Smokestack Lightnin' Home Page -- The Blues Profile Page

Noah Lewis (September 3, 1890 February 7, 1961) was an American jug band musician, generally known for playing the harmonica.

Early years noah lewis

Lewis was born a "woodcall" (no known father) in Henning, Tennessee, in 1890. Henning is a very small rural settlement about 2 miles outside Ripley, 15 miles from Brownsville and 44 miles from Memphis. Lewis learnt to play harmonica as a child and moved to Memphis in his early teens. By the time he first met Gus Cannon in Memphis in 1907, he was 17 and was already a respected original stylist on the instrument, noted for his liquid tone and breath control, which allowed him to generate enormous volume from the instrument. By then he was also noted for his ability to play two harmonicas at once one through his mouth and one through his nose, a trick he probably taught to Big Walter "Shakey" Horton, who recorded briefly as a teenager with the Memphis Jug Band some 20 years later and has also mastered this trick. Lewis developed his unusual levels of breath control and volume from playing in local string and brass marching bands on the streets of Memphis. At the 1907 meeting Lewis introduced Cannon to the 13 year-old guitarist and singer, Ashley Thompson, with whom Lewis had been playing in the streets of Ripley and Memphis for some time and the three of them worked together over the next 20 years whenever Cannon was in Memphis and not away working medicine and tent shows. When Will Shade's Memphis Jugband recorded and became popular in the late-1920s, Cannon added a coal-oil can on a rack round his neck and re-named the trio (Cannon, Lewis and Thompson) Cannon's Jug Stompers, and it was this line-up that recorded for the first time on Victor Records in Memphis on 30 January 1928. The songs from that session included "Minglewood Blues", "Springdale Blues", "Big Railroad Blues" and "Madison Street Rag". By the time of the band's next recording on 5 September 1928, Cannon had replaced Ashley Thompson with Elijah Avery on banjo and guitar. However, by time of the band's third recording session, 4 days later, Avery had in turn been replaced with an old friend of Cannon's from the medicine and tent show circuit, the 6 string banjo player and guitarist, Hosea Woods, with the band's lineup remaining unchanged from then on.

...... with the Jug Stompers, "Viola Lee Blues", he sang lead vocal and played a melancholy harmonica solo.


He died in poverty of gangrene brought on by frostbite in Ripley, Tennessee, in 1961. Noah Lewis is buried in a cemetery near Nutbush, Tennessee. After his death, several of his songs become part of the repertoire of the Grateful Dead, including "New, New Minglewood Blues", "Viola Lee Blues", and "Big Railroad Blues".