Hey folks! It’s the Monday Morning Blues here on Robert Frost’s Banjo, & we’re featuring the second installment in the “Poor Boy Long Way From Home” series.
Today’s version of “Poor Boy Long Way from Home” is notable for a few reasons. Although it was recorded about a year after Bo Weavil Jackson’s version, Gus Cannon’s take on “Poor Boy Long Ways from Home” is thought to represent an old version of the song, as it medleys two turn of the century “proto-blues” standards, “Poor Boy Blues” & “My Bucket’s Got a Hole in It.” Of course, Gus Cannon is one of the oldest performers on record—he was born in 1883, & had a background performing in touring medicine shows.
Of course later Cannon became well-known as the leader of one of the best known jug bands, Cannon’s Jug Stompers, a combo that produced a number of well-known songs such as “Walk Right In,” “Minglewood Blues,” “Viola Lee Blues,” “Feather Bed” & more. But Cannon’s recording career began before the formation of the Jug Stompers when he recorded six songs as Banjo Joe, with backing guitar by none other than Blind Blake! In fact, Cannon also played banjo on a couple of Blake’s own 1927 recordings.
So this version is also notable because Cannon is playing slide on a banjo (which, along the with the jug, was his instrument), not a guitar. While the idea of slide banjo may strike us as odd, it actually makes sense. First, the banjo is often tuned to an open chord, which itself facilitates slide playing; second, there’s easy access to higher frets than on a guitar because of the way the neck meets the body—remember, this was long before cutaway guitars!
Gus Cannon’s recording of “Poor Boy Long Way from Home” was released by Paramount; it was the A side, with “Can You Blame The Colored Man” as the B side recording. The recordings were made around November 1927 in Chicago.
There’s no question that Gus Cannon is an important figure in the development of American popular music. He lived a long & full life, surviving & performing into his 90s. Cannon’s Jug Stompers produced a memorable sound, with Cannon playing banjo & jug simultaneously behind the virtuosic harmonica of Noah Lewis & the guitar playing of Ashley Thompson, Elijah Avery or Hosea Woods—Woods also contributed kazoo to the mix! Cannon’s Jug Stompers were featured on Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music, with their songs “Minglewood Blues” & “Feather Bed” both appearing on the “Songs” volume of the three record set.
Hope you enjoy this wonderful version of a great song!