The founding father of British pop, he sang his way
from traditional jazz through skiffle hits to a novelty song about chewing gum

Lonnie Donegan (right) on stage with Van Morrison

Lonnie Donegan on Wikipedia

Robin Denselow
Tuesday November 5, 2002
Ref: The Guardian

Lonnie Donegan, who has died aged 71, was the first British pop superstar, and the founding father of British pop music, the musician who provided the original inspiration for John Lennon, Paul McCartney and a host of others. By the time the Beatles shook up the music world in the mid-1960s, Donegan's glory days were over, and he had retreated into comedy and cabaret, but, between 1956 and 1962, he notched up an incredible 26 hits.

Donegan was a musical phenomenon. As the leader of the skiffle craze in the late 1950s, he inspired the formation of literally thousands of do-it-yourself bands across the country, and was directly responsible for the 1960s pop explosion that was to severely damage his own career.

Ironically, Rock Island Line, the song that transformed his life - and the history of British pop - was neither British nor contemporary. It had been written by the great black American folksinger Huddie Ledbetter, better known as "Leadbelly", and, like so much else of his work, had been rediscovered in 1933, when the American folklorists John and Alan Lomax stumbled on Leadbelly serving time for attempted murder in the Louisiana state penitentiary.

Donegan had begun playing the song in the early 1950s, during his days as banjoist with the Chris Barber Jazz Band, which specialised in New Orleans "trad" classics, but also included a splinter-group that bashed away at "skiffle" versions of American folk songs and blues during the intervals between the main band sets.

Along with John Henry, another railroad ballad from the days of slavery in the American south, Rock Island Line found its way on to the Barber band's 1954 album New Orleans Joys, though it was not until 18 months later that the two tracks were released, under Donegan's name, as a novelty single.

The reaction was extraordinary. Rock Island Line sold more than a million copies, and became one of the first British pop records to break into the American top-10 chart. It had a vitality, a rhythmic intensity and an earthy simplicity that - at the time - was simply unique in British pop.

Using a simple line-up of strummed guitar, double bass and drums, Donegan drawled, and then sang, his way through a story about a train driver on the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific railroad fooling the inspector at a toll gate outside New Orleans. It was an extraordinarily exciting, brave and gutsy recording (as I remember from the shockwaves it caused among my school friends when we first heard it), and the wonder of it was that anyone with a cheap acoustic guitar, and the mastery of three basic chords, could attempt to imitate the Donegan style. British pop had arrived.

The man responsible was born Anthony James Donegan in Glasgow. His mother was Irish and his father Scottish, a violinist who, at one time, played with the Scottish Nat- ional Orchestra, and later joined the Merchant Navy. In 1933, the family moved to East Ham, London, and it was there, after the second world war, that the teenage Donegan became an enthusiastic fan of the new, trad jazz movement. He learned to play the guitar and the banjo, and formed the Anthony Donegan - later Tony Donegan - Jazz Band, which he financed through part-time delivery work for a photographer. As an amateur, he practised and performed alongside other fans of New Orleans jazz, including the trombonist Barber, the trumpeter Ken Colyer and the clarinet-player Monty Sunshine, and he kept in touch with them all after he was called up for national service in 1949. In the army, he joined yet another band, the Wolverines, this time as a drummer.

After his military discharge, Donegan changed his stage name again, this time to Lonnie, after his idol, the American blues guitarist Lonnie Johnson, with whom he had once played. He then joined his old friends Colyer, Barber and Sunshine as banjo-player in the Ken Colyer Jazzmen, and it was here that the skiffle movement was, born.

Jazz clubs in the early 1950s were often unlicensed, and the musicians would take regular breaks so their audiences could nip out for a drink in the nearest pub. Some entertainment had to be provided for those patrons who remained behind, so Colyer and his band began to play and sing American folk blues songs. They took the term "skiffle" from a favourite record, Home Town Skiffle, a compilation of American jug band styles and western swing.

Before long, however, the Jazzmen split up because of Colyer's insistence that they should play in what he regarded as the correct traditional style, and the entire band, including Donegan, left to regroup themselves as the Chris Barber Jazz Band, which gave its first performance at the 100 Club, London, on May 31 1954. When they recorded the New Orleans Joys album, Barber insisted that the record should include a full representation of the group's work - including skiffle songs, with Donegan singing them.

