The term “skiffle music” is almost unknown to most youngsters today (and by “youngsters” I mean most people under 40 years of age!). Nevertheless, it was the foundation of rock ‘n roll in the 1960’s, and many of the great names of the latter era (including the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, etc.) grew up in the skiffle era, played it, and were greatly influenced by it. To set the scene, here’s an interview with British rocker Billy Bragg about that era and its effect on later generations of musicians.
One of the best-known skiffle musicians was Lonnie Donegan. I used to giggle at his songs in my younger days, because my father played or sang them to us kids at night, to our great amusement. I’ve chosen three of his songs to represent his music. They are, of course, very heavily British in their lyrics, so Americans sometimes find it hard to catch cultural references.
Let’s start with my personal favorite of all his tunes: “My Old Man’s a Dustman”.
To illustrate how Donegan kept pace with the times, here’s a live version of the same song recorded a few years later. He brings in the space age and other elements to rework the verses.
Next, Donegan asks one of the great (?) existential questions.
Finally, Donegan invites us to “Have a Drink on Me”.
It seems like a vanished era, a different age . . . but many oldsters remember skiffle with affection. I particularly like how it poked fun at itself, its fans, and the world in which it arose. We seem to have lost that sense of self-deprecating humor in today’s music, more’s the pity.