Q&A with British blues harmonica player Alan Glen of Yardbirds, Nine Below Zero, Barcodes, and Little Axe

"I love ALL roots music - and do many recording sessions for both Reggae and Blues artists."

Alan Glen: Original Barcode of The Blues

Alan Glen is a British blues harmonica player, best known for his work with The Yardbirds, Nine Below Zero, Little Axe, and his own bands, The Barcodes and The Incredible Blues Puppies. Glen started playing harmonica after seeing Muddy Waters, and the 'American Folk-Blues Festivals' which visited London in the late 1960s and early 1970s. His early influences being Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson, and Junior Wells. Early bands he was involved with were Crowjane Bluesband, The Radical Sheiks and Brothers Grimm, before going on to join Nine Below Zero (1991 - 1995), and The Yardbirds (1996 - 2003 and 2008 - 2009). Glen has played on over 50 albums and recorded / performed with: Alannah Myles, Jeff Beck, Steve Vai, Slash, John Mayall, Steve Lukather, Skunk Baxter, on the Yardbirds' album Birdland and he recorded six albums with Little Axe. In addition he appeared alongside Alan Barnes, Jim Mullen and Roger Cotton on the With Friends Like These album for the Barcodes, which also included Zoot Money.         (Alan Glen / Photo by Tony Cole)

He played with Peter Green, Paul Jones, Junior Delgado and Hubert Sumlin at the Long Beach Blues Festival. With Dr. Feelgood he recorded the album On The Road Again. Other collaborators include Art Themen, Pee Wee Ellis, Dub Syndicate, Paul Cox, Alan Barnes, Little Axe and Gypie Mayo. Glen has played at Montreux, Brecon Jazz Festival and Nice Jazz Festivals, Hollywood House of Blues, the Hilton, Las Vegas, and The Royal Albert Hall, as well as various television and radio performances. His latest CD compilation “On ZIP YOUR LIP” (2014) provides tracks which he has recorded in recent years with many different bands and artists - including 'live' recordings from his time as a member of THE YARDBIRDS and also NINE BELOW ZERO, and studio sessions for DR FEELGOOD and JUNIOR DELGADO. Alan plays harmonica on all the tracks, and also on some selections guitar and vocals.

Interview by Michael Limnios

When was your first desire to become involved in the blues, who were your first idols & what does Blues offered?

After seeing the Muddy Waters Band in London 1968. Idols - Little Walter, Junior Wells, Sonny Boy Williamson, Howlin' Wolf 

How has the Blues and Rock Counterculture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

As a working musician for many years - I have always been proud to be part of a community that is anti-racism / anti-war / anti-commercialism / anti-judgementalism etc - in fact our remit is essentially to bring pleasure and good vibes to the world - and no harm to man or beast - ha ha.

How do you describe your sound and music philosophy? What touched (emotionally) you from harmonica?

As a harmonica player - I have been influenced by my favorite players - Little Walter / Sonny Boy Williamson / Junior Wells / Hammie Nixon / Kim Wilson etc - but have made a point of not trying to sound like them - but rather to develop my own distinctive style and riffs - as can be heard on the more than 50 albums I have recorded - with The Yardbirds / Nine Below Zero / Little Axe / The Barcodes / Incredible Blues Puppies / etc. My musical philosophy is that I am happy to play all music genres – not just Blues or Rock - I have also played on many Roots Reggae recordings - Junior Delgado / Dub Syndicate etc. and last year played on the latest Lee Scratch Perry album which went to number 1 in the USA reggae charts. The harmonica is a great roots sound that can lift any music.

"Most young music fans are only able to listen to the music that is presented to them by radio and TV stations - which is largely commercial music on major record labels - I would like to see some radio and TV shows presenting the best new artists in all genres - pop / rock / reggae / blues / country / world music etc.: (Alan Glen, 2017 / Photo by Haydn Hart)

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

I have been privileged to have been able to play with some of the world’s greatest musicians - including Jeff Beck / Steve Vai / Slash / Steve Lukather / Peter Green etc. - but I guess the best advice I received was from B.B. King - after supporting him with one of my early bands - Radical Sheiks - at the Hammersmith Odeon in 1984 - he loved the band and told me to 'Stick with it - and success will come'. 

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of the past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

I miss the fact that record companies used to have 'scouts' that would check out new bands and sign them to a record deal on merit - even if their music wasn't necessarily commercial - and radio stations would play a wide variety of musical genres - nowadays it seems that if your music doesn't fit the current fad - it stands no chance of being heard.

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

Most young music fans are only able to listen to the music that is presented to them by radio and TV stations - which is largely commercial music on major record labels - I would like to see some radio and TV shows presenting the best new artists in all genres - pop / rock / reggae / blues / country / world music etc.