Initially, executives at their record label, Decca, were unimpressed; they chose a whole series of instrumental tracks from the album as singles before they reluctantly released Rock Island Line.

With its astonishing success, Donegan became a major star, and soon quit the Barber band for a solo career, and a contract with Pye Records. He moved away from blues and jazz to concentrate exclusively on skiffle, transforming dozens of American folk songs by adding in a hefty beat (hefty, at least, by mid-1950s standards) and his distinctive nasal twang. For six years, everything he recorded became a hit, and, as songs like Lost John, Bring A Little Water Sylvie, Cumberland Gap and Grand Coolie Dam followed each other into the bestseller charts, do-it-yourself skiffle bands sprang up across the country attempting to imitate his style.

By the late 1950s, however, it was becoming clear that Donegan was not just interested in popularising the songs of black Americans like Leadbelly, or white Americans like Woody Guthrie. He was evolving into an all-round entertainer and comedian, in the tradition of British music-hall, as he showed in 1957 with his comic song, Putting On The Style, and his first excursion into pantomime.

The following year, he appeared at a royal variety performance, and, in 1959, recorded his million-selling Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavour On The Bedpost Overnight, a new version of a Boy Scout favourite he had sung as a child. It reached number three in the British charts, and number five in the United States. In 1960, Donegan sold more than a million records in Britain alone, with another novelty song, My Old Man's A Dustman, a rewrite of a Liverpool folk tune and first world war marching song, updated with cockney jokes and lyrics. It was top of the charts for four weeks.

By this time, Donegan had carved out an impressive niche for himself within the pop music world, but the move towards comedy and cabaret also saw the beginnings of his commercial downfall. The British music scene was changing rapidly, as those he had inspired to pick up a guitar looked for something new to follow the limitations of skiffle.

Some went on to explore, in greater depth, the works of Leadbelly or Woody Guthrie, and joined the new folk music movement. Others followed the route of Alexis Korner - once, like Donegan, a skiffle player with Ken Colyer - and became immersed in the new British blues scene, which was to inspire bands like the Rolling Stones.

Donegan had cut himself off from all that, as he was to learn at the end of 1962. He notched up his last big seller, Pick A Bale Of Cotton, in August that year, but, in December, when he released a comic follow-up, The Market Song, recorded with Max Miller, he found his string of hits had suddenly ended. Members of a former skiffle group, called the Quarrymen, had changed their name and style, and made their first chart entry with Love Me Do. Donegan was not amused. "The Beatles' first records were old-fashioned, archaic rock 'n' roll," he told me, "and I was resentful at the way they stopped my cash flow."

Donegan's glory days may have been over, but he kept on going. He had set up his own music publishing company in the 1950s, and, a decade later, his publishing interests had become extensive. He also kept performing, playing the cabaret circuit in America, Australia and Britain. When I met him in 1974, after watching him give a cabaret show at the Penthouse Club, on Park Lane, he was complaining at what had happened to the music scene, and its new heroes, the "long-haired, pot-smoking pop musicians".

Four years later, after his career had suffered a second blow, those musicians attempted to give him a hand up. In 1976, he had moved to the American resort of Lake Tahoe, where he suffered a heart attack and underwent open-heart surgery. He also stopped performing. That might have been the end of his career, if those he had once inspired to play guitar had not come to his rescue.

So it was that, in 1978, Adam Faith persuaded a gang of rock world celebrities to get together with Donegan and re-record his old hits. Ringo Starr, Elton John, Ronnie Wood, Rory Gallagher and Brian May were among the extraordinary cast who joined him for his comeback album, Puttin' On The Style, which was launched in grand style with a party in the south of France.

It was - predictably - something of a mess, but it sold reasonably well, and Lonnie was persuaded to go back on the road. A later album, Sundown, recorded in 1980 with Doug Kershaw, attempted to mix skiffle with country, though, by this time, public interest had faded once again.

For the last two decades, Donegan survived on past glories, spending most of his time at his house in Malaga, Spain. In 1990, he became a father for the seventh time, when his third wife, Sharon, gave birth to a son. He was still plagued by heart problems, and had further bypass surgery in 1992. Musically, he seemed unsure of which direction to take, as he swapped between cabaret and skiffle revival shows. He even got back together with the Chris Barber Band for reunion concert tours. And it was on tour, in Peterborough, that he died.

