Airdate – Mar 05, 2023
In March of 1956, a Scottish singer/songwriter made it onto the Billboard pop charts. His song peaked at the #8 position and was followed up five years later by another recording which went to #5, making this performer the first British male artist to have two Top 10 hits in the U.S.
In addition to this, he is perceived as a pivotal influence in the British Invasion of the mid-60s in North America.
Ironically, his 1956 breakout record was a covered version of a song composed by American songwriter, Clarence Wilson, in 1929. Subsequently, from the late 30s onward, this song became most associated with Huddie William Ledbetter, better known as Lead Belly, based on his interpretation and rendition …
Lead Belly was “discovered” by American folklorist John Lomax. Twice imprisoned, and reputedly twice pardoned on the strength of his musical performance, Lead Belly was presented as a kind of ‘Negro Troubadour’ and achieved fame with predominantly white audiences in the States, in the 30s & 40s. His signature song was “Goodnight Irene.”
Lead Belly could play guitar, accordion, piano, harmonica and violin, and had an enormous repertoire which included blues, ballads, spirituals, work songs, protests, and children’s’ songs.
His legendary storytelling inspired our featured Scottish performer to re-introduce a number of his songs to the public. The song that first went to #8 in the UK in January 1956 is arguably the first “UK Blues Chart Single.” Blues in this era was what we would describe today as Folk Blues, which was marketed in the UK as “Skiffle,” an all-encompassing term for both Black and White Country Blues, usually played with minimal instrumentation – the classic line-up was acoustic guitar, tea-chest bass and washboard.
The new style captivated an entire generation of post-war youth in England and our Scottish performer soon became known as the ”King of Skiffle.”
According the ‘Beatles Bible’ website, on November 11, 1956 Paul McCartney saw the Skiffle king perform at Liverpool’s Empire Theatre. The concert inspired McCartney to trade-in the trumpet he had previously received on his 14th birthday for a guitar.
The “King of Skiffle” was the iconic Lonnie Donegan who was at his peak when he made the Top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 for a second time in 1961 with his cover version of the 1924 song “Does Your Chewing Gum Lose It’s Flavor (On The Bedpost Overnight),” five years after his groundbreaking rearrangement of Lead Belly’s “Rock Island Line,” this week’s Tom Locke moment in time.
Epilogue: For you trivia buffs, The Lonnie Donegan Skiffle Group featured Lonnie Donegan on vocals and guitar, Beryl Bryden on washboard, and Chris Barber on bass. Three years later, in 1959, the Chris Barber’s Jazz Band would reach the #5 position on the Billboard Hot 100 with “Petite Fleur.”
YouTube video of this song:
This “Moments In Time” story is yet another example of a “golden oldie” or forgotten favorite that earned its place in the evolution of Rock & Roll.