Beginnings – Lonnie Donegan & Skiffle
What goes around comes around. Skiffle music began in the U.S. without much public fanfare, assuming it’s place alongside many folk forms. But across the Big Pond, a different path was blazed. Lonnie Donegan probably wasn’t the first Skiffle merchant in the U.K. His roots were in the early jazz combos including Ken Colyer’s Jazzmen as well as stints with Chris Barber’s Jazz Band and the Tony Donegan Jazz Band (yes – a brother) before forming the Lonnie Donegan Band.
Lonnie was one of the first U.K. acts to experience chart success in the U.S. with his first charting record “Rock Island Line” which charted rather high at number 10 in 1956. But back at home in the U.K. Lonnie’s performances were electrifying young lads everywhere and thus Skiffle groups began – not just springing up everywhere – exploding in fact – with thousands of groups realizing that almost anyone could play a washboard or a tea chest. Only a basic upright bass player was need and perhaps a rudimentary guitar player to round out a group.
Lonnie would influence so many future Beat Groups (Beatles included with the Quarrymen) and this, coupled with Bill Haley and the Comets in the U.S., and a host of bluesmen and jazzmen, would evolve quickly to a rock and roll experience not witnessed since. Lonnie Donegan would go on to chart in the U.S. two more times with “Lost John” (number 58 in 1956), and finally “Does Your Chewing Gum Lose It’s Flavor on the Bedpost Overnight” (number 7 in 1961).
Russ Hamilton wasn’t Skiffle by any means but one of the earliest U.K. acts to experience success on the U.S. Billboard Charts with “Rainbow” – a 1957 release which also reached number 7″. Next up was a very obscure Brit combo Lord Rockingham’s XI landed one time on Billboard with “Fried Onions” late in 1958 – peaking at number 96.
Cliff Richard and the Drifters
These guys were the kingpins for a long time in the U.K. and they were to influence every future Beat Group – with the backing band evolving into the Shadows. Most of the Drifters/Shadows emerged directly from Skiffle – coming from early groups The Vipers, The Railroaders and The Five Chestnuts. Never a group to catch the attention of the U.S. youth, they more than made up for it in the U.K. and globally, with more than 30 Top 100 charting records and five number one hits.