, Love Me Do – 00:17
2 – The Rolling Stones – Not Fade Away – 02:34
3 – Manfred Mann – 54321 – 04:21
4 – Bob Dylan – A Man of Constant Sorrow – 06:29
5 – Steve Stills Band and Neil Young – Long May You Run – 09:29
6 – The Doors – Roadhouse Blues – 13:31
7 – Canned Heat – On the Road Again – 17:37
8 – Harry Pitch – Groovin’ With Mr Bloe – 22:41
9 – J Geils Band – Whammer Jammer – 25:16
10 – Area Code 615 – Stone Fox Chase – 27:55
11 – Stevie Wonder – For Once in My Life – 31:29
12 – Bonnie Raitt – Runaway – 34:16
13 – John Popper – But Any Way – 38:18
14 – Lindisfarne – Meet me on the corner – 41:35
15 – Motorhead (Lemmy) – Ace of Spades – 44:11
16 – Leo Diamond – Sadie Thompson’s Song – 47:47
17 – Larry Adler – Le Rififi – 50:33
18 – Toots Thielemans Quartet – Theme from Midnight Cowboy – 53:50
19 – Pitbull – Timber – 58:34
20 – Son of Dave – San Francisco – 62:01

Introduction to Blues on the Chromatic Harmonica by David Barrett

Here are some great examples of blues music played on the Chromatic Harmonica. They were put together by top educator and performer, David Barrett, who introduces each track, identifying the artist and indicating how it was played.

This playlist is taken from the third part of David’s series of articles about playing Blues Chromatic published in the NHL magazine, Harmonica World. David Barrett –

If you like what you hear, please press the “like” button and “share” it with your friends.

Over to you, David…

Introduction to Blues on the Chromatic Harmonica by David Barrett by The Archivist on Mixcloud

Track listing
1 – George “Harmonica” Smith – Blues in the Dark – 0:00
2 – George “Harmonica” Smith – Blues For Reverend King – 04:41
3 – George “Harmonica” Smith – Boogie’n with George – 09:45
4 – Little Walter – Fast Large One – 12:07
5 – Little Walter – Lights Out – 15:25
6 – Little Walter – Flying Saucer – 18:11
7 – William Clarke – Blowin’ Like Hell – 21:25
8 – Rod Piazza – Harpburn – 24:18
9 – Rick Estrin – Coastin’ Hank – 28:03
10 – Mark Hummel – Humble Bug – 34:38
11 – Paul deLay – Good Thing – 39:47
12 – Dennis Gruenling – Bluesmith – 44:45
13 – Mitch Kashmar – Crazy Mixed Up World – 55:00
14 – Gary Primich – The Briar Patch – 58:38
15 – Paul Oscher – Walkin’ – 63:10
16 – Steve Guyger – We’re Gonna Ride – 65:31
17 – Lynwood Slim – Oil Can Harry – 68:50
18 – Kim Wilson – Reel Eleven, Take One – 71:58
19 – Jean “Toots” Thielemans – Fundamental Frequency – 74:48
20 – Dave Barrett – Dark Night – 80:05

1) Blues in the Dark – (Blues Masters The Essential Collection, V4 Harmonica Classics, Rhino
2) Blues For Reverend King -(West Coast Down Home Harmonica, El Segundo
3) Boogie’n with George – (Now You Can Talk About Me, Blind Pig
4) Fast Large One – (The Essential Little Walter [Disc 1], Chess), C Chro in 3rd (D)
5) Lights Out -(Confessin’ the Blues, Chess)
6) Flying Saucer – (Blues With A Feelin’, Chess)
7) Blowin’ Like Hell – William Clarke (Blowin’ Like Hell, Alligator)
8) Harpburn – Rod Piazza (Harp Burn, Black Top)
9) Coastin’ Hank – Rick Estrin (That’s Big, Alligator)
10) Humble Bug – Mark Hummel (Harmonica Party, Mountain Top)
11) Good Thing – Paul deLay (The Last Of The Best, Criminal Records)
12) Bluesmith – Dennis Gruenling (History Of The Blues Harmonica Concert, Backbender)
13) Crazy Mixed Up World – Mitch Kashmar (Crazy Mixed Up World, Thumbs Up!!)
14) The Briar Patch – Gary Primich (Company Man, Black Top)
15) Walkin’ – Paul Oscher (Alone With The Blues, Electro-Fi)
16) We’re Gonna Ride – Steve Guyger (Past Life Blues, Severn)
17) Oil Can Harry – Lynwood Slim (Too Small To Dance, Big Rhythm Combo, Pacific Blues)
18) Reel Eleven, Take One – Kim Wilson (Tigerman, Antone’s)
19) Frequency by Jean “Toots” Thielemans (Legends Of Harmonica, Rhino
20) Dark Night -0 David Barret (It Takes Three)

Blues Harps at Christmas

Blues harmonica players and their bands performing songs about Christmas. Carey Bell, Paul Oscher, Paul Butterfield, Sonny Boy Williamson II, Little Charlie and the Nightcats, G Love, Sonny Boy Williamson, Canned Heat, Richard Sleigh, Eddie C Campbell, Mark Doyle and the Maniacs.

Track listing for Blues Harp at Christmas.

1 – Carey Bell – Christmas Train -0 0:00
2 – Paul Oscher – Christmas Blues – 03:35
3 – Paul Butterfield – Merry Christmas Baby – 07:58
4 – Sonny Boy Williamson II – Christmas Blues – 10:51
5 – Little Charlie – Christmas Time Again – 13:26
6 – G Love – Christmas Blues#2 – 16:39
7 – Sonny Boy Williamson – Christmas Morning Blues – 21:55
8 – Canned Heat – Christmas Blues – 25:18
9 – Richard Sleigh – Jingle Bells – 27:53
10 – Eddie C Campbell – Santa’s Messin’ With The Kid – 30:41
11 – Mark Doyle and the Maniacs – Merry Christmas Baby – 34:01

National Poetry Day 2015 – Blues Medicine – Hylda Sims

Hylda was one of the Skiffle/Blues pioneers in London in the 1950s. She was part of the City Ramblers and is still playing this style of music in clubs in 2015. This poem or free song, Blues Medicine, is Hylda’s homage to the Blues.

It is about the need for some blues medicine which can come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Maybe it is the first Skiffle Rap!

Here is the live performance of Blues Medicine from the radio show with Hylda speaking, Doc Stenson on harmonica and Simon Prager on guitar.

It was recorded live on Jonathan Ballie Strong’s Live Lockdown#3 show on London’s K2K radio in November 2013, in a program I did about the life of the UK pioneer harp player, Cyril Davies.

Hylda, Doc and Simon Prager
Hylda, Doc and Simon Prager