Lonnie Donegan may have been the godfather of British pop, but, at heart, he was an updated music-hall performer, adrift in the wrong era. When I met him, he described himself like this: "I'm not a serious musician, because I don't have the capability, but I take my music seriously because I love music. And I'm a man who loves a laugh. So if there's no laugh, what's the point of getting up there?"

He received an Ivor Novello lifetime achievement award in 1997, and was made an MBE in 2000. Even towards the end, he retained the respect of many in the music business. Eric Clapton had recently invited him to take part in the forthcoming Albert Hall tribute concert to George Harrison, himself once a Donegan fan. He also wrote the Tom Jones hit, I'm Never Gonna Fall In Love Again.

Donegan is survived by Sharon and their sons, Peter, David and Andrew; by Fiona and Corrina, the children of his first marriage; and by Anthony and Juanita, the children of his second marriage.  Anthony James 'Lonnie' Donegan, musician and entertainer, born April 29 1931; died November 4 2002

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2002

Lonnie Donegan, sultan of skiffle, dies at 71
John Ezard
Tuesday November 5, 2002
Ref: The Guardian

Lonnie Donegan, father of skiffle, first global superstar of British pop and the first to popularise black music, has died on tour aged 71, it was announced yesterday.

His out-of-the blue hits in 1955 with versions of John Henry and Leadbelly's Rock Island Line at the age of 24 began a revolution in the charts and in the taste of the young.

He remains admired by generations of younger artists, including Mark Knopfler, Brian May and Van Morrison. A spokeswoman for Donegan said: "In a career that covered over 50 years, he inspired nearly every major musician alive today."

Donegan was due to sing in a tribute concert for George Harrison in London later this month. Paul McCartney once said of him: "When we were kids in Liverpool, the man who really started the craze for guitars was Lonnie Donegan.

"We studied his records avidly. We all bought guitars to be in a skiffle group. He was the man."

Donegan, who had a history of heart trouble, complained of feeling unwell after performing in Nottingham. He died in Peterborough at the home of friends.

His death ends a career which started when he formed a band with the jazzman Chris Barber in the early 1950s. Barber, who is touring in Germany, could not be contacted. Last night his longstanding friend and associate Vic Gibbons said no one should be sad that Donegan was still in harness when he died. "He loved performing. It was not something he had to do financially."

He added: "I think Chris will be particularly upset because their association has continued. There have been various anniversary concerts where they have reassembled the band complete with liniment and Zimmer frames".

Donegan, who called himself Lonnie in homage to the black blues guitarist Lonnie Johnson, was the son of a Glasgow classical violinist. His father, often unemployed, moved the family to east London in 1933 and discouraged his son from a musical career.

Donegan bought his first guitar at 14, learning from BBC radio to play songs like Frankie and Johnny and Puttin' on the Style. These led him to the music of Josh White, Bessie Smith and Leadbelly.

In 1952 he formed a band with Barber and Ken Colyer, just deported from the US for playing with black musicians. "They did not think there could be money in it," Gibbons said. "The motive was commitment. They used to drive from London and Manchester and back the same day, for a £30 fee."

Donegan took the word skiffle, meaning party, from a US record sleeve. In 1955 a BBC pop show host attacked an album by the band for jazzing up a number by Gracie Fields.

Thanks to this the album sold well, prompting Decca to issue singles of Donegan's John Henry and Rock Island Line. These topped the British and US charts.

"Because the music was so new, people could not get it into their heads that it would last a long time," Gibbons said.

Donegan had a string of hits including novelty songs such as My Old Man's A Dustman, but by the mid-60s his glory days were over, and he retreated into comedy and cabaret.

Elton John, Ringo Starr and Brian May paid tribute by playing on Donegan's 1978 album Puttin' on the Style, and Donegan teamed up with Van Morrison for a 1999 recording, Skiffle Sessions.

In 1997 Donegan received a lifetime achievement award. In November 2000 he collected an MBE from Buckingham Palace. Donegan said: "When Prince Charles presented it to me, he said 'Not before time Lonnie, not before time'. And I said 'You're damn right, mate' - or words to that effect."

