b. John Franklin Duncan, 7 September 1932, Oliver Springs, near Knoxville, Tennessee, USA, d. 15 July 2000, Taree, New South Wales, Australia. Duncan sang from an early age in a church choir and then, when aged 13, he joined a gospel quartet. At 16, he left Tennessee for Texas and while there, he formed a country group. Duncan was drafted into the US army in 1952 and posted in England. He married an English woman, Betty, in 1953. After his demobilization, they went to the USA. Betty returned home for Christmas 1955 and, as she fell ill and needed an operation, Duncan worked in the UK for his father-in-law. He met jazz band leader Chris Barber, who was looking to replace Lonnie Donegan. Donegan had formed his own skiffle group, a fashion he had started with Barber’s band. Barber was impressed by Duncan’s nasal vocal delivery and physical resemblance to Donegan and immediately recruited him, and he joined them the following night at London’s Royal Festival Hall. In 1957 Duncan left the band and called his own group the Blue Grass Boys in homage to Bill Monroe, but they were all British - Denny Wright (guitar), Jack Fallon (bass), Danny Levan (violin) and Lennie Hastings (drums). Although promoted as a skiffle artist, Duncan was a straight country performer, both in terms of arrangements and repertoire. ‘Last Train To San Fernando’, a Trinidad calypso he re-arranged, steamed up the UK charts, but the communication cord was pulled just before it reached the top. The b-side, ‘Rock-A-Billy Baby’, was equally strong. Duncan was featured on BBC Television’s 6.5 Special and hosted radio programmes for the BBC and Radio Luxembourg, but he only had two more Top 30 entries, ‘Blue Blue Heartache’ and ‘Footprints In The Snow’, which both reached number 27. Duncan subsequently worked as a country singer in UK clubs and encouraged local talent. In 1974 he emigrated to Melbourne, Australia, and continued to work there until his death from cancer in 2000.
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