What were the reasons that the UK was to be the center of Blues/Pub Rock researches and experiments?          (Alan Glen, The Yardbirds 1998 / Photo by Chris Dreja)

I was introduced to blues music by the Rolling Stones first album which included covers by Muddy Waters / Slim Harpo etc. - this led me to search out the original artists on record and also go and see some of the great American blues artists when they came over to London - Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee / Muddy Waters / Juke Boy Bonner / Junior Wells & Buddy Guy / American Folk Blues Festivals etc. - other British bands that influenced me were Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac / John Mayall's Bluesbreakers / The Animals / Manfred Mann etc. - these bands took American blues - transformed them into their own style - and sold the music back to the USA in a popular new form. In so doing they re-introduced American audiences to their own music and rejuvenated the careers of many US blues artists.

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in music paths?

1 - No matter what music genre you are playing in - you are in the entertainment industry - and your audience is there to be entertained!     

2 - Never leave your harmonicas exposed & unattended in hot countries - as I found out to my cost after leaving them on my amp after soundcheck in Sydney Australia - during which time an earwig type insect had crawled into one of the holes and lodged in my throat on sucking in my first note - leading to my having to vomit on stage - much to the enjoyment of the audience (it was a Hell's Angels biker show - ha ha!!).

Which was the best moment of your career and which was the worst?

Best career moments - 1994 - With Nine Below Zero - 12 nights supporting
Eric Clapton at the Royal Albert Hall. Recording with Jeff Beck at his house studio - 2000. Performing with 'Slash' and Steve Vai in Austin,Texas - 2003

Which is the most interesting period in your life and why?

Musically most interesting period - 1993 - 2003 - Recorded albums with Nine Below Zero / The Yardbirds / Little Axe / Junior Delgado / Dub Syndicate / The Barcodes - performed at Montreux Jazz Festival, Hilton Las Vegas, and Hollywood House of Blues.

What are some of the most memorable tales with The Yardbirds?

Recording the 'Birdland' album at Steve Vai's studio in Hollywood - 2002

"As a working musician for many years - I have always been proud to be part of a community that is anti-racism / anti-war / anti-commercialism / anti-judgementalism etc - in fact our remit is essentially to bring pleasure and good vibes to the world - and no harm to man or beast - ha ha." (Photo: Alan Glen & Gordon Smith, 2009)

Tell me a few things about your meet with Gordon Smith and how do you characterize him?

Gordon Smith - legendary singer / guitarist - I have recorded 2 albums with him - The Essential Gordon Smith' - and ' Gordon Smith 'Live' (New - 2012).

How did you first meet Peter Green, what kind of a guy was Hubert Sumlin?

I performed with Peter Green at the 'Long Beach Blues Festival' - California -in 1998. Hubert Sumlin was a nice guy and a great Guitarist - I love his playing with Howlin' Wolf.

What’s the best jam you ever played in? What are some of the most memorable gigs you've had?

Memorable Gigs: 1993 - with Nine Below Zero supporting 'Sting' at Sporting Lisbon Stadium in front of 100,000 people.

2003 - With The Yardbirds - playing at Hollywood House of Blues - with Steve Vai, 'Slash', Skunk Baxter, and Steve Lukather as guests.

2009 - With The Barcodes - playing at Brecon Jazz Festival - with Zoot Money & Jim Mullen as guests.

What's been their experience from Nine Below Zero & Dr. Feelgood?

Nine Below Zero - Touring the USA & Canada / Dr Feelgood - Recording the 'On The Road Again' album.

"I miss the fact that record companies used to have 'scouts' that would check out new bands and sign them to a record deal on merit - even if their music wasn't necessarily commercial - and radio stations would play a wide variety of musical genres - nowadays it seems that if your music doesn't fit the current fad - it stands no chance of being heard." (Photo: Nine Below Zero, Switzerland 1994)

Would you mind telling me your most vivid memory from Little Axe?

Little Axe - Dutch TV show - 1996 / British TV - 1997 / Womad World Music Festival - 2011

What do you think about DUB, REGGAE music and how close are they to the BLUES?

I love ALL roots music - and do many recording sessions for both Reggae and Blues artists.

What is the impact of music on the socio-cultural implications? How do you want it to affect people?

Again, I would like to see far more variety in the music that people are exposed to - so that they can form their own preferences – rather than just accept what they are given.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?

As my harmonica hero is Little Walter - I would love to spend a day at Chess studios in Chicago in the 50's while Walter and the fabulous Chess house band - Robert Lockwood Jr / David & Louis Myers / Willie Dixon / Freddy Below / Otis Spann etc - recorded all those classic blues tracks that have influenced so many blues musicians - both in the UK and USA.

Alan Glen - Home


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