Lomax, Skiffle, and the British Invasion

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John Lennon and skiffle band

In the 1950s in Britain, commercial and field recordings of southern American music were extremely popular, including those of John and Alan Lomax. Skiffle bands proliferated, usually using homemade or improvised instruments such as the washboard, tea chest bass, kazoo, cigar-box fiddle, musical saw, comb and paper, and so forth, as well as more conventional instruments such as acoustic guitar and banjo. The Lomax’s 1934 recording of Kelly Pace’s “Rock Island Line” inspired Lonnie Donegan’s 1956 British  skiffle hit (via Leadbelly) which  sold an unprecedented 3 million copies, shooting into the British and American top ten.

The trajectory from skiffle to the British (rock) Invasion is described below, from “The Man Who Recorded the World.” (Alan Lomax’s biography, see previous post)

By the late 1950s….John Lennon’s skiffle band the Quarrymen was beginning its evolution into what would become the Beatles;  Mick Jagger, a member of the Chris Barber-Ken Colyer Skiffle Band, would soon meet Keith Richards…. Graham Nash and Alan Clarke, the core of the Hollies, had both started as a skiffle band called the Two Teens;  guitarist Jimmy Page worked in a skiffle band long before he would become part of the Yardbirds and Led Zeppelin; and Van Morrison started his musical career in the skiffle group called the Sputniks.


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One Response to “Lomax, Skiffle, and the British Invasion”

  1. Stephen Winick Says:

    A fuller account of the Lonnie Donegan hit was included in a recent article in Folklife Center News from the American Folklife Center. The article also treats several other songs collected by Lomax that went on to be hits. Available as a pdf here:

    http://www.loc.gov/folklife/news/pdf/FCN_Vol33no1-2.pdf

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