from notes to Cannon’s Jug Stompers – The Complete Works 1927-1930 (Yazoo 1082/3, 1989):
Chasin’ Gus’ Ghost
directed by Todd Kwait
(North Pacific DVD)
reviewed by John Bird (www.rambles.net):
As harmonica legend and southern gentleman Charlie Musselwhite notes in Todd Kwait’s new and fascinating documentary about jug-band music, Chasin’ Gus’ Ghost, the basic jug band lineup of guitar, harmonica and bass (or in this case, jug), is the very thing that evolved into the electric sound of the Chicago blues. And as any fan of early Elvis, the Rolling Stones, the Grateful Dead, Lovin’ Spoonful, Cream, Led Zepplin, Creedance Clearwater Revival and so many other classic rock bands knows, the Chicago blues (and jug-band music) were huge influences in the development of rock ‘n’ roll.
So there’s your lineage right there, and reason enough for all us aficionados of Americana roots music to be interested in the story of jug-band music (hereinafter referred to as JBM).
JBM originally flourished briefly on record in and around Louisville, Ky., and Memphis, Tenn., in the 1920s. Recording and record sales for the music crashed along with the stock-market in 1929 and never recovered until a brief blip during the folk boom of the late 1950s and early ’60s. The music and musicians did continue to survive, though, on the streets and in the dancehalls of the region.
Some of the seminal bands included the Memphis Jug Band, Dixieland Jug Blowers, Louisville Jug Band, Mound City Blue Blowers and Whistler & His Jug Band. But perhaps the most well-known champion of the genre was Gus Cannon and his band, Cannon’s Jug Stompers. And it’s the ghost of Gus Cannon that Kwait trails throughout this 90-minute investigative exploration of JBM’s roots. Hence the film’s title. (more…)
The Long Time Coming site (see previous Dock Boggs post) has a companion site dedicated to Gus Cannon and Cannon’s Jug Stompers:
The author offers biographical and discographical info, lyrics, photos, audio clips, and a link to this essay by Bengt Olsson from “The Complete Works, 1927-1930 (Yazoo 1082).” Below is the first section. Click here for the complete essay.
by Bengt Olsson
Gus Cannon was born at Henderson Newell’s plantation a mile or so north of Red Banks, Marshall County on September 12, 1883 (incidentally that makes him a Virgo — earth). The Frisco railroad tracks ran (they still do) through Red Banks & though the trains never stopped, the railroad was considered the most important thing in the vicinity. The one incident that really stands out in Gus’ memory of the first years is witnessing the Frisco have a wreck outside Victoria, a small town just north of Red Banks where Gus & his mother were gathering flowers at the time of the accident. Except for the railroad Red Banks was little more than a store with porkchops as well as hoes & Stetson hats; a few cafes with dancing in the front & dice games in the back & a post office, which stayed closed most of the time.
Gus’ parents, John & Ellen, were sharecroppers & as such they moved about within the Red Banks/Victoria circuit. Usually parents had their kids help out in the fields once they were old enough to carry a bucket of water. A grown man would make around 50¢ a day — certainly not much, but on the other hand 20¢ bought a steak-dinner back then. Quite naturally (“I’m 88 years young”–1971)–, Gus’ memories of the childhood days are hazy, but some recollections (omitting the train wreck) still shine through.
“My daddy was in slavery time. John Cannon…got his name from the man who owned him. He used to tell us that in them days they put the big ole colored man with the good-looking women to raise children. Shit, I’m telling you the truth. I’m straight…I’m telling you what I know.” Another incident that Gus recalls is stealing a watermelon from his dad’s watermelon patch, a couple of minutes away from the house the family stayed in at the time (late 1880’s). The old man was very strict with taking care of the picking himself. “You know, dad saw that there was a watermelon missing & he tracked me. That evening when I’d gone to bed, he came on with a razor. Oh Lawd, he whopped the hell out of me, ’cause I did not not ask for it (stomps his foot)! I been honest ever since.”