23/01/11 - The other day I was trying to think about my first introduction to jazz, and whilst I recalled being lent tapes by a chap I worked with around 1959/60, of Ken Colyer, Dick Charlesworth, Micky Ashman, Terry Lightfoot and Alex Welsh amongst others, I suddenly realised I had been introduced to Chris Barber and Lonnie Donegan much earlier, back in about 1955 when I was 13. I went out and bought "Rock Island Line", which I remember was on a 45rpm and my cousin had one of those gramophones that didn't have a handle, that could play them. It made me wonder how many of you were into skiffle and was it all part of the jazz scene? I've only come across one band that plays skiffle these days, Peter Frank Allstars, maybe you know different? - Fred Burnett
23/01/11 - Hi Fred,
Was skiffle part of the jazz scene? Hell yes, or so I'm reliably informed. I'm a bit too young to have been involved in jazz at the time, but I heard skiffle as part of a mass media hit parade what not, and had several Lonnie Donegan records, including Rock Island Line. Because I had no idea what skiffle was, I never pursued its connections with jazz or with American folk music. When I eventually discovered the latter, I felt a bit like the man who, seeing Shakespeare for the first time said "I never realised it had so many quotes".
Of the tracks you've listed on the jukebox, Rock Island Line traces back to Leadbelly (obviously), although I wonder how many people know he learned it while working as an assistant to John Lomax, from a group of convicts whom Lomax recorded in the Arkansas State Penitentiary in Oct 1934? Leadbelly of course was also the source for Little Water Silvy, Alabammy Bound, Poor Howard, Pick a Bale of Cotton, Good Morning Blues and New Orleans. There's others which were clearly picked up from Woody Guthrie, Elizabeth Cotton, The Kingston Trio etc, but some of the source performers were so obscure that I wonder how people in this country could have known about them in the 1950s. (EG., Sail Away Ladies, and Don't You Rock Me Daddy-O presumably came from a pair of 78s which Uncle Dave Macon recorded in the 1920s, while KC Moan came from the Memphis Jug Band, and - I imagine - that Cumberland Gap is descended from a version which Frank Proffitt, a wonderful old time singer from North Carolina, used to sing.)
Unfortunately, I don't know of an authoritative history of the skiffle craze, although the two Ken Colyer biogs, When Dreams are in the Dust and Goin' Home, have a fair amount in them. But the Workers Music Association, which was forging links with the American folk revival as far back as the 1930s, could well have been one source. Also there were visiting Americans such as Rambling Jack Elliott, Alan Lomax and Pete Seeger, whose repertoires must have been extensively sifted through.
I wonder if there's anyone out there who participated in the skiffle boom, who could maybe fill in some of the picture for us?
24/01/11 - Howdy Fred,
Re-article about skiffle, I started playing because of Lonnie Donegan and Rock Island Line. I am still a bit confused as to the year it was released however my brother 4 years older than myself "saved up" to buy it. I seem to remember it was 3s and 9d. It was actually on an acetate 78rpm with a pale blue label (Decca) with John Henry on the B side. I have a 45rpm EP (4 tracks) copy of same with Diggin' my Potatoes and New Burying Ground? as well. I remember buying Putting on the Style/Gamblin' Man on a "flexible" 78rpm (Pye label). I believe this was just prior to 45rpm's taking over.
For a laugh, I have attached photos of me with my first guitar (pre-banjo) and my first skiffle group and first banjo (1959).
I was born July 1945. I'm sure Puttin' on the Style was issued 1957 as I had passed my 11-plus and was at technical school when I got it. The original Rock Island Line came from the first Chris Barber LP recorded 1954? but was not released as a single until later. I always thought I got my first guitar when I was about 9 (1954). It could be that I heard the track from the LP as my brother was a huge Chris Barber fan from the beginning. I used to hate jazz at first but was smitten when I was persuaded to go to a Monday night concert at the Free Trade Hall and saw the Chris Barber Band with Eddie Smith on banjo. He played Take Your Pick and that was it. Again dates are confusing as I thought I got my first banjo (as on photo) on my 11th birthday (1956) which my dad found in a junk shop. It would be interesting to confirm some dates.
