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Posted by: In: Other 05 Aug 2022 Comments: 0


136-Lonnie Donegan-Cumberland Gap.

1957-Number 1 single.

Best Bit-At 1.04. Previous versions of the song probably didn’t include the lyrics ‘Two old ladies sitting in the sand, each one wishing the other was a man.’

Lonnie Donegan MBE (see also best songs 484) was born Anthony James Donegan on April 29th, 1931, in Bridgeton, Glasgow, Scotland, he died on November 3rd, 2002, after a heart attack at the age of 71. Although born in Scotland, he moved with his family to East Ham, in East London, England, at the age of two in 1933, Donegan took his stage name ‘Lonnie’ in tribute of the American Jazz and Blues artist Lonnie Johnson. (1899-1970)

Lonnie Donegan is perhaps Britain’s most underrated artist, and generally goes under the radar when ‘the best and most influential’ are discussed by the general public, but there is no doubting the influence he has had on some of the all time greats. Paul McCartney has said,’He was the first person we had heard of from Britain to get to the coveted No. 1 in the charts, and we studied his records avidly. We all bought guitars to be in a skiffle group. He was the man.’ Brian May said,’He really was at the very cornerstone of English Blues and Rock. Roger Daltrey has been quoted as saying,’I wanted to be Elvis Presley when I grew up, I knew that. But the man who really made me feel like I could actually go out and do it was a chap by the name of Lonnie Donegan. At the ‘Brit’ awards when giving his speech, Jack White of the ‘White Stripes’ (see also best songs 324) said.’Remember, Lonnie Donegan started it for you.’

‘Cumberland Gap’ is a traditional Folk song which originated from the Eastern United States, and dates back to the latter half of the 19th Century. The songs title refers to the Cumberland Gap, which is a mountain pass in the Appalachian Mountains at the juncture of the States of Tennessee, Virginia and Kentucky. The gap was used in the latter half of the 18th Century by westward-bound migrants travelling from the original 13 American colonies to the Trans-Appalachian frontier. During the U.S. Civil War (1861–1865), Union and Confederate armies engaged in a year-long back-and-forth struggle for control of the gap.

The earliest known recording of ‘Cumberland Gap’ is the 1924 instrumental version by the American fiddler Ambrose G. ‘Uncle Am’ Stuart. (1853-1926) Other notable recordings include Woody Guthrie (1912-1967) who covered the song in the mid 1940’s, and a live version performed by Earl Scruggs (1924-2012) at the 1959 Newport Folk Festival. Lonnie Donegan took his ‘Skiffle’ version to Number 1 for five weeks in the UK in 1957, but in America the song failed to make the Billboard chart. For his version Donegan made the song ‘Rock’ orientated, and wrote many new lyrics, some in a ‘Music Hall’ style, such as ‘Well, I got a girl six feet tall, sleeps in the kitchen with her feet in the hall.’ This type of ‘humour’ would prove to be a precursor for some of Donegan’s most successful songs including ‘Does Your Chewing Gum Lose It’s Flavour (On the Bedpost Overnight?’) (1959 UK Number 3) and ‘My Old Man’s a Dustman’ (1960 UK Number 1.) In my opinion songs such as those are novelty songs, and that is why I think Lonnie Donegan is not thought of as one of the great innovators of Pop Music with the general public.

‘Well a dollar is a dollar, and a dime is a dime, and I love you baby most all the time, Cumberland gap, Cumberland gap, fifteen miles on the Cumberland gap.’