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Subject: Lonnie Donegan, Musician and Inspiration for Rock Stars

dead at 71
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Date Posted: November 06, 2002 1:09:12 EDT

Lonnie Donegan, a rock and blues musician whose skiffle sound inspired John Lennon and Pete Townshend to learn to play the guitar, died on Sunday in Peterborough, in central England. He was 71.

No cause was given, but Mr. Donegan had suffered several heart attacks, said Judy Totton, a publicity agent. She said he had been on a tour of Britain.

Mr. Donegan's hits included "Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavor (on the Bedpost Overnight)," "My Old Man's a Dustman" and "Rock Island Line," but he may have been more important to British music for inspiring young talents to imitate and then eclipse his success.

Mr. Donegan was born Anthony Donegan in Glasgow in 1931. A fan of American country, folk and blues music, he changed his name as a tribute to the bluesman Lonnie Johnson.

Skiffle music, which Mr. Donegan introduced to Britain in the 1950's, was a mixture of styles that traced its roots to 1920's America, blending jug band, acoustic, folk, blues and country-western styles. Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly were among his biggest influences.

Skiffle was simple and cheap, apparently within the ability of anyone, regardless of musical talent. All that was needed was a guitar, a snare drum, jugs, a washboard or a standup bass made from a broomstick attached to an empty tea chest and two chords.

Mr. Donegan's "Rock Island Line" inspired two young Liverpudlians, John Lennon and George Harrison, to take up the guitar.

A year later, Lennon's skiffle group, the Quarrymen, was playing at a church event near Liverpool when the 15-year-old Paul McCartney introduced himself.

Pete Townshend, the Who's windmilling guitar player, started out as leader of the Detours, a skiffle group also featuring the vocalist Roger Daltrey. Elton John, Ringo Starr and Brian May, of Queen, also paid tribute by playing on Mr. Donegan's 1978 album "Puttin' on the Style."

Mr. Donegan continued to appear with Van Morrison, who started his career in a Belfast skiffle band called the Sputniks, and they teamed up for a 1999 recording, "Skiffle Sessions."

Mr. Donegan was made a member of the Order of the British Empire in 2000.

He is survived by his wife and son.

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