Talking Guitar Blues: The Very Best of Lonnie Donegan [Castle]

by: Lonnie Donegan

It might be hard to credit, but Lonnie Donegan was one of the greatest pioneers of modern British music -- and its first genuine star. He started the skiffle movement -- playing folk or blues songs on acoustic guitar, accompanied by bass and washboard -- and launched thousands of boys with guitars who'd form the original British Invasion. Interestingly, for all its billing as "The Very Best Of," Donegan's first, and most influential, hit doesn't appear here -- his cover of Leadbelly's "Rock Island Line." Instead, the collection picks up with "Lost John," his second smash, and follows his career to what was essentially the bitter end in 1965 (although he'd see a rebirth in the late '90s). He quickly established a style for most of his discs, with a slow opening and diving right in frantically, the band following bravely, and it worked most of the time, especially when he did mix it up with some slower cuts. And he did perform a huge service, exposing a generation to old blues, folk, and country songs (like Jimmie Rodgers' "Mule Skinner Blues"), albeit sung in a fake American accent. However, coming closer to home for two novelty songs ("Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavor" and "My Old Man's a Dustman") that have remained perennial favorites. With the advent of the Beatles, Donegan's days were numbered, and his chart positions reflected that, even if his music was as good as ever, and the final hurrah of "World Cup Willie" (written for the 1966 World Cup, staged in Britain), completely failed to chart. But Donegan's significance in British music should never be forgotten -- he literally changed the course of pop forever. Now, if only they'd got that first hit on here, it would have made for a truly complete collection. ~ Chris Nickson

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