Saturday, August 3, 2013

Gus Cannon (Banjo Joe) - "Jonestown Blues" (with lyrics)

Edited by Azizi Powell

This post showcases the 1929 song "Jonestown Blues" by Gus Cannon (Banjo Joe). Information about Gus Cannon is also included in this post. Lyrics for this song & explanations of the vernacular terms used in this song are also included in this post.

The content of this post is presented for folkloric, cultural, and aesthetic purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

"Gus Cannon (September 12, 1883 – October 15, 1979) was an American blues musician who helped to popularize jug bands (such as his own Cannon's Jug Stompers) in the 1920s and 1930s. There is doubt about his birth year; his tombstone gives the date as 1874.[1]

...Cannon began recording as "Banjo Joe" for Paramount Records in 1927. At that session he was backed up by Blind Blake.[2] After the success of the Memphis Jug Band's first records, he quickly assembled a jug band featuring Noah Lewis and Ashley Thompson (later replaced by Elijah Avery).[3] Cannon's Jug Stompers first recorded at the Memphis Auditorium for the Victor label in January 1928. Hosea Woods joined the Jug Stompers in the late 1920s, playing guitar, banjo and kazoo, and also providing some vocals. Modern listeners can hear Cannon's Jug Stompers recording of "Big Railroad Blues" on the compilation album The Music Never Stopped: Roots of the Grateful Dead.

Although their last recordings were made in 1930, Cannon's Jug Stompers were one of Beale Street's most popular jug bands through the 1930s. A few songs Cannon recorded with Cannon's Jug Stompers are "Minglewood Blues", "Pig Ankle Strut", "Wolf River Blues", "Viola Lee Blues", "White House Station" and "Walk Right In" (later made into a pop hit by The Rooftop Singers[3] in the 1960s, and later a hit rock/pop version by Dr. Hook in the 1970s). By the end of the 1930s, Cannon had effectively retired, although he occasionally performed as a solo musician.
He returned in 1956 to make a few recordings for Folkways Records. In the "blues revival" of the 1960s, he made some college and coffee house appearances with Furry Lewis and Bukka White,[3] but he had to pawn his banjo to pay his heating bill the winter before the Rooftop Singers had a hit with "Walk Right In".[4]

In the wake of becoming a hit composer, he recorded an album for Stax Records in 1963, with fellow Memphis musicians Will Shade, the former leader of the Memphis Jug Band, on jug and Milton Roby on washboard. Cannon performs a series of traditional songs, including "Walk Right In," "Kill It," "Salty Dog," "Going Around," "The Mountain," "Ol' Hen", "Gonna Raise A Ruckus Tonight," "Ain't Gonna Rain No More," "Boll-Weevil," "Come On Down To My House," "Make Me a Pallet on Your Floor," "Get Up In The Morning Soon," and "Crawdad Hole" along with his own "Walk Right In," plus various stories and introductions between the songs. The album is almost an audio documentary tour through different corners of Cannon's life and career that, ideally, might've run to several volumes.[5]

Cannon can be seen in the King Vidor produced film, Hallelujah! (1929), during the late night wedding scene."

'Jonestown Blues' GUS CANNON (1929) Banjo Blues Legend

RagtimeDorianHenry, Uploaded on Apr 21, 2009

(Gus Cannon, also known as "Banjo Joe")

[instrumental, humming]

Man, I left Lula, went to Jonestown.
Man, I left Lula, went to Jonestown.
Said those Jonestown brown, boy, sure did make my frown.

[Spoken] Play it now boy.
[instrumental; hums the word “hum”.]

Said I left Jonestown, too small a burg for me.
I left Jonestown, too small a burg for me.
Well I left Jonestown, went back to Tennessee.

[instrumental; hums the word “hum”.]

Well, Jonestown ,boy, too small a burg for me.
Said Jonestown, boy, too small a burg for me.
I left Jonestown, boy, made it to Tennessee.
Said, I got to Memphis, I laid my banjo down.

When I got to Memphis, I laid my banjo down.
Said when I got to Memphis, I laid my banjo down.
[Spoken overlap – Oh play it now, Play it.]
I got full of my good whiskey, my good gal made me clown.
[Spoken – Now play it boy.] [instrumental; hums the word “hum”.]n”.]
Jonestown brown - brown skinned women from the city of Jonestown

burg - city

make me clown - made a fool out of me

Transcription by Azizi Powell from the sound file given above. Additions & corrections are welcome.

Another transcription of this song [or a different version of this song?] can be found at If this is the samee rendition of "Jonestown Blues", I disagree with portions of that transcription. For instance, that transcription gives the last line of the first verse as "Those Jonestown browns, boy, make you turn your damper down."

Here's an explanation of "turn your damper down" from

Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Sweet Mama Tree-Top Tall (Lasses White)
From:GUEST,Arkansas Red-Ozark Troubadour
Date: 03 Jun 13 - 01:29 PM

"From what I understand "turning a damper down" in cooking with a wood stove means to reduce the heat. So the double entendre in this song probably refers to "sweet mama" having "the hots" for other men, and spreading it around, so she is advised to keep her damper turned down and "make it hot" for her man only. This I was told by an [sic] black blues singer who probably knew more double entendres in songs than anybody. Blues are filled with double entendres. That's what makes the blues so great."

Thanks to Gus Cannon (Banjo Joe) for his musical legacy. Thanks also to those quoted in this post and thanks to the publisher of this sound file on YouTube.

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