Lonnie Donegan, a musician whose " skiffle " sound inspired John Lennon and Pete Townshend to learn to play guitar, died Sunday in Peterborough, central England, while on a tour of Britain, publicist Judy Totton said. He was 71 and had suffered several heart attacks.
Mr. Donegan ' s hits included " Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavor (on the Bedpost Overnight), " " My Old Man ' s A Dustman, " and " Rock Island Line, " but he may have been more important to British music for inspiring young talents to imitate and then eclipse his success.
He had planned to play later this month in a concert tribute to former Beatle George Harrison at the Royal Albert Hall.
Mr. Donegan was born Anthony Donegan in Glasgow in 1931. A fan of American country, folk and blues music, he changed his name as a tribute to bluesman Lonnie Johnson.
Skiffle music, which Mr. Donegan introduced to Britain in the 1950s, was a mixture of styles that traced its roots to 1920s America, blending jug band, acoustic, folk, blues, and country and western styles. Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly were among his biggest influences.
The son of a symphony violinist, Mr. Donegan absorbed a wide range of popular music from across the Atlantic, including the Andrews Sisters, Glenn Miller, Louis Armstrong, Josh White, Bessie Smith and Leadbelly. A stint in the British Army took him to Vienna, where he was influenced by music on the American Forces Radio Network.
He formed the Tony Donegan Jazz Band in 1952, and later joined Chris Barber in the Ken Colyer Jazzmen, which became a popular club band. Mr. Donegan, playing guitar or banjo, performed American blues, country and folk songs in the breaks between sets.
Colyer quit in 1954 and the renamed Chris Barber Jazz Band made a recording for Decca Records of a few of Mr. Donegan ' s skiffle tunes, including " Rock Island Line. "
The album was a hit but the single release of " Rock Island Line " was a phenomenon, spending 22 weeks on the British chart and breaking into the top 20 in the United States. The single was credited to " The Lonnie Donegan Skiffle Group, " and he was a star.
Skiffle was simple and cheap, apparently within the ability of anyone, regardless of musical talent. All that was needed was a guitar, a snare drum, jugs, a washboard or a stand-up bass made from a broom handle attached to an empty tea chest and two chords.
" Rock Island Line " inspired Lennon and Harrison to take up the guitar.
Pete Townshend, The Who ' s windmilling guitar player, started out as leader of The Detours, a skiffle group also featuring Who vocalist Roger Daltrey.
Elton John, Ringo Starr and Queen ' s Brian May played on Mr. Donegan ' s 1978 album " Puttin ' on the Style. "
Mr. Donegan continued to appear with Van Morrison, who started his career in a Belfast skiffle band called The Sputniks, and they teamed up for a 1999 recording, " Skiffle Sessions. "
Mr. Donegan was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire, one of Britain ' s highest honors, in 2000.
He is survived by his third wife, Sharon, four sons and three daughters.
Published in San Diego Union-Tribune on Nov. 6, 2002.