Tommy Morgan, Harmonica Soloist For Film And TV Scores, Dies At 89

His work was featured on music by The Beach Boys, The Carpenters, James Taylor, and more.

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Tommy Morgan - Photo: David Bohrer/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
Tommy Morgan - Photo: David Bohrer/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Tommy Morgan, a harmonica soloist who contributed to hundreds of movies and TV shows including Roots and Dances With Wolves, died June 23. He was 89.

Morgan played on film soundtracks and record dates going back to the early 1950s. He estimated that he performed the instrument across 7,000 recording sessions.

Morgan’s harmonica work is featured on Quincy Jones’ Sanford and Son theme, Mike Post’s Rockford Files theme and the scores for numerous shows including Maverick, The Waltons, The Dukes of Hazzard, China Beach, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Family Guy, and more.

He played harmonica on the Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations,” the Carpenters’ “Rainy Days and Mondays,” the Hollies’ “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother,” Linda Ronstadt’s “Skylark” and other records by Randy Newman, Carly Simon, Barbra Streisand, Neil Diamond, Olivia Newton-John, Dolly Parton, and James Taylor.

“I always considered myself a studio musician who played harmonica,” Morgan said during an oral history for the National Association of Music Merchants in 2017, according to Variety. “It was a very exciting way to make a living. You never knew what you were going to do.”

He was a musician on the “Elvis ’68” comeback special and played on concerts with Frank Zappa, Van Dyke Parks, John Barry, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. He also wrote arrangements for albums by Johnny Cash, Glenn Yarbrough and Rod McKuen.

He also wrote three books: Chromatic Harmonica and Blues Harmonica, how-to books for musicians; and You Made How Much for Doing What?, an autobiography published earlier this year.

Morgan received a lifetime achievement award from the Society for the Preservation and Advancement of the Harmonica in 2001. His playing career ended when he suffered a stroke in late 2013.

In addition to working for film, TV and music, Morgan performed live as a soloist, appearing in concert in more than 30 countries. In the late 90s, he performed with the London Philharmonic at Abbey Road, as well as at the Royal Albert Hall and Symphony Hall. He was also a soloist at the 2000 Academy Awards.

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