Melvins & Billy Bragg on Skiffle

The Melvins were an inspiration to the '90s alternative explosion, but the band's unclassifiable sound and uncommercial stance set them apart. In a frank discussion with Jim and Greg, the Melvins reflect on their career and bust myths about the grunge scene. Plus, singer-songwriter Billy Bragg makes the case for the 1950s skiffle craze as the origin of guitar rock and punk sensibilities in the UK.

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Billy Bragg

Roots, Radicals and Rockers In the 1950s, a surprising, short-lived musical craze swept across the UK: skiffle, a raw version of African-American blues and folk performed by white British youth. Folk-punk singer-songwriter Billy Bragg has written about skiffle in his new book Roots, Radicals and Rockers. This week, he sits down with producer Evan Chung to make the case for skiffle as the origin of English guitar pop and the first sign of the DIY sensibility of punk.

Skiffle emerged out of the trad jazz scene – an early New Orleans jazz revivalist movement in the UK. In the middle of their sets, the trad jazz musicians would put down their horns and pick up acoustic guitars, washboards, and upright basses to play the songs of Leadbelly, Big Bill Broonzy, and others. Skiffle hit the top of the pop charts in both the UK and the US when Lonnie Donegan released his version of Leadbelly's "Rock Island Line." Bragg argues that this was a revolutionary moment that taught British youth that anyone could play the guitar – and led to skyrocketing guitar sales. As a result, members of The Beatles, The Who, Led Zeppelin, Van Morrison, David Bowie, and even ABBA got their start in DIY skiffle groups. According to Bragg, if you want to understand everything that came after in the UK – from the British Invasion to the English folk revival to R&B to punk – you have to look at the impact that skiffle had on the emerging British teenage culture.



Melvins The Melvins are hailed as progenitors of sludge metal, key influences on the Seattle grunge scene, and avant-garde pranksters – but their music has always been virtually unclassifiable. That's certainly the case on their new double-album A Walk With Love & Death, which veers from heavy rockers to pop songs to ambient film scores. The Melvins join Jim and Greg in the studio to talk about the new record and their long career, dating back to their 1984 formation in Washington.

Guitarist/vocalist Buzz Osborne (aka King Buzzo) and drummer Dale Crover form the core of the Melvins, alongside a rotating bassist slot that's currently filled by Steve McDonald of Redd Kross and OFF!. They discuss their ill-fated major label stint in the 1990s, the importance of playing the music that you want to play, and how they manage to survive as a band for over thirty years. They also dispel myths about Nirvana (of which Crover was an early member) and the rest of the storied Seattle scene.

Featured Songs

  1. Billy Bragg & Joe Henry, Rock Island Line, Shine a Light: Field Recordings from the Great American Railroad, Cooking Vinyl, 2016
  2. The Lonnie Donegan Skiffle Group, John Henry, Rock Island Line (single), Decca, 1955
  3. The Quarrymen, Puttin' on the Style, Unreleased, n/a, 1957
  4. The 2.19 Skiffle Group, Railroad Bill, The 2.19 Skiffle Group, Esquire, 1957
  5. Ken Colyer's Jazzmen, Isle of Capri, New Orleans to London, Decca, 1953
  6. King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band, Dipper Mouth Blues, Dipper Mouth Blues (single), Gennett, 1923
  7. Ken Colyer's Skiffle Group, Midnight Special, Back to the Delta, Decca, 1954
  8. Dan Burley and his Skiffle Boys, South Side Shake, South Side Shake, Circle, 1946
  9. Ken Colyer's Skiffle Group, Down By the Riverside, Down By the Riverside (single), Decca, 1955
  10. Kelly Pace, The Rock Island Line, Negro Work Songs and Calls, The Library of Congress, 1934
  11. Leadbelly, Rock Island Line, Rock Island Line, Folkways, 1953
  12. The Lonnie Donegan Skiffle Group, Rock Island Line, Rock Island Line (single), Decca, 1955
  13. Bill Haley & His Comets, Rock Around the Clock, Rock Around the Clock (single), Decca, 1954
  14. Dickie Valentine, The Finger of Suspicion, The Finger of Suspicion (single), Decca, 1954
  15. Lonnie Donegan and his Skiffle Group, Stewball, Lost John (single), Nixa, 1956
  16. Johnny Cash, Rock Island Line, With His Hot and Blue Guitar, Sun, 1957
  17. The Chas McDevitt Skiffle Group (feat. Nancy Whiskey), Freight Train, Freight Train (single), Oriole, 1957
  18. Johnny Duncan and the Blue Grass Boys, Last Train to San Fernando, Last Train to San Fernando (single), Columbia, 1957
  19. The Vipers Skiffle Group, Don't You Rock Me Daddy-O, Don't You Rock Me Daddy-O (single), Parlophone, 1957
  20. The Quarrymen, That'll Be the Day, Anthology 1, Apple, 1958
  21. Lea Valley Skiffle Group, Streamline Train, Lea Valley Skiffle Group, Esquire, 1958
  22. The JG Skiffle Group, Mama Don't Allow, Huw Wheldon Show, BBC, 1957
  23. The Beatles, Within You Without You, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, Parlophone, 1967
  24. The Vipers Skiffle Group, The Cumberland Gap, Skiffle Music, Parlophone, 1957
  25. Melvins, Christ Hammer, A Walk with Love & Death, Ipecac, 2017
  26. Melvins, Aim High, A Walk with Love & Death, Ipecac, 2017
  27. Melvins, Chicken Butt, A Walk with Love & Death, Ipecac, 2017
  28. Melvins, What's Wrong with You?, A Walk with Love & Death, Ipecac, 2017
  29. Melvins, Honey Bucket, Houdini, Atlantic, 1993
  30. Melvins, It's Shoved, Bullhead, Boner, 1991
  31. Nirvana, About a Girl, Bleach, Sub Pop, 1989
  32. Fecal Matter, Spank Thru, Sliver: The Best of the Box, DGC, 1985
  33. Nirvana, Beeswax, Incesticide, DGC, 1988
  34. Little Richard, Heeby-Jeebies, Heeby-Jeebies (single), Specialty, 1956
  35. Melvins, Anaconda, Bullhead, Boner, 1991
  36. Melvins, Revolve, Stoner Witch, Atlantic, 1994
  37. Melvins, The Bit, Stag, Atlantic, 1996
  38. Melvins, Rat Faced Granny (Live), Sugar Daddy Live, Ipecac, 2011
  39. Melvins, Boris, Bullhead, Boner, 1991
  40. Melvins, Black Bock, Stag, Atlantic, 1996
  41. Melvins, Take Me Out to the Ball Game, Basses Loaded, Ipecac, 2016
  42. Melvins, Steve Instant Neuman, Gluey Porch Treatments, Alchemy, 1987
  43. Kurt Cobain, The Yodel Song, Montage of Heck: The Home Recordings, Universal Music, 2015
  44. Melvins, Black Heath, A Walk with Love & Death, Ipecac, 2017
  45. Grateful Dead, Operator, American Beauty, Warner Bros., 1970
  46. That 1 Guy, Mustaches, The Moon Is Disgusting, Redbird, 2007
  47. Steve Winwood, Arc of a Diver, Arc of a Diver, Island, 1980
  48. Hunter Hayes, Storm Warning, Hunter Hayes, Atlantic, 2011
  49. Randy Newman, It's A Jungle Out There, Dark Matter, Nonesuch, 2017
  50. Jefferson Airplane, Wild Tyme, After Bathing at Baxter's, RCA Victor, 1967