Liverpool Country Groups & Artists – 1960s onwards

Liverpool Goes Country
Liverpool Goes Country

The famous country artists were Hank Walters & The Dusty Road Ramblers, The Hillsiders and Phil Brady & The Ranchers. However, there were so many country groups and artists around the Liverpool and Merseyside country music scene.

Is this a complete list? I am still compiling it and hopefully can add to it too.

Trying to record all of the country groups on Merseyside is no easy task. The following is the list as it stands so far.
Arcadian Ladies, The
Black Cats, The
Blue Country Boys, The
Blue Mountain Boys, The
Blue Mountain Express, The
Boleros, The
Boot Hill Billies, The
Carl Fenton Four
Carol Western
Carolina Travellers, The
Charlie Lansborough
Cheap Seats, The
Country Boys, The
Country Comfort
Country Cousins
Country Five, The
Country Sounds, Carl Goldby’s
Doreen and the Wranglers
Drifting Cowboys, The
Everglades, The
Fair Enough
Foggy Mountain Ramblers, The
Georgie Cash
Georgie Collins and the Sundowners
Hank & The Drifters
Hank Walters & The Dusty Road
Hillsiders, The
Hobo Rick
Idle Hours
Irene & The Sante Fes
Jerry Devine
Jo and Gerry Clark
Joey Rogers and Harry Chambers
Johnny Gold and the Country
Kansas City Five, The
Kelvin Henderson
Kenny Johnson & Northwind
Kentuckians, The
Kevin Daniels Band, The
Lawmen, The
Lee Brennan
Little Bernie & The Drifting
Little Ginny Band
Liverpool Country
Lonesome Travellers, The
Miller Brothers, The
Neal Brothers, The
Outlaws, The
Paddy Kelly Band, The
Patsy Foley Band
Phil Brady & The Ranchers
Quintones, The
Rainbow County
Ranchers, The
Ramblers, The
Ray Mac’s Trio
Redwoods, The
Saddlers, The
San Antones, The
Sarah Jory
Schooners, The
State Liners, The
Stringdusters, The
Sundowners, The
Stu Page
Tennessee Three, The
Tennessee Five, The
UK Country
Val Sutton
Wells Fargo
Western Union
Westerners, The
Westerns, The
West Virginia
Whisky River

Do you know anybody who is missing from this list? Please message me.

The list will appear in the book, “The Country of Liverpool”, which covers the country roots of The Beatles and Liverpool. Pre-Order yours now.

David Bedford

Spasm Bands and Skiffle – The Country Roots of The Beatles

Spasm bands and Skiffle are terms that might not be familiar to the average Beatles fan, but they were both hugely influential in spawning the band that changed the world.

Spasm Bands, Skiffle, The Beatles
The Quarrymen

You only have to look at the early line up of The Quarrymen/ Quarry Men to see their country influences. Dressed in their string ties like cowboy gamblers, the repertoire of The Quarrymen was not just rock ‘n’ roll, but country & western and skiffle too.

1956: Spasm and Skiffle

Skiffle became hugely popular in Britain in 1956 with Lonnie Donegan’s “Rock Island Line” starting a musical craze that would go on to change the British music scene forever. Another hit, Chas McDevitt Skiffle Group’s “Freight Train”, featuring Nancy Whiskey sold in its thousands. McDevitt, often overlooked for his contribution to the skiffle craze, became so huge in the US for this song that he appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1957; seven years before The Beatles. However, it would be Donegan that most credit with inspiring them to become professional musicians.

Overnight, guitars that had sold in a few thousand per year were suddenly selling 250,000 per year. People joined skiffle clubs. Even the BBC, not knowing for keeping up with “the youth of the day” broadcast the World Skiffle Championship on television before launching a weekly radio show called Saturday Skiffle Club on the BBC Light Programme.

But where did skiffle come from?

Spasm Bands

This strange sounding musical group was one from the late 19th Century, where groups in New Orleans played a variety of dixieland, blues, traditional jazz, jug bands and, later, skiffle. A “Spasm” band was made up of musicians with often home-made or basic instruments. It was from these groups that skiffle groups appeared.

The earliest band to play under the name “spasm band” in New Orleans was formed in 1895, known informally as “Stale Bread’s Spasm Band” and billed as the “Razzy Dazzy Spasm Band” at semi-professional engagements, such as outside the West End Opera House. They played, amongst other things, a length of gas pipe, a kettle and a fiddle made from a cigar box. The spasm band style was one ingredient in the development of instrumental New Orleans jazz.

Skiffle then came from the African-American culture that was developing in the 1920s from New Orleans jazz, though there were improvised “jug bands” who were mixing blues and jazz in the southern states. These jug bands were often put together by a family looking to make the money to pay the rent.


Lonnie Donegan

The etymology of the word skiffle is unknown, though in a remote part of England, there was a word “skiffle” meaning to make a mess of any business. In America, the term was simply used to refer to these “jug bands” or “spasm bands” where the family were raising the money for the rent. It is most likely that the music progressed north via the migrant corridor that head away from New Orleans, up the Mississippi towards Chicago.

