Lonnie Donegan

April 29, 1931 - November 4, 2002

Lonnie Donegan Artistfacts

  • Lonnie Donegan was born Anthony James Donegan. His Scottish father was a professional violinist who had played with the Scottish National Orchestra. The family moved to East Ham when Donegan was two and his father gave up music.
  • Anthony Donegan renamed himself after his hero, the blues musician Lonnie Johnson.
  • Donegan's first break was playing banjo and guitar with Ken Colyer's Jazzmen, whom he joined in 1952. The following year cornetist Ken Colyer was imprisoned in New Orleans for a visa problem. Donegan returned to Britain and left them for Chris Barber's Jazz Band, who were newly signed to Decca.
  • It was while playing in the Chris Barber Jazz Band in 1954 that Donegan recorded a cover of Leadbelly's "Rock Island Line" to the accompaniment of a passing girl playing the washboard. The song was a big hit and launched the skiffle music craze, a kind of jazz/folk/country/blues fusion usually using homemade or improvised instruments. The homemade music inspired many Britons to take up the guitar, including a young John Lennon. (His first band, The Quarrymen, was a skiffle group).
  • Lonnie Donegan was known as The King of Skiffle, and "Rock Island Line" was the first of 17 Top 10 hits for him in the UK.
  • In the 1960s, Donegan became more involved in the business side of the industry and formed his publishing company Tyler Music. A 17-year-old Justin Hayward signed a deal with Tyler Music, which ended up giving Donegan the lion's share of the royalties for "Nights in White Satin" and the other songs Hayward wrote for The Moody Blues before 1974.
  • He was still playing the cabaret circuit in 1976 when a heart attack forced Donegan into semi-retirement.
  • Van Morrison presented Donegan with an Ivor Novello Lifetime Achievement Award in 1994, calling him, "a man we're all in debt to. He started the ball rolling."


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