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2002 
LONNIE DONEGAN    -     Interviewed by Lee Raymond
Ref: Folk Mania Website

Lonnie Donegan gave the most amazing performance on the main stage. His rich voice pervading the air, a full-bodied sound from the band and Lonnie obviously enjoying every moment – as were the audience!   I was surprised to see large groups of teenagers dancing enthusiastically to his songs!

When he came off stage he thanked and shook hands with everyone backstage. As he greeted me, I thought how he looked rejuvenated after his performance.  He certainly looked younger than the 69 year old I had met earlier. He has a wry sense of humor, a type very common in Londoners, making you warm to him immediately.  Ron Hill (photographer) and I found him so helpful and friendly, more concerned that we got the photos and interview that we wanted than anything else!

 Back in the 50’s and 60’s, Lonnie Donegan inspired thousands of British teenagers to form amateur bands.  If someone had a guitar then the rest made instruments out of broomsticks & tea-chests, washboards, even paper & comb and, those with a bit of a voice, sang.  It was an exciting time when every school and youth club had several amateur bands – not just playing Skiffle but roots music based on Folk and Blues.  He has, and still does, influence many major artists, in all genres.

 Born Anthony Donegan on April 29th 1931, in Glasgow and brought up in the East End of London.

He became interested in Country, Folk and Blues and adopted the name ‘Lonnie’ as a tribute to the Bluesman Lonnie Johnson.  It was normal, then, to take your influences from many genres not worrying about ‘classifying’ music, as is the case today.

He became inspired when he saw his first Jazz Band with Beryl Bryden singing.  Years later they were to play and record together.

He played guitar in a Skiffle band before a spell in the army, drumming with the Wolverines Jazz Band.

After his discharge, he played banjo with Ken Colyer and then with the Chris Barber’s Jazz Band.  Chris released a LP with Lonnie’s version of Leadbelly’s ‘Rock Island Line’ in 1954 (with Beryl Bryden playing washboard!).  In 1956 it was released as a single and became a huge hit in the UK and USA.  Amongst the millions that bought this record were several future major artists including John Lennon and Paul McCartney (who later formed a Skiffle band called the ‘Quarrymen’- their first step on the road to success).

He went on to have 34 songs in the British Top 30 Charts from 1958 to 1962 including:  ‘Putting on the style’, ‘Bring a little water Sylvie’, ‘Grand Coulee Dam’, ‘Does your chewing gum lose its flavour on the bedpost overnight’, ‘Battle of New Orleans’ and ‘Cumberland Gap’ (his first No. 1 hit - a traditional song arguable made his own).

He delved even further into Americana, being influenced by bluegrass, spirituals, Cajun and Appalachian music.  He went on to old-time music hall songs like ‘My old man’s a dustman’, comedy numbers like ‘Lively’.  His long run of hits going full circle when he recorded another Leadbelly number, ‘Pick a Bale of Cotton’.

Lee: A lot of bands, in the 60’s, started because of your influence.  Can you tell me how you started?

Lonnie: Ah, where did it all begin?  I sort of drifted in.  People are always looking for ‘one Saturday at 3 o’clock there was a flash of lightning’.   Things evolve, very rarely does it happen suddenly.  People say ‘Oh, The Beatles arrived with the hit... ‘ No, they didn’t. They were at it since they were 14.  Well, that’s what happened to me. But, I suppose the big push was when I heard my first live Jazz band, the Freddy Randall Jazz Band, in Tottenham.  A friend of mine from the Boy Scouts said ‘It’s great stuff, it’s Jazz’.  So I went along with him on a Sunday afternoon and heard this band. Then a girl got up and sang some St Louis Blues.  Her name was Beryl Bryden; she was about 21 at the time.  That was it; I fell into Jazz, Blues and so on.  I was about 16 at the time and I was totally ecstatic.  I’d never heard Jazz out loud – it was so dynamic!  That’s really, I suppose, what gave me the impetus.

These days, for instance, if you had not heard Rock ‘n’ Roll and you walked in and heard Chuck Berry.  You’d go, ‘Wow! What the blazes is this!’

I bought my first guitar when I was 14.  Christmas  - it cost ’30 bob’ (£1.50).  There were only 4 strings working - still playing the same guitar!  (laughs)

First thing I recorded into was called a ‘Sound Mirror’, a wire-recorder, which was before tape!  That was in the 1940’s at Southwest Essex Technical College.

