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Oldies Music Encyclopedia: "Skiffle"


Oldies Music Encyclopedia:

The 78 of Lonnie Donegan's "Rock Island Line"

Definition: Born of the harsh economic realities of a postwar Britain, "Skiffle" -- a term that actually harkens way back to '20s America -- was a modern folk-country-blues hybrid that today remains almost completely indigenous to its country, even though an entire generation of kids growing up in '50s Britain, the Beatles chief among them, started out in skiffle bands. Aside from Lonnie Donegan (who managed some popularity in the States, mostly as a novelty) and a few other groups, skiffle was a style that thrived among the common folk; few gained fame from it.

The genesis of skiffle lay in the "trad-jazz" tradition of music that had itself sprung from New Orleans "Dixieland" jazz. In the early '50s cash-strapped Brits began to play these tunes on homemade instruments -- tea chests fashioned into standup basses, guitars made from cigar boxes, washboards for percussion, and an occasional acoustic guitar or piano. "Jug bands" of a similar stripe had cropped up in the American South during the depression, but skiffle served as an introduction to musicmaking for tens of thousands of war-impoverished youths in the UK who could never have afforded proper instrumentation.

The typical skiffle song was a jug-band blues or trad-jazz standard invigorated and played on these homemade instruments; the Ken Colyer Skiffle Band was the first to record in the style back in 1954, but it was Lonnie Donegan's 1956 recording of Leadbelly's "Rock Island Line" that established skiffle, a smash that lead to a three-year skiffle craze in Britain. During that time future members of Led Zeppelin, The Hollies, The Beatles, and The Rolling Stones cut their teeth on the style, but as the rock craze replaced it and instruments became more affordable, these musicians formed rock bands based on the likes of Johnny Burnette's Rock and Roll Trio and Buddy Holly's Crickets.

Also Known As: Trad jazz
  1. "Rock Island Line," Lonnie Donegan and His Skiffle Group (purchase/download)
  2. "Railroad Steamboat," The Vipers Skiffle Group (compare prices)
  3. "Sleepy Eyed John," Johnny Duncan and the Bluegrass Boys (compare prices)
  4. "Badman Stack-O-Lee," Chas McDevitt (purchase/download)
  5. "Down Bound Train," Ken Colyer's Skiffle Group (purchase/download)
  6. "Can't You Line 'Em," Chris Barber's Skiffle Group (compare prices)
  7. "Midnight Special," Ramblin' Jack Elliott/City Ramblers Skiffle Group (compare prices)
  8. "Canine Stomp," Johnny Parker's Washboard Band (purchase/download)
  9. "Jelly Baby," Jimmy Miller and the Barbecues (purchase/download)
  10. "Kid Man," Alexis Korner's Skiffle Group (purchase/download)
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