Gus Cannon was one of the very first innovators in jug band music. He lead his Cannon's Jug Stompers in the 1920's and 30's, playing wild, driving blues with banjos, jugs, guitars and more.
Gus Cannon was also the first performer to ever play SLIDE BANJO! on record. He used a butterknife as a slide:
I've been reading about Cannon and others in the seminal blues history book, The Country Blues by Samuel B. Charters. My heart nearly skipped a beat when Charters described Cannon's very first instrument, a homemade banjo:
He loved music and wanted to learn how to play the banjo, so he made himself one out of a bread pan that his mother gave him and a guitar neck. He put the guitar neck through holes in the side of the dough pan, then covered the pan with a raccoon skin, scraped thin.
A lot of country boys made their own banjos this way. The only unsatisfactory aspect was that there were no elaborate drumhead arrangements, with bolts and screws to keep the skin head tight in damp weather. Cannon always traveled with his pockets full of crumpled newspaper, and before he was going to play, he would make a fire with the paper and hold the banjo over the heat until the head was tight enough to play.
A Cigar Box Nation member should re-create Gus Cannon's first banjo. Get the materials...use some ingenuity. Come on! It would be so cool to hear what a true turn-of-the-century homemade banjo would sound.
I've done historical builds before and they're a blast! Blues legend, Scrapper Blackwell started on a cigar box guitar and he described it in an interview, one year before he was murdered. I took the description and built my own:
It's one thing to read the history. It's another thing to hold an instrument in your hands that has leaped from the books!
If you go down this rabbit hole, you'll thank me later.
So who's gonna make Gus Cannon's first banjo? Post pics below.
Here it is. What a bunch of fun to do in two days!
That's a good one Scott.
I'll have to look at the local junk store and see what I can find. Raw hide will work good for the head.