Sun 9 Mar 2014
|Gus Cannon||Poor Boy A Long Way From Home||Memphis Masters: Early American Blues Classics 1927-34|
|Gus Cannon||Interview||American Skiffle Bands|
|Blind Blake & Gus Cannon||He's In The Jailhouse Now||The Best of Blind Blake|
|Gus Cannon||I Met Mr. Toad||Recordings Provided By Don Hill|
|Gus Cannon||Show Me The Way To Go Home||Recordings Provided By Don Hill|
|Gus Cannon||Walk Right In||Recordings Provided By Don Hill|
|Cannon's Jug Stompers||Minglewood Blues||Ruckus Juice & Chitlins, Vol. 1|
|Cannon's Jug Stompers||Viola Lee Blues||When The Sun Goes Dow
|Cannon's Jug Stompers||Pig Ankle Strut||Gus Cannon Vol. 1 1927-1928|
|Cannon's Jug Stompers||Going To Germany||Gus Cannon & Noah Lewis Vol. 2 1929-1930
|Noah Lewis||Selling The Jelly||Gus Cannon & Noah Lewis Vol. 2 1929-1930
|Gus Cannon||Can You Blame The Colored Man||Masters of the Memphis Blues
|Gus Cannon||Interview||American Skiffle Bands|
|Gus Cannon||My Money Never Runs Out||Good for What Ails You: Music of the Medicine Shows 1926-37|
|Cannon's Jug Stompers||Madison Street Blues||Blues Images Vol. 5|
|Cannon's Jug Stompers||Big Railroad Blues||Ruckus Juice & Chitlins, Vol. 1|
|Cannon's Jug Stompers||Heart Breakin' Blues||Gus Cannon Vol. 1 1927-1928|
|Cannon's Jug Stompers||Feather Bed||Before The Blues Vol. 3|
|Memphis Willie B. & Gus Cannon||Sitting Here Thinking||Blues: Music from the Documentary Film|
|Gus Cannon||Make Me A Pallet On Your Floor||Walk Right In|
|Gus Cannon||Come On Down To My House||Walk Right In|
|Cannon's Jug Stompers||Fourth And Beale||Gus Cannon & Noah Lewis Vol. 2 1929-1930|
|Cannon's Jug Stompers||Last Chance Blues||Ruckus Juice & Chitlins Vol. 2|
|Cannon's Jug Stompers||Walk Right In||When The Sun Goes Down|
|Gus Cannon||Goin' Back (To Memphis, TN)||On The Road Again|
|Gus Cannon||Salty Dog||Walk Right In|
|Cannon's Jug Stompers||Tired Chicken Blues||Gus Cannon & Noah Lewis Vol. 2 1929-1930|
|Cannon's Jug Stompers||Prison Wall Blues||Gus Cannon & Noah Lewis Vol. 2 1929-1930|
|Gus Cannon||Walk Right In||Walk Right In|
|Gus Cannon circa 1920|
A remarkable musician, Gus Cannon bridged the gap between early blues and the minstrel and the pre-blues that preceded it. His band of the '20's and '30's, Cannon's Jug Stompers, along with contemporaries, The Memphis Jug Band, recorded the finest jug music of the era. On today's program we spin many of the classic Jug Stompers songs, songs Gus cut under his own name, sides he cut with others, a fascinating interview Cannon did in he 50's plus we talk to Don Hill who recorded Cannon in 1961. Much of the information for today's show come from the notes to Cannon's Jug Stompers The Complete Works 1927-1930 (issued first on Herwin then Yazoo) written by Bengt Olsson. Olsson was a fine writer, an expert on Memphis blues and these notes notes are perhaps the best piece written on Gus Cannon. A link to the notes is provided below.
Songs Cannon recorded, notably the raggy "Walk Right In," were staples of the folk repertoire decades later, and Cannon himself continued to record and perform into the 1970's. He learned early repertoire in the 1890's from older musicians, notably Mississippian Alec Lee. The early 1900's found him playing around Memphis with songster Jim Jackson and forming a partnership with Noah Lewis, whose harmonica wizardry would be basic to the Jug Stompers' sound. In 1914, Cannon began work with a succession of medicine shows that would continue into the 1940's. His recording career began with Paramount sessions in 1927 cut under the name Banjo Joe and also made sides with Blind Blake. In 1928 he began recording as Cannon's Jug Stompers, cutting over two-dozen sides with the group through 1930 for Victor. He returned in 1956 to make a few recordings for Folkways Records and made some college and coffee house appearances with Furry Lewis and Bukka White. In 1963 the Rooftop Singers had a hit with "Walk Right In" and in the wake of that recorded an album for Stax Records in 1963. He cut a few other scattered sides before his death in 1979.
|Cannon's Jug Stompers circa 1928|
Cannon's first instrument was home-made but he soon ran away from home where he played banjo around work camps. "Gus grew up with banjo & fiddle songs – 'John Henry & all that mess' – all around him, as most of his brothers (nine in all & most older than Gus) played an instrument or two & would frequently get together with other musicians in the area." Around the turn of the century Cannon was in Clarksdale where he came under the influence of Alec Lee, 15 year his senior, who played with a knife on songs like "Poor Boy" and "John Henry." "Alec Lee was the first guy I heard playing on a Hawaiian guitar ..used a knife." About two years later Cannon recalled playing down by the Sunflower river. "..I was playing for Saturday night balls – that's when us colored folks had ourselves a time. Man I played the hell out of that banjo for $2.50 a night…" Cannon wasn't playing professionally at this time, still working different day jobs.
