Personalities | Gus Cannon | Early Years | Jazz & Blues

(Vocals, banjo, jug, kazoo, guitar, fiddle, piano, 1885–1979)

A pioneering bluesman who became a central figure in the Memphis jug band scene, Gus Cannon may have been the first blues recording artist, if tales of music he recorded as early as 1898 are true. However, no documentary evidence of Cannon recordings has been retrieved prior to his Paramount sides of 1927; furthermore, if he did record almost 30 years earlier the music may not have been blues at all, for his repertoire also drew from pre-blues black and white folk and minstrel traditions. Cannon performed as Banjo Joe on medicine shows in the teens and 1920s and recorded his first sides under that name.

Inspired by the success of the Memphis Jug Band, Cannon reconfigured his act into Cannon’s Jug Stompers and signed with Victor in 1928. Among the Cannon songs reworked by latter-day folk revivalists is ‘Walk Right In’, which became a number-one pop hit in the US for the Rooftop Singers in 1963. The notoriety enabled Cannon to record an album for Stax Records in 1963, although his participation in the blues revival of the 1960s was limited.

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Source: The Definitive Illustrated Encyclopedia of Jazz & Blues, founding editor Howard Mandel


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