 Lee: Where did you get your material?

Lonnie: Almost all of it is traditional, off records, some I was fortunate enough to hear live.  When I was about 17, I heard Josh White, the great Blues singer.  He came to England and toured the halls and the Empires.  I saw him at the Chiswick Empire and went every night.  He was singing fabulous things like ‘One Meat Ball’  (Lonnie sings)… and no potatoes.

 Folk singers sang ‘happy songs’.  Because your singing folk songs it doesn’t mean you’ve got to be miserable, does it?  Folk songs are songs of the Folk.  People songs.  ‘My Old Man’s a Dustman’ is a people’s song – as it so happens ‘Chewing Gum’ wasn’t.  It was a composition written for a musical called ‘Little Miss Puck’ in 1932.  It’s quite old, you see.  One year younger than me! (laughs)

 Lee: You are working with Van Morrison now.  How did that start?

 Lonnie: Van started off in Skiffle group, same as almost everybody.  He has fond memories of those days. He came to see me a few years ago, saw my work and said, ‘Oh, Christ, it’s great.  It brings back so many memories.  We ought to get together’.  Then, eventually, we did and we made a couple of albums.  He invited me to come on his show with him and the two of us just ‘wing it’.  Just singing a few old ones, ‘Midnight Special’ and whatever. Which is what we’ve been doing for the last couple of years and we’re enjoyed it.

 Lee: Are you going to continue with that?

 Lonnie: Yes, God knows, I’ll try!

 (I wished him many more years of entertaining)

 Lonnie: You’re very kind.  Thank you very much.

 (What a really nice person!)

Copyright Lee Raymond

Saturday, May 12, 2001
Daily Record
Ref: Ottawa Beatles Site

Scots skiffle king Lonnie put a dustman at No.1 in the charts and fired a generation of rockers

IMAGINE a world without the music of Lennon and McCartney. Or try to picture a record collection without the Rolling Stones or Dire Straits.

It's impossible.

Now try to imagine a world without Lonnie Donegan and My Old Man's A Dustman. A lot simpler, isn't it?

But what the fans of Britain's greatest acts probably don't realise is that they owe an enormous debt of gratitude to the 70-year-old, Glasgow-born music man.

Arguably Scotland's greatest talent, he'll slip home to his birthland this month, virtually unnoticed. Don't expect a media scrum at the airport or a vigil of starstruck followers below his hotel window.

In fact, your average teenagers might snigger under their breaths if you offered them free tickets to see him at the Old Fruitmarket a week next Saturday.

But explain how music might be today without the influence of Anthony James Donegan MBE and you'll soon have their attention.

When John Lennon and Paul McCartney first picked up guitars, it was the Glaswegian "King of Skiffle" they wanted to emulate.

As McCartney once said: "When we were kids in Liverpool, the man who really started the craze for guitars was Lonnie Donegan.

"He was the first person we had heard of from Britain to get to the coveted No. 1 in the charts and we studied his records avidly. We all bought guitars to be in a skiffle group. He was the man."

Nowadays, there are entire generations who might just recognise his name - but that's about all. Yet he was Britain's first teenage hero.

Apart from The Beatles, fans of Mark Knopfler, Van Morrison, Bill Wyman, Marc Bolan and Cliff Richard can also thank the Bridgeton-born musician for inspiring their idols.

When he arrived on the scene, British music fans were having to make do with the likes of Max Bygraves and Jimmy Young. Soon, however, the hard-working son of a struggling violinist was giving them something to compare with the new rock 'n' roll sensation which was shaking America to its very foundations.

Across the pond, Bill Haley was rocking around clock and a young upstart called Elvis Presley was preparing to take the world by storm.

But Britain had Lonnie - and before long America wanted him, too.

He gave the world skiffle, which became Britain's first pop movement. It was a simple, if ramshackle, sound with only a guitar, a tea-chest bass and a washboard required.

It was 1954, and over the next eight years he had chalked up a record- breaking cluster of chart hits which make him, to this date, Scotland's most successful pop act of all time.

Sure, he would soon be swept aside by Cliff and Beatlemania, but Donegan had already made his mark.

Songs such as My Old Man's A Dustman and Puttin' On The Style will live forever.

How many other Glaswegians can claim to have had their own songs covered by Elvis Presley?

And even last year Lonnie was still clocking up world firsts.

