The Best of Cannon’s Jug Stompers
Biographical information from the now defunct collective blog Music A-K-O
Translated from Spanish by yours truly.
Gus Cannon was born on September 12th 1883 on the plantation of Henderson Newell in Marshall Country, Mississippi. His father had been a slave and Gus was the youngest of ten children. In 1895 Gus went with his brother Tom to Clarksdale to work in cotton fields. At that time Gus started to become interested in music. He built a banjo out of the neck of a guitar and a kind of pot used to bake bread. Gus began to pick up on the songs of the people of Clarksdale and he was taught some musical techniques by a musician named Bud Jackson. Gus got his first real bajno from his brother who he beat in a game of dice.
They say that jug bands started at the beginning of the century in Louisville, Kentucky, and that they played a mix of early jazz, country, and songs with ragtime roots. By 1910 Gus Cannon had gone to work at a plantation near Ashport, Tennessee, where he formed his first jug band with Jim Turner. Jug bands were very popular at the time and usually consisted of a jug, violin, banjo, and sometimes a guitar or mandolin.
In 1928 Ralph Peer of Victor, which had recorded other popular jug bands in Memphis, went looking for other bands to record. Charlie Williamson, a man who at that time owned the Palace Theatre told him that he knew a guy named Gus Cannon who played in one. By that time Gus had attached the jug to the neck of his banjo and was able to play both at the same time. Gus called up a harmonica player named Noah Lewis who was known for being able to play two harmonicas at the same time. Gus had met him in 1907 when he worked at the Ashport plantation near Ripley, Tennessee. He also called Ashley Thompson and the three of them formed Cannon’s Jug Stompers. Later they would add more people like John Estes on guitar, Yank Rachel on mandolin, and various unknown musicians who would sit in from session to session. Gus’ band recorded a total of 26 sides between the 30th of January 1928 and the 28th of November 1930. You’ve got to hear this smokin’ hot music that just makes you want to live, soak up the sun, and smile. Listen to Going to Germany and you’ll see what I mean.
Image: Gus Cannon in 1963, via Memphis Music Stars