Album: Rock Invasion (1956)
Charted: 8 8
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  • 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).
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Comments: 5

  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn May 19th 1956, Lonnie Donegan and his Skiffle Group performed "Rock Island Line" on the NBC-TV program 'The Perry Como Show'...
    At the time the song was at #24 on Billboard's Top 100 chart; one month earlier on April 5th, 1956 it had peaked at #8 {for 1 week} on Billboard's Best Sellers in Stores chart and stayed on the Top 100 for 17 weeks.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn March 25th 1970, Johnny Cash performed "Rock Island Line"* on his own ABC-TV weekly series 'The Johnny Cash Show'...
    A little over a month earlier on February 22nd, 1970 his covered version of the song entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #93, and that was its peak position on the chart because it stayed on the chart for only one week...
    It reached #35 on Billboard's Hot Country singles chart and #22 on Billboard's Adult Contemporary Tracks chart...
    'The Man in Black' passed away on September 12th, 2003 at the age of 71...
    May he R.I.P.
    * This version by Mr. Cash was actually recorded in 1958.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn March 10th 1956, Bobby Darin performed "Rock Island Line" on the CBS-TV program 'The Dorsey Brothers Stage Show', it was his first appearance on TV...
    Two years and three months later his first charted record, "Splish Splash", would entered Billboard's Top 100 at #51, and on August 4th, 1958 it would peak at #3 {for 1 week} and spent 15 weeks on the Top 100...
    Between 1958 and 1973 he had forty Top 100 records; ten made the Top 10 with one reaching #1, "Mack the Knife" for 9 weeks in 1959...
    He just missed having a second #1 record when "Dream Lover" peaked at #2 {for 1 week} in 1959; the week it was at #2, "The Battle of New Orleans" by Johnny Horton was at #1...
    Mr. Darin, born Walden Robert Cassotto, passed away on December 20th, 1973 at the young age of 37...
    May he R.I.P.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn March 10th 1956, "Rock Island Line" by Lonnie Donegan and his Skiffle Group entered Billboard's Top 100 chart; eventually it peaked at #8 and spent 17 weeks on the Top 100...
    The group had two other records make the Top 100; "Lost John" (#58 in 1956) and "Does Your Chewing Gum Lose It's Flavor (On the Bedpost Overnight)" (#5 in 1961)...
    R.I.P. Mr. Donegan, born Anthony James Donegan MBE, (1931 - 2002).
  • Zabadak from London, EnglandAlthough Donegan spent most of his (successful) career on the Pye label in the UK, it is this Decca song for which he will probably be most fondly remembered.
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