Jim Morris took the "Gus Cannon Banjo Challenge" and knocked it outta the park!

A week ago, I posted an excerpt from Samuel Charter's book, Country Blues where he described the very first banjo played by jug band icon, Gus Cannon:

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.

I then challenged you all to recreate the banjo in order to explore this history even deeper.  (See the article here.)  Cigar Box Nation "power member," Jim Morris of Springfield, WV took that challenge and brought the banjo to life, using the above description along with some other information he had on Gus Cannon. 

Let's start with the finished product:  Here's Morris performing Gus Cannon's "Minglewood Blues" on the banjo.

Notes:  Morris starts out by stretching the banjo head with burning paper, just like Cannon.  He also chose to perform the song as a slide banjo tune, just as Cannon originally played it!

Here's his photos and notes on the build:

"Several other sources state that he made the banjo from either a frying pan or a bedpan with the coon skin stretched on it. Either of those would most likely be round and I'm guessing he told the story, or it got re-told, a little differently each time. Either way I'm curious to see what builds come from this! I'm going with frying pan and skin of undisclosed animal since that's what I have on hand.

"Shane's book says Gus used a bread pan for his first banjo. Other sources say bed pan and Wikipedia says frying pan. This is what I used."

Frying pan for the Gus Cannon banjo
"I cut the handle off with a hacksaw and that gave me an opening for the neck extension."
The Gus Cannon bread/frying pan banjo build
"My original neck idea with the animal skin. It's not raccoon but it was given to me by a friend who's an avid trapper. Suffice to say it's a mammal of some type."
The Gus Cannon bread/frying pan banjo build
"I discarded my original neck idea when I saw in the text that Gus had used a guitar neck."
The Gus Cannon bread/frying pan banjo build
"That's the neck from a Harmony Caribbean. I hope I didn't sacrifice a neck that's worth a ton of money to collectors."
The Gus Cannon bread/frying pan banjo build

I'm not sure what method Gus would've used to attach the skin. I went with self tapping screws.

The Gus Cannon bread/frying pan banjo build
Great job, Jim!  You made a forgotten piece of history come alive again.  That's the magic of these instruments... they're like time machines that can take you back in time.
-shane

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Wow, first time seeing this, what a great story and performance! I hope one day to make my banjourine when I finish my other projects, not a skillet or animal skin from a trapper, got a 12" tambourine for mine, yeah I'm cheating...baby steps.

Rich

fellow WV

Thanks Rich. I've used tambourines in the past with great success. Good luck on yours.

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