He went into the Guinness Book Of Records after notching up a new chart hit - 38 years after his previous one.

He teamed up with Irish blues legend Van Morrison, and their single I Wanna Go Home jumped into the Top 40. The duo's album, Skiffle Sessions: Live In Belfast, then shot into the top five, ahead of the likes of Bruce Springsteen.

Now resident in Spain with his third wife and three of his seven children, Lonnie is as enthusiastic about life as ever.

And he's ready to give Glasgow another taste of the old magic on May 26 when he headlines the Big Big Country, Glasgow's international festival of Americana.

But with a series of heart attacks and two open-heart operations behind him, Lonnie is treating every week like it could be his last. Not that he's got much left to do, mind you.

He's about to sign a deal with Martin - the Rolls-Royce of acoustic guitars - to allow them to produce a Lonnie Donegan signature skiffle guitar.

Lonnie believes that's the greatest tribute he can receive.

The star, who also counts Tony Blair among his many fans, said: "It's like a footballer being voted the best by his fellow players.

"It's the ultimate tribute and I wonder what there is left to do."

His MBE last year added another piece of icing to the cake - albeit somewhat belatedly.

And while his Cockney accent is about as Scottish as jellied eels, there was something distinctly Glaswegian in the way he received the gong from Prince Charles.

He said: "I had wondered for many years why I hadn't got an MBE because every other schmuck had one.

"Here was me doing six or seven times as much for the British music business as any of these bloody Cliff Richards, who were only domestic successes. I was world-wide.

"America knew me, but they didn't know bloody Cliff Richard. And Prince Charles agreed. When he presented it, he said 'Not before time, Lonnie, not before time.' And I said 'You're damn right, mate' or words to that effect."

Lonnie was born in Mill Street, Bridgeton, in 1931, the son of a violinist who wasn't making much money.

He explained: "It wasn't a good time for employment anywhere, in Glasgow particularly and among musicians especially.

"No-one's going to pay a classical violinist to give them a bit of Tchaikovsky when they don't have enough bread to eat.

"So he packed up his red-spotted handkerchief and hiked down to London. I was about two and a half at the time.

"I didn't return to Glasgow until I was eight. When the Blitz started in London, I was shipped back north. We lived in Duke Street in Dennistoun and I went to Whitehill School round the corner.

"When things calmed down, I went back down to London where I remained."

For much of his childhood, mother Josephine single-handedly reared Lonnie, while his father Peter was away
serving with the Merchant Navy for the entire war. 

Lonnie said: "He was one of the guys who played the fiddle - like the blokes on the film Titanic.

"But he was torpedoed in the Pacific about 1000 miles off New Zealand. Then they stuck him in hospital in Wellington for about a year.

"I was in Duke Street at the time and mum was walking the streets collecting for the Provident Association, penny a door. Not a lovely job.

"But she ended up an English teacher. When she got rid of me, she went back to college and ended up teaching advanced English to foreign students in Essex."

His parents divorced after the war, and he spent time being shuttled between his mother and his aunts.

But, by 23, he thought he had found what he had been looking for - a women to settle down with.

Lonnie met first wife Maureen when he was playing banjo in her father's pub in London's Mile End Road. She fell over while jiving, he saw her suspenders and was smitten. After a short courtship, they set up home in the East End.

Two years later, while Lonnie was working on a building site earning pounds 12 a week, he had his first major hit with his recording of an American country and blues song, Rock Island Line. He was paid about pounds 3.50.

Within six months, he was on the Perry Como Show in America - appearing alongside Ronald Reagan in comedy sketches - and earning $800 for an appearance.

Then, when it seemed things couldn't get any better, My Old Man's A Dustman came out in 1960 and went straight to No.1. It stayed there for four weeks.

He recalled: "I was on the crest of a wave. It was perfect for a while.

"Maureen mothered me. I put all my money - pounds 15,000 - into building us a superb home in Epping Forest. She was a very good woman.

"Then fame hit me like a wave and nothing could have withstood it. I was packing theatres all over the world."

He left Maureen and their two daughters, Fiona and Corrina, in 1964 when he became obsessed with actress Jill Westlake.

They had appeared together at the Winter Gardens in Margate, in a Christmas pantomime.

She was Cinderella, he was Buttons. But this time it was a short-lived marriage.

