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GUEST,Roger Rettig Best song Lonnie Donegan ever performed (67* d) RE: Best song Lonnie Donegan ever performed 04 Mar 09

'Rock Island Line' is not one of my favourites - either by Lonnie OR Leadbelly! Lonnie had not, at that point, brought any refinement to his craft or his singing style. That was to come later, and that was what - in my opinion - elevated him above even the original artists' versions of the songs that we've now come to associate with Donegan.

For me, this is a bit like comparing Elvis Presley's cut on 'That's Alright, Mama' with Arthur Crudup's version. Had it not been for Elvis, the song, and Crudup, with have remained a mere footnote in music history. Same with 'Mystery Train' (is there a better rock and roll record than that one???!) Like Lonnie on the songs HE resurrected, he just did them - better!

Lonnie, like Elvis, was possessed of a magnetic presence that evidenced itself through his vocal uniqueness. I think it's a tribute to Lonnie that he managed to transcend his English-ness when interpreting these songs, and overcome the obstacles of living in Manor Park in London's East End! Especially when there was NO-one else doing it!

Jo Ann Kelly? We can cite dozens of examples of singers and instrumentalists who have adopted an American roots-music style effectively and successfully in the last forty-odd years, but anyone out there who, like me, is around sixty-six years old now can easily remember what a wasteland British popular music was in 1955-56.

Lonnie changed all that - mainly through sheer hard work, talent and self-belief, but also, and as importantly - because of his charismatic presence. Ken Colyer may have had the notion first, and Chris Barber may have created a space for it to happen, but who was going to be 'drawn' to either of these somewhat lacklustre personalities?

Credit where it's due, chaps! I sometimes wonder if Lonnie hasn't garnered all the accolades he's due because he had a way of upsetting people he ran into - he could be notoriously 'difficult' at times - but this is surely an inconsequential detail now; I want to see him accorded his proper place in the musical scheme of things.

It hasn't happened yet, but I award full-marks to my old boss, Joe Brown, for 'championing' Lonnie Donegan's cause every chance he gets.

Roger Rettig

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