4 min readOne of the first recordings of 13 year-old Jimmy Page in 1957 and the rise of Skiffle.

One of the first known recordings of Jimmy Page on the Huw Wheldon Show in 1957. A rare view of Jimmy not only playing, but singing and whistling too.

 

In addition to seeing the start of the career of one of the most influential artists of Rock, it is humorous to see the attitudes of Huw Wheldon interviewing them. A snapshot of a time when music and society were starting to change.

The second song they play, “the Cotton Song”, is an old ‘slave’ song which is a predecessor of the Blues. Page was already starting his love of the Blues before he knew where it would take him.  Here’s a version by The Lighttown Skiffle Group.

The Lighttown Skiffle Group - The Cotton Song

 

 

Skiffle is a style of 1920s and 1930s jazz deriving from blues, ragtime, and folk music, using both improvised and conventional instruments. It migrated to Europe as a kind of folk music with a blues or jazz flavor that was popular in the 1950s, played by a small group and often incorporating improvised instruments such as washboards. Improvised jug bands playing blues and jazz were common across the American South in the early decades of the 20th century. They used instruments such as the washboard, jugs, washtub bass, cigar-box fiddle, musical saw and comb-and-paper kazoos, as well as more conventional instruments, such as acoustic guitar and banjo.

The first British recordings of skiffle were carried out by Kenneth Colyer’s new band in 1954. Kenneth Colyer was an English jazz trumpeter and cornetist, devoted to New Orleans jazz. His band was also known for skiffle interludes. It was the release by Decca Records of two skiffle tracks by Chris Barber’s Jazz Band that transformed the fortunes of skiffle in late 1955. Barber was an English jazz musician, best known as a bandleader and trombonist. As well as scoring a UK top twenty traditional jazz hit, he helped the careers of many musicians. One of which was Lonnie Donegan, whose appearances with Barber triggered the skiffle craze of the mid-1950s and who had his first transatlantic hit, “Rock Island Line”, while with Chris Barber’s band. His providing an audience for Donegan and, later, Alexis Korner makes Barber a significant figure in the British rhythm and blues and “beat boom” of the 1960s.

Lonnie Donegan’s fast-tempo version of Lead Belly’s “Rock Island Line” was a major hit in 1956, featuring a washboard (but not a tea-chest bass), with “John Henry” on the B-side.

 

Lonnie Donegan - Rock Island Line (Live) 15/6/1961

 

 

It was the success of this single and the lack of a need for expensive instruments or high levels of musicianship that set off the British skiffle craze. Skiffle played a major part in beginning the careers of later eminent jazz, pop, blues, folk and rock musicians and has been seen as a critical stepping stone to the second British folk revival, blues boom and British Invasion of the US popular music scene. Liverpool skiffle group The Quarrymen playing their first full show in 1957: John Lennon is centre stage.

The Quarrymen - Live At St Peter's Church, July 6 1957

 

 

It has been estimated that in the late 1950s, there were 30,000–50,000 skiffle groups in Britain. Sales of guitars grew rapidly, and other musicians were able to perform on improvised bass and percussion in venues such as church halls and cafes and in the flourishing coffee bars of Soho, London, like the 2i’s Coffee Bar, the Cat’s Whisker and nightspots like Coconut Grove and Churchill’s, without having to aspire to musical perfection or virtuosity. A large number of British musicians began their careers playing skiffle in this period, and some became leading figures in their respective fields. These included leading Northern Irish musician Van Morrison and British blues pioneer Alexis Korner, as well as Ronnie Wood, Alex Harvey and Mick Jagger; folk musicians Martin Carthy, John Renbourn and Ashley Hutchings; rock musicians Roger Daltrey, Jimmy Page, Ritchie Blackmore, Robin Trower and David Gilmour; and popular beat-music successes Graham Nash and Allan Clarke of the Hollies. Most notably, the Beatles developed from John Lennon’s skiffle group the Quarrymen. Similarly, the Bee Gees developed from Barry Gibb’s skiffle group the Rattlesnakes.

Jimmy Page’s career started with his rather simple form of playing and, as they say, the rest is history. Six years after this appearance on television, Jimmy was interviewed in June 1963 by Royston Ellis in Guernsey, Channel Islands. He had given up the idea of becoming a biological researcher and his destiny was in sight.

Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page - June 1963 interview

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