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Alabama 3 the 'novelty' band that defied critics heading to Blackburn – Lancashire Telegraph

ROB Spragg is not someone you can tell not to do something. When he and close collaborator Jake Black decided the world needed music which fused country and western and techno there were hoots of derision from the purists.
But in that moment Alabama 3 were born – and over 25 years later the band is still going strong and heading to Blackburn for the first time for a live show next week.
In spite of the name, Alabama 3 are very much a British band. In spite of being based in Brixton for years, Rob retains his gravely Welsh accent, and the spirit of non conformism remains as strong as ever.
During lockdown the band released Step 13, a surprisingly upbeat album given the times it was written in.
Just six months before lockdown, Jake Black – band name The Very Reverend Dr D Wayne Love – had died aged just 59 and Rob, or Larry Love to use his band alter ego, had lost a close friend and kindred spirit.
“There was a temptation to write about the pain of Covid and everything that had gone on,” said Rob, “but I thought I’d avoid that as much as possible as it was going to get boring after a while and instead try and find some optimism.
“There’s a fine line between self pity and making an album of songs about a collective experience and the last thing we want to be is some tragic navel gazing band.
“I think the world needs a bit of optimism. We all know the government are all plonkers and the problems of global warming but you have got to try and give people some hope. Dancing is always a good remedy.”
Before he died, Jake had been working with Rob on a box set of the band’s most popular album Exile on Coldharbour Lane.
“We done all this dub stuff and I had loads of things on tape in the studio,” said Rob. “It would break my heart to come across these things and hear his voice but we were able to incorporate some of it into Step 13.
“It gave us a chance to reanimate him.”
The band took things a step further when they went out on tour following his death.
“We had a full-size mannequin of him which stood on stage. We’d got a death mask and a cast of his hand. Some people thought it was weird but we didn’t care,” said Rob. “The biggest problem was that the mannequin was too big to fit into the trailer so we had to look after the head and the torso would sit in the kitchen of the tour bus. It freaked some people out having a headless Jake sat there but I quite liked it. I’d go and take a bottle of whisky into the kitchen and have a drink with him.”
Rob admits he did wonder if the band would be able to carry on without such a charismatic front man but a tour earlier this year promoting Step 13 has left him optimistic for the future.
“There’s no way I’ve got his charisma or charm onstage,” he said, “and it has been horrible not to have him there next to me but I’ve had to learn to do things differently – that’s been the challenge.
“We straddle so many genres and I’m really proud that we have a band that can switch from one to another seemlessly. It means we can do the same song differently depending on how we feel. It could be a techno song on night but become country the next.
“I remember the NME described us as a novelty act when we first started out because we mixed genres. yet here we are 25 years later still going strong and now look at what all the kids are doing. They have no respect for genres which is good, you just need to have respect for the music.”
If you know nothing else about Alabama 3, you will know them through The Sopranos. Their song Woke Up This Morning was the title song for every episode of the award-winning HBO series – although the band are credited as A3 to avoid confusion with the US country band Alabama.
“That song has got a life of its own,” said Rob. “It’s been covered and sampled by so many people. One of the good things about lockdown was that The Sopranos was the most watched boxset for 18-25 year olds so that has hopefully opened up a whole new demographic for Alabama 3.”
It has also led to the band becoming part of The Sopranos family.
“Just before Covid we were invited to a Sopranos convention with 10,000 in New Jersey. We played at the end of the night and suddenly the whole cast were on stage with me trying to grab the microphone when we played that song – now that was surreal.”
Alabama 3, King George’s Hall, Blackburn, Thursday, July 21. Details from www.bwdvenues.com
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