I was a huge fan until the early sixties when Lonnie started recording songs like "The Party's Over" and "Somewhere over the Rainbow" which were not really my cup of tea. Then four young men from Liverpool came along and Lonnie was put on the back burner for a while.
In 1977 after I had become a member of "Guys n' Dolls" we performed on a TV show in Glasgow and who should be on the show with us but "Lonnie Donegan". It was great to finally meet him and get him talking about the old days. He let me have a go on his custom built 12 string guitar which I had seen in photographs years earlier. (See Lonnie Donegan Picture Gallery)
Lonnie suffered with heart problems during the eighties and I didn't see him again until 1992 when he was appearing in Hatfield with Chris Barber in his first show since a heart attack. He sounded as good as ever.
A few years later I heard that he was going into the studio to record a new album. I wrote a song called "I Don't Wanna lose You" which I thought would suit him, and I sent it, via Lonnie's friend Mel Roberts, to his home in Spain. A few days later Lonnie phoned me to say that he liked the song and could I fax the lyrics. This I did and half an hour later he phoned back and said that he wanted to record the song but could I change some of the lyrics and he went through the song line by line. Normally it takes about 20 minutes to write lyrics to a song but I laboured for three days hoping I would get it right before I faxed the revised lyrics to Lonnie and waited. I never heard from him and waited two months before I decided to phone him and find out what was happening. I rang him and tentativly asked if the lyrics were OK. He said yes and that the song had already been recorded. To say I was pleased was putting it mildly.
The album "Mule Skinner Blues" was already to be released when there was a major problem with the record company and Lonnie was then looking for a new label. I said I would try to help and wrote to George Harrison who I knew was a fan of Lonnie's, and asked if he could help with his "Dark Horse" label. He wrote back saying that his label only exsisted when he had a record out, but passed on his regards to Lonnie. The album was finally released on BMG and included some re-workings of his old songs, plus a couple of duets with Van Morrison who was also a huge Lonnie fan. It also included my little song "I Don't Wanna Lose You" and I felt very honoured. Here is my original demo followed by Lonnie's version.
I was privileged to attend Lonnie's cremation at Peterborough on Thursday 14th November 2002. It was very moving. Joe Brown (a lifelong fan and friend) talked about Lonnie and his influence on him, and two of Lonnie's sons Peter and David paid glowing tributes to their Dad. At one point Lonnie's version of "Gloryland" was played and we were all invited to sing along. There were floral tributes from Elton John, The Rolling Stones, Brian May of "QUEEN" and Van Morrison among many others.
Almost every member of the bands in the sixties British pop music explosion started off in Skiffle Groups singing Lonnie Donegan songs. The earliest recording of "JOHN LENNON" was of his Skiffle Group "THE QUARRYMEN" singing "Putting On The Style". Lonnie took his influence from folk and blues artists like "HUDDIE LEDBETTER" and "WOODY GUTHRIE" and created a style of music that earned him over 30 top twenty hits during the fifties and early sixties, including three number ones. He had the first band to use the line up of Lead Guitar, Rythm Guitar, Bass and Drums which became and still is the recognised basic line up for Rock and Pop bands. Groups like "The Beatles", "The Shadows", "Dire Straits", and "Oasis" alll used that same line up of instruments started by LONNIE DONEGAN all those years ago.
Rest in peace Lonnie we will all miss you.
Click on photo to enlarge plus more photographs
I attended Lonnie's Memorial Service on Thursday 8th May at St. Paul's Church in Covent Garden, it was a memorable day with lots of music. SAM BROWN sang "Amazing Grace" with Lonnie's son Peter on keyboards, BRIAN MAY of "Queen" sang "I'm just a Rolling Stone", CHAS HODGES (Chas n' Dave) sang "Bring a Little Water Sylvie" and Lonnie's two sons Peter and Anthony sang "Have a Drink on Me." Lonnie's band provided the backing.
Lonnie Donegan 2
George Harrison Letter
Lonnie's Last Photo?