Born April 29th, 1931 in Glasgow as Anthony James Donegan, the name Lonnie came when a compere announced Lonnie Johnson, an American blues singer, as Tony Johnson and then went on to announce Tony Donegan as Lonnie Donegan and the new name stuck.
The family moved to the East End of London in 1933.
Lonnie’s father was a classical violin player in the Scottish National Orchestra and encouraged his son to play. Lonnie learnt the guitar by the age of nine but it was 1942 before he bought his first instrument.
His first taste for Country came when listening to music by Frank Crumit and Josh White (the blues singer). Among those first songs were Frankie And Johnny and The House Of The Rising Sun.
He was on a train when Chris Barber approached him to join his band as a banjo player that he got his first band break.
In 1949 Lonnie was conscripted for his National Service and was posted to Vienna where he mixed with the American troops and listened to AFN radio, further deepening his love of Country music. Hank Williams was touring the US bases at this time and this inspired him.
In 1952 he formed his own band, the Tony Donegan Jazz Band which brought about the name-changing tour with Lonnie Johnson.
He rejoined Chris Barber who had amalgamated with Ken Colyer for a supergroup and then Lonnie started to fill the intervals as a trio, playing Country/skiffle, as it became known, he had Chris Barber on upright bass and Beryl Brydon on washboard percussion.
It was during a recording session for a major label that some of Lonnie’s skiffle was laid down and released as singles. The sales of these rocketed, appealing to a teenage audience who made Lonnie a star.
He then went to America and had great success touring with many artists, including Chuck Berry. A new genre of music was born teaming Country with jazz and blues.
Lonnie went independent of Chris Barber, although he continued to play bass on his records.
On one of his albums, recorded in 1978, called Putting On The Style, he had some notable sidesmen – Sir Ringo Starr, Sir Elton John, Brian May and Peter Black. A follow-up album featured Hall of Fame member Albert Lee.
During the 1960s Lonnie recorded in Nashville with Charlie McCoy, Floyd Cramer and the Jordanaires. He also worked as producer for Justin Hayward of the Moody Blues. Lonnie Donegan inspired a whole generation of singers to become performers; Hall of Fame member Tony Best started as a skiffle singer, as did Sir Cliff Richard, Tommy Steele and most of the Beatles.
He was one of the most prolific recording hitmakers in the UK. In his later days he was playing just Country, mainly in Spain and Florida. He was about to break into the UK festival market when he died in November 2002.