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Lonnie Donegan

King of Skiffle

Modern music in Scotland

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The name of Anthony James Donegan may not be so familiar but its owner has a claim to inspiring the UK guitar boom in 1956 through the success of his skiffle version of a guitar based folk/blues song written by Leadbelly. Scots born Glaswegian Lonnie Donegan's 'Rock Island Line' was the first commercial recording featuring a washboard, spent 22 weeks in the UK charts and broke into the US top 20. It's success inspired for the next few years talent contests in barrack rooms and halls throughout the land swamped with skiffle groups such as the Quarrymen and the Railroader; forerunners of the Beatles and the Shadows. In a career spanning 6 decades his influence extended beyond to bands like the Police, Deep Purple and Dire Straights; as well as Taj Mahal, Dr John, Van Morrison, Mick Jagger, Chris Farlowe, Ralph McTell, Martin Carthy, Albert Lee and fellow Glaswegians Jimmie McGregor, Nancy Whiskey and Mark Knopfler.

Young Tony Donegan's first exposure to Negro blues was watching Josh White in 1948. Two years 'National Service' and exposure to country music and spirituals on American forces radio inspired him to form a jazz band. In 1952 the Tony Donegan Jazz Band, had been booked to support at London's Royal Festival Hall US artists: stride piano player Ralph Sutton and Donegan's idol, renowned blues singer and guitarist Lonnie Johnson when Tony was mistakenly introduced as Lonnie Donegan. Delighted he adopted the name and from 1953-54 Lonnie Donegan's career began playing with Chris Barber in the Ken Colyer Jazzmen who had already enjoyed success in New Orleans. The band was renamed The Chris Barber Jazz Band and they recorded an album "New Orleans Joys" in July 1954 from which the single "Rock Island Line" was released as a novelty single. Eighteen months later Jack Payne played the single on his BBC radio show and in January 1956 public reaction sent it soaring up the hit parade to number 8. The following year Lonnie had more hits songs with "Cumberland Gap" and "Putting On The Style" followed in the 1960's with "My Old Man's A Dustman" and 'Does your Chewing Gum Lose it's Flavour on the Bedpost Overnight."

Not only popular at home in the USA he appeared on: 'The Perry Como Show' where he shared a sketch with Ronald Reagan; and at the prestigious jazz venue Village Gate as a comedy act alongside Charlie Byrd and Woody Allen. He also played to 17,000 people at Madison Square Garden, Nashville's Grand Ole Opry and recorded with Lieber & Stoller, famous for their association with Elvis who later recorded Lonnie's own song 'I'm never gonna fall in Love Again.'

Lonnie's live performances were always regarded as of the highest professional standard, a fact recognised in 1997 with prestigious awards; Ivor Novello for a lifetime achievement, followed in 2000 an MBE. Sadly on November 3, 2002 he collapsed in the middle of a tour and died. Despite having lived most of his life in London; his father, a classical violinist, had moved the family from Glasgow's Bridgeton in 1933 where Lonnie had been born, Lonnie still proudly regarded himself as Glaswegian. With a career that produced a total of 35 top-30 hits including five number 1's Lonnie Donegan was one Scotland's great innovators and all round music entertainers.