Chas McDevitt

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Chas McDevitt (born Charles James McDevitt, 4 December 1934) is a British musician, one of the leading lights of the skiffle genre which was highly influential and popular in the United Kingdom in the mid-to-late 1950s.[citation needed]

McDevitt was born in Eaglesham, Glasgow, Scotland. His family moved to Camberley, Surrey, when he was a child. As a teenager he taught himself the banjo, and began corresponding with blues artists including Josh White. He also joined a local Dixieland jazz group. By 1955 he had moved to London, and began playing with the Crane River Jazz Band. At the same time, he formed a small skiffle group, which busked and performed in coffee bars and jazz clubs in Soho.

In late 1956, whilst recording the song "Freight Train" – written by folk blues singer Elizabeth Cotten – for Oriole Records, studio owner Bill Varley suggested they should add a female singer. As a result, folk singer Nancy Whiskey was invited to join the Chas McDevitt Skiffle Group, and they re-recorded the song with her vocals. The record became a hit in the UK in 1957 at the height of the skiffle boom, reaching Number 5 in the UK Singles Chart.[1] In the United States, the song was covered by Rusty Draper, who had the bigger hit. Nevertheless, McDevitt's group appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, their record became a million seller, and their success led them to tour with acts such as Slim Whitman and Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers. They also replaced Jerry Lee Lewis on his ill-fated 1958 tour of the UK. The Chas McDevitt Skiffle Group was the only British skiffle group, other than Lonnie Donegan's, to achieve international success.[citation needed]

After Whiskey left in 1957, McDevitt had less commercial success, and his group disbanded around 1959. He then formed a duo with his wife Shirley Douglas, until their professional and personal relationship ended in the 1970s. Since then, McDevitt has continued to perform as the leader of a re-formed group, and also remains active in charitable work.

Nancy Whiskey died in February 2003. More recently McDevitt appeared on the BBC Television show, Never Mind The Buzzcocks.


  1. ^ Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 338. ISBN 1-904994-10-5. 

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