Lonnie said: "Jill wanted a father figure, so it was hopeless. Things didn't go well on our wedding night, but we had two children and I stuck with it for six years.

"I couldn't bear to break up another home and leave my children again."

The end of that marriage coincided with his first major heart attack and the decline of his career. He went on to the cabaret circuit and wrote songs for other performers, including Tom Jones.

These days, He rarely sees his two middle children, Anthony, now 27, and Juanita, 28.

Lonnie once said: "Jill never loved me. Her mother put her up to marrying me because she wanted her to be married to a star. It was a horror story."

Then, in 1972, he met Sharon, a plumber's daughter, aged 14. He remains with her to this day.

She went to one of his concerts in Scarborough, where her friend asked him for his autograph.

Sharon didn't know who Lonnie Donegan was, but she soon found out.

Now they live happily near Malaga in Spain with their children Peter, 17, David, 12 and Andrew, 11.

And Lonnie couldn't be happier.

Two years ago, he took Sharon to Lake Tahoe in the shadow of the Nevada Mountains, where his American dream began in the Fifties.

That was where he got his first real job as an entertainer in a casino and he fell in love with the place almost instantly.

He said: "We renewed our marriage vows and it was a fabulous, emotional moment for us all."

Lonnie Donegan, MBE
Ottawa Beatles Site 
Lonnie Donegan and Half Man Half Biscuit 

Queen Elizabeth Hall
Rating: ***
Pascal Wyse
Tuesday October 5, 1999
Ref: The Guardian

The South Bank's series of Peel Sessions Live continues to bring together unlikely musical bedfellows - such as skiffle king Lonnie Donegan and Half Man Half Biscuit - in an even more unlikely venue. Peel also chose this session to be part of the South Bank's Living Legends series, offering "the names that for decades inflamed the status quo and recharged rock and blues, cubaba and soul, pop and electronica, just as they threatened to fall flat".

That's just the sort of pap Wirral boys Half Man Half Biscuit would stick a Doc Marten into. They were introduced by Peel as "one of our national treasures", but they've never been bothered about being curated by the establishment. And the fact that the QEH, with its formality and lights-down silences, makes so many pop gigs uncomfortable helped make their absurd observations even more bizarre.

Moshing was replaced with toe-tapping as they shambled through a set that waged a gentle war against all that is wanky - such as the "laughable respect given to feedback" in Look Dad No Tunes. It was hard to escape their wry observations on suburban bores, Met bar coke heads and B-list celebrities without binning your mobile and burning your Filofax.

Donegan was our first real pop star - a sort of British Elvis. Skiffle, with its washboards and tea-chest bass, was a bridge between traditional jazz and rock'n'roll. And Donegan, as its pioneer, had 30 songs in the UK top 30 between 1955 and 1962 before the Beatles swept it away.

Donegan still plays and sings with a twitching, impish energy, orchestrating the band with little flicks of the hand and the odd throw-out leg. He rages through his repertoire of American folk and blues tunes such as Rock Island Line and Brother Moses Smote the Water with an impressive vocal range - everything from Vic Reeves' "in the club style" to a rich, bluesy bass. The roots of skiffle's rough ingenuity were still there, but this was a richer sounding electric band (two guitars, banjo, saxophone, harmonica and percussion),
complete with fully harmonised vocal breaks.

Perhaps Donegan, now 68, was eager to prove he could still throw himself into the job, but the slick up-tempo race to the finish would have been better balanced with more of the darker, slow blues. But multiple encores and a standing ovation proved that, while his style isn't exactly the punk it used to be, it can withstand a little revival as a glimpse of the roots of pop.

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2002

Skiffle King Donegan Dead
Lonnie Donegan
Ref: Rollingstone.com
Beatles influence was seventy-one Lonnie Donegan, the "king of skiffle" music, died Sunday in Peterborough, England, at the age of seventy-one. Although the exact cause of death is not known, Donegan had suffered several heart attacks in the past and recently canceled a pair of shows due to illness. Donegan is survived by his wife Sharon and seven children from his three marriages.

Best known for being a prime influence on the Beatles, he was born Anthony James Donegan in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1931, the son of a professional violinist. "Tony" became "Lonnie" in 1952 after he shared a bill with blues guitarist Lonnie Johnson and the MC of the show mixed up their names. Donegan played guitar from the age of nine and got his start in music in his late teens when he received an invitation to join a band as a banjo player -- a group that featured future collaborator Chris Barber -- despite not knowing how to play the instrument.

