If you were to ask current music fans what they know about Johnny Duncan, most would either not recognize the name or would think of the country music star who first rose to prominence in the 1970s. But there was an earlier Johnny Duncan and his story makes for a fascinating tale, one that involves early rock and roll, the Beatles, and something called skiffle.
It's a story that starts with Duncan's Depression-era birth, which — depending on the source — was either in Tennessee or Michigan. What is for sure is that he was drafted and sent to England in the early 1950s, where he met and married a pretty local girl. Eventually he and his new wife returned to the States, but Duncan's English rose seemed to wilt so far from home and they ended up going back in England.
Duncan's musical side was beginning to appear by then, and he began trying to make a living playing and singing bluegrass-flavored country music for British audiences. He helped sell himself by affecting a broad Southern accent and claiming experience with Bill Monroe's bluegrass group. He began to attract some fans and was also noticed by bandleader Chris Barber, who had recently lost budding skiffle star Lonnie Donegan to a solo career.
Donegan would go on to become the "king of skiffle," but maybe we should pause here for a definition. Wikipedia puts it this way: "Skiffle [is] a type of folk music with jazz, blues and country influences, usually using homemade or improvised instruments...as well as more conventional instruments such as acoustic guitar and banjo."
And Merriam-Webster adds that is is "a derivative form of music formerly popular in Great Britain featuring vocals with a simple instrumental accompaniment."