(Reuters) King of skiffle Lonnie Donegan dies at 71
Tue Nov 5 03:51:49 CET 2002
RTna 11/04 1059 UPDATE 1-King of skiffle Lonnie Donegan dies at 71
(adds details, background)
By Paul Majendie
LONDON (Reuters) - "King of Skiffle" Lonnie Donegan, once a big influence
on The Beatles, has died at the age of 71 after collapsing on tour, his
publicist said Monday.
Donegan changed the face of British popular music, launching the skiffle
boom of the 1950s with hits that ranged from "Rock Island Line" through
"Cumberland Gap" to "Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavour (On the Bedpost
The singer, who had suffered several heart attacks and was complaining of
back trouble, died Sunday with his third wife Sharon and son Peter at his side
in the central English town of Peterborough.
He was halfway through a British tour and had already been forced to cancel
two shows because of ill health.
Donegan was hailed as the voice of skiffle, a gritty blend of folk, jazz,
gospel and blues, which the Beatles acknowledged as a major influence.
Eric Clapton had invited Donegan to perform at a tribute concert later this
month for former Beatle George Harrison. John Lennon was playing in a skiffle
band, the Quarrymen, when he first met Paul McCartney.
Donegan, whose fans ranged from Mark Knopfler to Van Morrison, shot to fame
on both sides of the Atlantic with the release in 1956 of the Leadbelly song
"Rock Island Line."
It was very rare for British singers to break into the U.S charts back
then. He went on a 40-city tour and appeared on the Perry Como TV show,
co-starring with Ronald Reagan.
For six years, every single he released was a hit -- from "Pick a Bale of
Cotton" to "Does Your Chewing Gum Lose its Flavour?"
His success spawned a musical craze -- by 1956, London alone had almost
1,000 skiffle groups.
Donegan, who played both banjo and guitar, was the first artist to win a
gold record with a debut release. He is listed in the Guinness Book of Records
as one of the biggest hit-makers of all time.
As skiffle's popularity waned, Donegan took to the cabaret circuit,
starring in Las Vegas, Hollywood and New York.
His career was given a belated boost by a new generation of admirers with
the release in 1978 of a tribute album -- "Putting on the Style" -- with Elton
John, Brian May and Ringo Starr as his superstar backing band.
In 1997, he was given a lifetime achievement award at the prestigious Ivor
A spokesman for the singer, reflecting on his legacy, said: "Lonnie Donegan
was a legend -- he changed the face of British popular music. In a career that
covered over 50 years, he inspired nearly every major musician alive today."
PA 11/04 1532 KING OF SKIFFLE WAS UK'S FIRST POP IDOL
By PA News Reporters
Skiffle king Lonnie Donegan was Britain's first pop superstar, bursting on
the scene in the mid-1950s with a distinctive, lively sound based loosely on
American folk music.
His first big hit, Rock Island Line, achieved the then rare distinction of
soaring up the US hit parade and from then until the Beatles era he was rarely
out of the charts.
Hits included Does Your Chewing Lose Its Flavour, My Old Man's A Dustman,
Cumberland Gap and Puttin' On The Style.
Donegan was born in Glasgow in April 1931 and christened James Anthony -
black American guitarist Lonnie Johnson inspired the name change. He left school
in Altrincham, south Manchester, at the age of 14 and worked as a clerk in a
stockbroker's office before joining the Army at 18.
Military service took him to Vienna where he met an American who introduced
him to the country and western music that was to inspire him.
Donegan had the key ingredients for pop stardom, including good looks which
attracted crowds of screaming girls. His songs were easy to copy, raucous for
the time and not the sort of music approved of by parents.
During the skiffle craze he inspired many of the budding stars who were later
to oust him from the top of British pop.
The Beatles would arguably never have existed if it weren't for Donegan.
As Paul 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
number one in the charts and we studied his records avidly. We all bought
guitars to be in a skiffle group. He was the man."
Mark Knopfler, Bill Wyman, Marc Bolan and Cliff Richard also cited him as an
When his record sales began to slip in the early 1960s, he branched out into
musicals, television and film work.
He also made regular comebacks and in 1978 persuaded stars such as Elton John
and Ringo Starr to join him on the Puttin' On The Style album which featured
reworkings of many of his old hits.
He enjoyed a renaissance in 2000 when he teamed up with Van Morrison to
record the album Skiffle Sessions: Live In Belfast.
The collaboration introduced him to a new generation of fans and the album
was a critical and chart success.
A delighted Donegan said at the time: "I have now achieved my final ambition
which was to have one last chart hit.
"I didn't care how, where or when. I just wanted to give a massive raspberry
to all those who thought I was washed up and finished - and now I've done it."
Later that year he was awarded an MBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours List -
and said it was about time.
"I had wondered for many years why I hadn't got an MBE because every other
schmuck had one," he said.
"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
Donegan loved being on the road and was regularly performing to sell-out
crowds until the end, despite faltering health.
He had three heart operations, most recently in May this year, but within a
few months he was back on tour.
He continued to live life to the full, marrying his third wife Sharon, a
former teenage fan, at 48, and becoming a father for the seventh time in 1990
when he was 59.
APn 11/04 1049 Obit-Donegan
LONDON (AP) -- Lonnie Donegan, a musician whose "skiffle" sound inspired John
Lennon and Pete Townshend to learn to play guitar, has died, his publicist said
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
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
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.
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