24/01/11 - Hi Fred,
I had a skiffle group around 1956/7. We played at local youth clubs ( remember them ? ) Our biggest experience was competing in a Grand Skiffle Contest at Sale Locarno in Manchester. The first prize was a weeks engagement at the Ardwick Hippodrome ! Second prize was nothing. We came second ! I think the attraction with skiffle was that you didn't have to be much of a musician to play it. A couple of chords on the guitar, a scrape on the washboard and a piece of string on a tea chest wasn't particularly challenging. I'm not talking about Lonnie Donegan here, his group was pretty good and he swung like the clappers. However skiffle didn't have a place on the local jazz scene as I remember, it was regarded as pretty crude and the skifflers I knew weren't very interested in jazz but it gave a lot of enjoyment to a lot of people for a year or two.
young teenager I swapped a Sturmey Archer Dynohub for a guitar with only 4
working machine heads, figured out what the lines and dots meant in ukele chord
diagrams and was away. Having heard that there were like minded people there I
joined Stockport Sunday School with the sole intention of starting a skiffle
group, and the "Rambling Five" was born- two guitars, tea chest bass, washboard
and harmonica. We did the first gig at St Georges Church Hall, and I reckon that
I sang "Midnight Special" as the first tune. It's gone full circle here. We have
with all three of the bands in which I play in Australia, and the
audiences love them. For some inexplicable reason they always ask for "Diggin'
my potatoes". Personally I enjoy singing "It takes a married man to sing a
Hi Fred, Yes it came out of jazz, but then it seemed to go astray and became something else, noisy and not very imaginatve. Listening today I find it very disappointing. I am old enough to remember the beginnings but it was soon lost. Regards
Hi Fred, I was in a skiffle group for a short while before it
turned into a early rock group, it was a bit different as I played
clarinet. Believe it or not we called ourselves the Rhythm Aces (my
idea). I remember we made a special stand for the washboard,
we painted it bright green and red! When they were filming "The
Entertainer" in Morecambe, the group was filmed on the stage of The
Alhambra Theatre. I was not with them then, and it finished up
on the cutting room floor anyway. I remember our first gig
well, we only knew two or three songs. It was at a big hotel on
Morecambe front that I forget the name of now, and one of the lads
had converted an old radio as an amplifier and it was too big to
carry. None of us could drive, so we wheeled it there in a
wheelbarrow! At the time I was working as a page boy at The Midland
"I thought it would be a nice idea to bring some Skiffle into our Lune Valley Vintage Jazz Band concerts. So, just like Barber and Donegan we formed the group from within the band; myself guitar and vocals, Rosie Harrison vocals, tambourine and kazoo;, Lawrence Marshall, guitar and Adrian Morris bass. It has always gone down well and we have also played for Max Haymes's gig at 'Jims Caff' Colne during the Colne Blues Festival"
Just a line to mention The Dixie Kings, currently resident Wednesdays at The Black Bull, Knowsley Road, St. Helens, have featured Donegan Skiffle and similar "daft" items for several years, including the risqué "My Old Mans' a Banker" parody. Good food also available.
27/01/11 - Hi Fred,
In reference to your mention about skiffle, several years ago a local Belfast band, the Martello was invited to appear at the French Quarter festival in New Orleans. In order to raise funds for the trip they held a special Jazz night at the Ivanhoe Hotel in Belfast. The show was compéred by a local TV presenter and the special guest was Chas McDevitt who set in with the band and he also sang a lot of the songs that made his group famous. That night he was selling copies of his recently published book SKIFFLE. This is without the definitive book on the subject crammed with lots of information about the history and beginning of skiffle in Britian. I purchased a book that night and Chas signed it for me, I have to admit that I was always of the opinion that Chas was a skiffler that just hit it lucky during the skiffle craze, however I was sadly mistaken. Whilst in conversation with him that night I discovered that he was a walking encyclopaedia on traditional and New Orleans jazz, a first rate musician and also a very nice guy. Also on sale that night was a CD entitled CHAS McDEVITT AND FRIENDS, it includes many famous names inc. Joe Brown Shirley Douglas and Nancy Whiskey and a very good jazz band called The West London Rhythm Kings. If anyone is interested I looked it up and some copies are still available on Amazon.
George Smyth 27/01/11
28/01/11 - Fred
Playing at Risley Park recently one of our fans presented some photos (black and white) of the Teddybears playing at Barnsley jazz festival around 1980. Having read on your site that someone was investigating which bands used to dabble in skiffle during concerts, - I thought you might as well view these of the band 30 years ago. The banjoist is Joe Addy, world famous for his rendition of C'est magnifique, - here pictured playing and singing the Wabash Cannonball accompanied by me on guitar, (not recorded). Roy Rogers on washboard, Brian Singleton on Drums, Derek Pierce on (real) bass. We regularly ventured into these realms during that period. Sorry about having to look at them all to see the one I'm talking about.
Ken Doran - 07/02/11