Results for Rock Island Line

interviews

Billy Bragg

Roots, Radicals and Rockers In the 1950s, a surprising, short-lived musical craze swept across the UK: skiffle, a raw version of African-American blues and folk performed by white British youth. Folk-punk singer-songwriter Billy Bragg has written about skiffle in his new book Roots, Radicals and Rockers. This week, he sits down with producer Evan Chung to make the case for skiffle as the origin of English guitar pop and the first sign of the DIY sensibility of punk.

Skiffle emerged out of the trad jazz scene – an early New Orleans jazz revivalist movement in the UK. In the middle of their sets, the trad jazz musicians would put down their horns and pick up acoustic guitars, washboards, and upright basses to play the songs of Leadbelly, Big Bill Broonzy, and others. Skiffle hit the top of the pop charts in both the UK and the US when Lonnie Donegan released his version of Leadbelly's "Rock Island Line." Bragg argues that this was a revolutionary moment that taught British youth that anyone could play the guitar – and led to skyrocketing guitar sales. As a result, members of The Beatles, The Who, Led Zeppelin, Van Morrison, David Bowie, and even ABBA got their start in DIY skiffle groups. According to Bragg, if you want to understand everything that came after in the UK – from the British Invasion to the English folk revival to R&B to punk – you have to look at the impact that skiffle had on the emerging British teenage culture.

Go to episode 613