Nicky Shane’s Heavy Metal Harmonica Brings Help to the Santa Barbara Foodbank

Blow Wind Blow

Heavy Metal Harmonica's Nicky Shane (left) heads to SOhO for a benefit for the Santa Barbara Foodbank.

If speed is the essence of heavy metal, then harmonica player Nicky Shane is the essential metalhead. In fact, he’s got a world record to prove it. Shane-who will be playing a benefit concert for the Santa Barbara Foodbank at SOhO on Tuesday, December 11-holds the record as the world’s fastest harmonica player, at least according to the people keeping score for Guinness.

A native of San Jose, California, who played the bar scenes from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara before settling down in town, Shane said the record was not achieved without great personal sacrifice to his lips. It took more than 100 takes of “When the Saints Go Marching In” before Shane managed to accomplish his goal of correctly playing 104 notes in 20 seconds. For those not endowed with a built-in metronome, that translates to 285 beats per minute, fast enough to make even the most espresso-addled exhausted. Compounding the difficulty, Guinness required the first four bars of the tune to be played at their typical tempo, meaning Shane had to make up for lost time with a vengeance throughout the remaining bars. “My lips were falling off,” he said of the experience. “The recording engineer left the booth after the first four hours.”

And that wasn’t all. The event had to be videotaped and audio-taped according to the big book’s exacting specifications. Shane also had to collect affidavits of support from prominent musicians, business people, and even a high-ranking police official willing to attest to his accomplishment. But, Shane said, it was all worth it. When the certificate came in the mail, the harmonica player was in a trance for two weeks. The record makes Shane the man to beat for wind instrument speed, but the Santa Barbara musician is hardly resting on his laurels as the world’s quickest-lipped musical hyper-ventilator. When Shane’s not blowing a mean, heavy metal harp, he also does stand-up comedy. And he’s probably the world’s foremost painter of Ruben-esque mermaids.

A true Jack of All Trades, Shane decided a couple months back that he also wanted to try his hand at community outreach, so he called the Santa Barbara Foodbank to see if it was in need of a musical benefit. The Foodbank, having just given away nearly 5,000 Thanksgiving turkeys-and in serious need of replenishing its pantries before Christmas-gladly said “yes.” But even without the holiday crunch, demand for the Foodbank’s assistance has more than doubled in the past five years.

Joining Shane as co-conspirators in sonic philanthropy is the band Psycho Surfers. Shane swears he plays some melodic rock, not just heavy metal. With a CD of gentle jazz already under his belt, he can switch genres at the drop of a hat. But when Shane gets to the “Saints,” if you don’t play close attention, you’ll definitely miss it.


Nicky Shane’s Heavy Metal Harmonica and the Psycho Surfers will team up at SOhO (1221 State St.) on Tuesday, December 11, at 7:30 p.m. for a night of music. Proceeds will benefit the Santa Barbara Foodbank. Call 962-7776, or visit and for more information.


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