Roots, Radicals and Rockers

Skiffle is generally assumed the genesis of rock n roll in England.

This is another prescient, perceptive slice of aspects of life everyone should know, that all forms of music have affected our lives.

How odd then it has taken so long for the history of skiffle to reach the bookstands.

Skiffle has its roots in late 19th Century America, the practitioners of which were musicians who reached their apotheosis in the 1940s/50s when in their 50s, the start of the rock n roll era, which really is not over today.

Billy Bragg has written an acclaimed history, the quality of which threatens to envelop his metier as a recording artist in his own right. His research is exhaustive; overall, though, one gets the impression the work is as much a homage to southern American blues as it is to Lonnie Donegan, to whom British rockers – like The Beatles – pay homage.

The Fab Four began as a skiffle group, inspired by Donegan, whose talents may have been overtaken by the jauntiness of ‘My Old Man’s a Dustman’ and ‘Does Your Chewing gum Lose its Flavour’ which earned him big money his early days of skiffle did not.

Bragg pays his dues to Huddie Ledbetter (Lead Belly), a murderer and songster and portrayed as such, and his Night Train lyrics which endure to this day.

Bragg is perceptive and generous in his history and one cannot imagine a rewriting of this major, highly readable work.

Roots, Radicals and Rockers by Billy Bragg Pbk $27.99

– Phil Campbell (Guest Reviewer).

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