BRITAIN: Lonnie Donnegan, the British singer who popularised skiffle music in the late 1950s and inspired a generation of better known pop stars, died yesterday aged 71.
He collapsed midway through a UK tour after complaining of back trouble shortly before he fell unwell in the morning. He had previously suffered a series of heart attacks.
The star, whose hits included catchy and witty numbers such as Cumberland Gap (his first number 1), My Old Man's A Dustman, and Does Your Chewing Gum Lose its Flavour (on the Bedpost Overnight)? was a major influence on the Beatles. He had been due to take part in a tribute concert to George Harrison at the Royal Albert Hall in London at the end of the month.
Donegan brought skiffle to popular attention. It was a mixture of styles that traced its roots to 1920s America, blending jug band, acoustic, folk, blues, and country and western styles. Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly were among his biggest influences.
Skiffle was simple and cheap, apparently within the ability of anyone, regardless of musical talent. All that was needed was a guitar, a snare drum, jugs, a washboard or a stand-up bass made from a broom handle attached to an empty tea chest - and two chords.
Another of Donegan's major hits, a version of Led Belly's Rock Island Line, inspired John Lennon and George Harrison to form a skiffle band, The Quarrymen. A year later, the 15-year-old Paul McCartney joined them and went on to become The Beatles.
A spokeswoman for Donegan said: "Lonnie was a legend - he changed the face of British popular music. In a career that covered over 50 years, he inspired nearly every major musician alive today."
Fans included guitarists Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits and Brian May of Queen, as well as Van Morrison.
May led tributes last night, saying: "He really was at the very cornerstone of English blues and rock. The first record I ever bought was Rock Island Line. People remember My Old Man's A Dustman, Chewing Gum etc, but of course there was a more serious side to Lonnie - he really was the first guy to bring the blues to England." Sir Cliff Richard said that Donegan had been a trailblazer for himself and a whole generation of musicians. It was via skiffle that he himself got into rock and roll. "I think what was so good about it was it was home-made music . . . so for those of us who had ambition bubbling, it was a way to start," he said. - (PA, Reuters)