While stationed in Vienna during a stint in the British army in the late Forties, he became further exposed to American music via American Forces Radio Network. After his release from the army in 1951, Donegan frequently visited the library of the American Embassy, thoroughly studying and sometimes stealing from their collection of blues and folk. He formed the Tony Donegan Jazz Band in 1952 and teamed with Barber once more in the Ken Colyer Jazzmen and the Chris Barber Jazz Band. It was between sets with the Ken Colyer Jazzmen that Donegan first dabbled with skiffle, a hybrid of his influences played on stand-up bass, drums with banjo or guitar.

Donegan got his first taste of success in 1954 while a member of the Chris Barber Jazz Band. Inspired by promising initial sales of the group's album New Orleans Joys, Decca Records opted to release several singles from the LP, including the Leadbelly cover "Rock Island Line," which was credited to the Lonnie Donegan Skiffle Group and went on to sell over three million copies in six months.

Even more notably for rock & roll fans, the song prompted the young George Harrison and John Lennon to pick up the guitar. "Lonnie Donegan was a much bigger influence on rock than he was ever given credit for," Harrison wrote in his autobiography, I, Me, Mine. "He was a big hero of mine."

Aside from the Beatles (who began as the skiffle-minded Quarrymen), other British Invasion members had their roots in skiffle bands: the Who (the Detours), Van Morrison (the Sputniks) and Graham Nash (Two Teens). Ironically, after Donegan's disciples found fame in the mid-Sixties, his own popularity waned and he recorded only sporadically. In 1978, Elton John, Ringo Starr, Ron Wood, Brian May and others joined him for his comeback album, Putting on the Style. Donegan also released The Skiffle Sessions: Live In Belfast 1998, a concert album with Barber and Van Morrison in 2000.

"I was shocked to hear the news of Lonnie's passing," said May. "His music will endure forever in Britain . . . The king of skiffle is dead. Long live the king!"

(November 4, 2002)

Lonnie Donegan, inspiration to Lennon and Townshend, dies at 71

Ref: The Nando Times
Copyright © 2002 AP Online
The Associated Press

LONDON (November 4, 2002 1:29 p.m. EST) - Lonnie Donegan, a musician whose "skiffle" sound inspired John Lennon and Pete Townshend to learn to play guitar, has died, his publicist said Monday.

Donegan died Sunday in Peterborough, central England, while on a tour of Britain, publicist Judy Totton said. He was 71 and had suffered several heart attacks.

Donegan's hits included "Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavor (on the Bedpost Overnight)," "My Old Man's A Dustman," and "Rock Island Line," but he may have been more important to British music for inspiring young talents to imitate and then eclipse his success.

Donegan was born Anthony Donegan in Glasgow in 1931. A fan of American country, folk, and blues music, he changed his name as a tribute to bluesman Lonnie Johnson.

Skiffle music, which Donegan introduced to Britain in the 1950s, was a mixture of styles that traced its roots to 1920s America, blending jug band, acoustic, folk, blues, and country and western styles. Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly were among his biggest influences.

Skiffle was simple and cheap, apparently within the ability of anyone, regardless of musical talent. All that was needed was a guitar, a snare drum, jugs, a washboard or a standup bass made from a broom handle attached to an empty tea chest - and two chords.

"Rock Island Line" inspired two young Liverpudlians, John Lennon and George Harrison, to take up the guitar. A year later, Lennon's skiffle group, The Quarrymen, was playing at a church fete near Liverpool when 15-year-old Paul McCartney introduced himself.

Pete Townshend, The Who's windmilling guitar player, started out as leader of The Detours, a skiffle group also featuring Who vocalist Roger Daltrey.

Elton John, Ringo Starr and Queen's Brian May also paid tribute by playing on Donegan's 1978 album "Puttin' on the Style."

Donegan continued to appear with Van Morrison, who started his career in a Belfast skiffle band called The Sputniks, and they teamed up for a 1999 recording, "Skiffle Sessions."

Donegan was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire, one of Britain's highest honors, in 2000.

He is survived by his wife and son. 

Visit our Lonnie Donegan Discography Page at:

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