Dan Burley paid the bills with his activities as a journalist, but music was always part of his life, going back to the '20s when he was a teenage boogie woogie piano player at Chicago rent parties and nightclubs. Just about anyone who played piano in this style knew about him as a result, and many of these well-known musicians kept tabs on Burley as he worked his way up to a position as theatrical editor of the Amsterdam News in New York City. During the '50s, Burley became associated with Ebony magazine, published in his old stomping grounds of Chicago.
Recordings of him in action as a musician easily outlasted the normally brief shelf life of
newspapers and magazines. During the mid-'40s, he was part of a sort of musical critic's summit with Leonard Feather, also a pianist. Of more importance was a group he assembled in 1946 called Dan Burley & His Skiffle Boys, actually including the great country blues singer and guitarist Brownie McGhee. This is supposedly the group, and the record, that established the term "skiffle" as a musical style, in some ways similar to jug band music, at least according to the published word of Burley's old pal Feather. Skiffle became especially popular in England, influencing early rock & roll, and eventually the Beatles, none of which are developments that seemed to have much impact on Burley, who died in the early '60s. The pianist also appears on several excellent Lionel Hampton sides from 1946.