Lonnie Donnegan banjo
Lot 199
Lonnie Donnegan's Vega banjo, 1950s,
Sold for £1,250 (US$ 2,091) inc. premium
Auction Details
Lot Details
Lonnie Donnegan's Vega banjo,
headstock and fingerboard with ornate inlay, base of neck carved with scrolling foliage, satinwood back, in plush-lined shaped case


  • Anthony (Lonnie) Donegan was born in Glasgow in 1931, the son of a violinist of Irish ancestry. In the early 1950s Lonnie was the banjo/guitar player in Chris Barber's trad jazz band. On 13th July 1954 they recorded an album at the Royal Festival Hall (about the same time as Bill Haley was taping 'Rock Around The Clock') and Barber allowed Lonnie to record a couple of bluesy American folk songs, one entitled 'Rock Island Line'. This style of music was called skiffle and had been popularised in the UK in the early Fifties by jazz trumpeter Ken Colyer after a visit to the Deep South of the USA.
    'Rock Island Line' eventually became a Top 20 hit in the UK in 1956 and a skiffle craze swept the country in the wake of Lonnie's success with this and other releases. The simplicity of the music's structure and basic instrumentation, exemplified by the washboard and tea-chest bass, inspired thousands of teenagers to take up the music. One of these was John Lennon, who formed the Quarry Men in early 1957. Almost exactly three years after Lonnie's landmark recording, John and his group were playing at a church fête, 6th July 1957, and it was here that Lennon was first introduced to Paul McCartney. A recording of the Quarry Men's performance of two songs that evening survives and one of the songs the 16 year-old Lennon can be heard singing is Lonnie's 'Puttin On the Style', No.1 in the charts that very week.
    Although the skiffle movement was relatively short-lived, there is no question of its importance in shaping what was to become British rock of the 1960s. Lonnie Donegan was at the forefront of that movement and, on his death in November 2002, stars such as Elton John and Brian May paid tribute to him and the influence he had on their lives.

    Lot 650, Fine Film & Rock & Roll Memorabilia, Bonhams Knightsbridge, 17th November 2005.
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