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Blues Records Discography, 1943 onwards

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Lonnie Donegan


     From a not-so-humble Trad Jazz banjo player to top of the British "Pop" music world in one oddly slow move sums up Lonnie's international hit "Rock Island Line", and while he bitterly complained about never being paid any royalties by Decca for this success, he kept (understandably) quiet about the small fortune he amassed by claiming the copyright of this song lifted in its entirety from the 1944 Capitol recording by Huddie Ledbetter (Lead Belly / Leadbelly). This set a pattern, as Mr. Donegan went on to claim numerous other "public domain" copyrights to which he had no moral right, aided and abetted by shrewd music publisher David Platz of Essex Music. That aside, Lonnie Donegan went on to become a very successful, and influential, chart act, first as "King of Skiffle", then as an all-round performer.
     It was the apparent simplicity of Skiffle which encouraged many in Britain to take up playing guitar, of which there was no tradition in the country (the piano used to reign supreme in the parlour), and the visible success of Lonnie Donegan with his acoustic guitar was the main catalyst. His band also prominently featured electric lead guitar, which in the hands of Denny Wright, Jimmy Currie or Les Bennetts was very inspirational, reinforcing the electric guitar sounds to be heard in American rock 'n' roll first heralded by Bill Haley & His Comets, and then the real standard bearer, Elvis Presley. Lonnie was very happy to claim credit for being the guitar salesman's best friend, and whilst Bert Weedon may have claimed that his multi-million selling "Play In A Day" guitar tutor taught many, it was mainly for the basic guitar chords it showed, not the inspiration that Lonnie Donegan provided. (In fact, "Play In A Day" is a typically patronising and tedious offering from an indifferent professional musician brainwashed into supposing that being able to read music is the only way to be.)
     Whilst Donegan went to great lengths to claim he was a "legitimate" singer and performer, he undermined his own argument by having hits with the likes of "Puttin' On The Style", "Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavour", etc., even duetting with Max Miller, and most spectacularly of all, "My Old Man's A Dustman". This last was to almost become his epitaph; whilst later in his career Johnny Cash could get away with some comic material, especially "A Boy Named Sue", nobody was going to dispute the "manliness" of the performance, in contrast to Lonnie Donegan's snidey, derisive renditions which belonged to the cheeky, back-of-the-classroom schoolboy joker. The comic material tainted Lonnie's reputation for the rest of his career, although for a long time he coped by simply becoming an all-round entertainer, but the damage was done, and indeed he did himself no favours when as late as 1976 he recorded "I've Lost My Little Willie". No wonder his fine 'straight' album (well, almost - "Long Haired Lover From Liverpool" grated like chalk on a blackboard), "Lonniepops", on Decca in 1970 was a total flop.


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