When I came along with the three old chords, people began to think that if he can do it, so can I
King of Skiffle Lonnie Donegan was formative in the musical careers of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Jimmy Page and a host of musicians that shaped the sound of the Sixties and Seventies.
Born Andrew James Donegan in Glasgow, he began his music career playing in jazz bands in the 1950s and became the UK’s first pop superstar. By the mid 1950s, he’d introduced washboard and tea-chest string bass to produce a jazz-folk, American-inspired sound – skiffle – a music genre revival that created a craze among British teens. His first hit was a sped-up cover of American blues star Lead Belly’s Rock Island Line.
In 1960, Donegan had a hit on both sides of the Atlantic with his album An Englishman Sings American Folk Songs and as the hits kept coming, made frequent TV appearances. Novelty songs, including My Old Man’s a Dustman and Does Your Chewing Gum Lose its Flavour on the Bedpost Overnight?, held less appeal for skiffle fans, but were massive hits.
Donegan’s musical style began to fall out of fashion as the sixties wore on and he began to focus on music producing. But artists including Brian May and Elton John collaborated with him in a 1978 album of his back-catalogue, and, towards the end of his life, Donegan sang with Van Morrison.
After the skiffle star’s death in 2002, another fan who’d been inspired, Dire Straits’ Mark Knopfler, composed and sang the musical tribute, Donegan’s Gone.