Cannon started out with medicine shows like Dr Hangerson's , Dr Stokey's, Dr Willie Lewis' and Dr W.B. Milton. From Virginia to Arkansas, billed as Banjo Joe, he worked for some ten years, 1914 -1928. He was accompanied by Hosea Woods, a longtime friends who could play guitar, violin and cornet and also sang. "I had to have a shot of liqueur before the show. If I didn't it seemed like I couldn't be funny in front of all them people. When I had one it seemed like all them people was one and I would throw up the banjo in the air and really put on a show." In 1916 Cannon moved North of Memphis to Ripley to work on a farm. There he teamed up with local musicians harmonica player Noah Lewis and guitarist Ashley Thompson. The trio played around the area until 1920. They would be reunited when Cannon formed his jug band in Memphis in 1928.
Back in Memphis, Will Shade had started the Memphis Jug Band. They became very popular in Memphis, often playing in Church Park, where Gus saw them. The Memphis Jug Band first recorded for Victor in February 1927 and over the next four years recorded 57 sides. By 1930 there were seven different jug bands active in Memphis. In 1928 Ralph Peer from Victor, who had previously recorded the Memphis Jug Band, returned to Memphis looking for other jug bands to record. Charlie Williamson, the manager of the Palace Theater, recommended Gus. By this time Gus had had a harness made for his jug so that he could wear it around his neck and play banjo at the same time. Gus called up Noah Lewis and Ashley Thompson and on Jan 30 1928 they recorded 4 sides in an old auditorium as Cannon's Jug Stompers.
The first recordings did well and in Sept 1928 an additional 10 sides were cut; 4 on Sept. 5 with Avery replacing Thompson, 2 more on Sept. 9 and then 4 more on Sept. 20 with Hosea Woods added on kazoo. The band’s major musician was Noah Lewis who demonstrated remarkable breath control, inventiveness, and mastery of his instrument. Lewis was born in Henning, Tennessee, and raised in the vicinity of Ripley. He played in local string bands and brass bands, and began playing in the Ripley and Memphis areas with Cannon. He cut seven sides under his own name at sessions in 1929 and 1930. Recording as Noah Lewis' Jug Band, he was backed on two numbers by Sleepy John and Yank Rachell with just Estes backing him on two other numbers cut a couple of days apart. Lewis died in poverty of gangrene brought on by frostbite in Ripley, Tennessee, in 1961. As Cannon recalled: "Lawd, he used to blow the hell outa that harp. He could play two harps at the same time …Y'know he could curl his lips 'round the harp & his nose was just like a fist. Noah, he was full of cocaine all the time – I reckon that's why he could play sou loud and aw, he was good!"
After Cannon's Jug Stompers final sessions in 1930 Cannon would no record again for over two-decades. In 1957 he recorded a few sides for Sam Charters for Folkways which includes an interview which is featured on today's show. The recordings were issued on the album American Skiffle Bands. While recording in the South in the early 1960's, producer, writer Charters was inspired not only by the sound of Furry Lewis’s guitar, but by the patterns of movement in his hands and fingers as he played. Thus Charters decided to make a film that would document aspects of the blues that couldn’t be put on a phonograph record. In the summer of 1962, Charters journeyed through St. Louis, Memphis, Louisiana, and South Carolina to shoot the film The Blues and record this soundtrack. Artists featured in addition to Lewis are J.D. Short, Baby Tate, Sleepy John Estes and Gus Cannon who performs "Sitting Here Thinking" with Memphis Willie B.
|Gus Cannon listens to his first record album on Stax
Photo: Bob Williams/The Commercial Appeal files
In 1961 Dave Mangurian and Donald Hall recorded Gus Cannon, Will Shade and Laura Dukes over two days in Memphis. The recordings have been issued as bootlegs on Will Shade & Gus Cannon 1961 (Document) and Memphis Sessions (1956 – 1961) (Wolf). It turns out that Donald Hill is a Professor at SUNY Oneonta, just a few hours from my house. I got in touch and Donald graciously made some time to talk about recording Gus and his friends over fifty years ago. Mangurian and Hall headed to Memphis after a spending time in Clarksdale where they recorded Wade Walton and spent time in jail on "suspicion" another word for "white outsiders." In Memphis they looked up Memphis Minnie and Son Joe and and managed to record Will Shade, Laura Dukes, and Gus Cannon in Shade's apartment on Fourth Street, just off Beale. "We recorded over two days. The musicians drank a lot as did some of the visitors who heard the music and joined us. We recorded a variety of configurations, including Shade on vocal, washtub bass, harmonica, and guitar; Laura Dukes, vocal and banjo-uke, Gus Cannon on vocal and banjo; and several others that came by to sing a tune or two. …Shade, Cannon and Dukes were real professionals."
In 1963, Cannon's vocals and banjo-playing were accompanied by Will Shade on jug and Milton Roby on washboard for this Stax Record release titled Walk Right In. It appears that he recorded at the Stax studio simply because he lived in the neighborhood. Only 500 copies of this album were pressed. Cannon was also featured in The Devil’s Music—A History of the Blues on BBC TV in 1976. Cannon passed in 1979, obituaries, including that published in Living Blues magazine, gave his age as ninety-six, although some reference sources give birth years of 1883 and 1885.
Related Reading: -Cannon's Jug Stompers The Complete Works 1927-1930 [PDF] (Liner notes by Begnt Olsson)
-Cannon's Jug Stompers The Complete Works 1927-1930 [PDF] (Liner notes by Begnt Olsson)