The first time the word was used in relation to records was in 1925 for a group called Jimmy O’Bryant and his Chicago Skifflers. They were playing a mix of country and blues, with songs such as “Hometown Skiffle” from 1929, and “Skiffle Blues” in 1946 by Dan Burley & his Skiffle Boys. At this point, ‘Spasm bands’ became part of the musical lexicon.

Rock Island Line

Rock Island Line

When the Chris Barber Jazz Band were making their first album, New Orleans Joys, in 1954, they didn’t have enough songs, so they recorded a couple of extra songs. They decided to do “Rock Island Line”, as recorded by blues singer Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter. Nothing much happened for a year or so when Bill Haley had “Rock Around the Clock” topping the charts, so Decca records needed something to compete with it. They decided to release “Rock Island Line” as the Lonnie Donegan Skiffle Group, and it became a huge hit on both sides of the Atlantic.

The Quarrymen

Rod Davis, banjo player with The Quarrymen, explained more about the skiffle craze from a musical perspective. Was it jazz, country, blues, bluegrass?

“Donegan’s skiffle really started when he was with Ken Colyer’s Jazz Band. They played blues – essentially black man’s music – but later they got into more oldtime/ country music (the problem with the term ‘country music’ is that it has become too associated with Nashville and rhinestones). Donegan, of course, was speeding stuff up, just as Bill Black sped up Bill Monroe’s ‘Blue Moon of Kentucky’.

“Lonnie never ever used a tea-chest bass, always an upright bass, and the only time he ever used a washboard in his group was on Rock Island Line/John Henry and that was jazz singer Beryl Bryden who wasn’t really a part of the Barber band anyway. The problem with getting closer to bluegrass and country is that there were no musicians in the UK who could play the style properly. The nearest you get is Johnny Duncan and the Bluegrass Boys. They were all stuck with using jazz musicians. 

“Donegan had Denny Wright who was a great guitarist, but never country in a million years. Johnny Duncan, who was American and could play mandolin and is supposed to have actually played in Bill Monroe’s band at one time, was forced to use jazz fiddler Danny Levan, a great fiddler but not a country stylist; he also used Denny Wright. Johnny himself had a high tenor voice and sounded very bluegrass. ‘Footprints in the Snow’ would be bluegrass, if it wasn’t for the jazz musicians. It was originally a Bill Monroe number.” Monroe is seen as the originator of bluegrass music.

What Lonnie Donegan was playing, although called skiffle, was effectively British musicians playing their interpretation of American folk/ blues/ country and bluegrass. He was a huge fan of Woody Guthrie, the famous American folk singer. When you listen to Guthrie, you can hear where Donegan got a lot of his inspiration for the skiffle style.

The Beatles

What Donegan did, without realising it at the time, was to create a new musical craze that would revolutionise British music forever. John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison were all inspired by Donegan to pick up guitars and seek a career in music.

As George Harrison said; “Without Lead Belly, no Lonnie Donegan; without Lonnie Donegan, no Beatles.”


Liverpool and Country Music: A Rich Heritage

David Bedford, author of ‘The Country of Liverpool’, breaks down how the city became to be known as ‘Nashville of the North’ in the mid-20th century.

Nashville of England

Liverpool Goes Country
Liverpool Goes Country

There was a frontier town in the West, affected by the American Civil War. There were cowboys in saloons singing songs of the lives of those men on the railroads and the prairies. It saw Buffalo Bill, Sioux Indians and Annie Oakley; Gene Autrey, Roy Rogers and Trigger, and was at the heart of country music. This was Nashville: not in Tennessee, but the Nashville of England; the Nashville of the North: Liverpool.

The Beatles and Merseybeat

Everybody knows that The Beatles came from Liverpool and that there was a beat music scene known as “Merseybeat”. But very few people outside of Liverpool know about the country music scene, which was the biggest in Europe. Why in Liverpool? How does it relate to The Beatles and the Mersey music scene?

The Quarrymen
The Quarrymen in their country and western outfits

Skiffle and its Country Roots

The roots of the beat music scene of the 1960s began with Lonnie Donegan’s “Rock Island Line”, which was issued in 1956, beginning the skiffle craze. However, examining the skiffle music scene shows that he roots of skiffle were in country; the roots of John Lennon’s Quarrymen were in country and western, which was reflected in the songs of The Beatles.

Many will be familiar with the famed Lonnie Donegan show at the world-famous Cavern Club. In attendance that night, along with hundreds of other music-mad teenagers, were a young John Lennon and Paul McCartney, whose paths had yet to cross. The Donegan show made a huge impression on the budding musical minds of Liverpool, inspiring a generation of kids to pick up a guitar for the first time.

Liverpool groups were playing a mixture of country, rock ‘n’ roll, rhythm and blues, rockabilly and whatever else it discovered. Groups had to decide which route to take.

Liverpool therefore came to be known as the “Nashville of The North”. This will be explored in the upcoming documentary ‘The Country of Liverpool’. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for updates on production.

David Bedford