One of the most successful pop artists of the pre-Beatle era in the UK, Anthony Donegan (renamed after his hero Lonnie Johnson) has been cited by a range of artists including Van Morrison, George Harrison, Mark Knopfler, Paul McCartney, Bill Wyman, John Lennon and Brian May. Donegan was known as 'The King of Skiffle,' which was a kind of jazz/folk/country/blues fusion usually using homemade or improvised instruments. This was the first of 17 Top 10 hits for him in the UK and the first of two Top 10s in the US - the first British male to achieve that feat.
Leadbelly (Huddie Ledbetter) originally recorded this track in 1936. The story goes that whilst Donegan was recording a jazz album with Chris Barber Jazz Band, the band went out for coffee leaving the tape running. Donegan took up the microphone and sung this song to the accompaniment of a passing girl playing the washboard. When the musicians returned they recognised a hit. However, the record company wasn't so enthusiastic. Donegan recalled: "Decca weren't at all keen. They thought folk music meant Cornish pasties and maypoles, with fa-la-la and a tooralay!"
The band played safe and took a flat session fee (Donegan pocketed £50 ) rather than a royalty on every copy sold. When Eamonn Andrews played the song on his Pied Piper radio show, interest snowballed, leaving Donegan to regret the decision. The King of Skiffle moaned throughout his career about his lack of financial reward for cutting the song, declining to mention that he re-recorded it a couple of years later under his own name.
The song launched the Skiffle music craze. The home made music inspired many Britons to take up the guitar, including a young John Lennon. (His first band, The Quarrymen, was a Skiffle group).