Places In Blues History

As part of our Places in Blues History series, here is a page on Big Jim Canan’s.

Robert Wilkins (later the Reverend Robert Wilkins) recorded “Old Jim Canan’s” on 12 October 1935 in Jackson, Mississippi. The song is about a raucous night club, believed to be the Monarch Club on Beale Street in Memphis, run by “Old Jim Canan”.

Here’s a video from our Mississippi Blues Travellers YouTube channel of Robert Wilkins’ 1935 recording of Old Jim Canan’s:

“Old Jim Canan” is believed to refer to Jim Kinane (or Jim Kinnane), who was a major figure in the Memphis underworld at the time. Jim Kinane ran nightclubs in Memphis, including the Monarch Club on Beale Street. Robert Wilkins‘ song “Old Jim Canan’s” is believed to be about the Monarch Club. For more information on Jim Kinane, we recommend Preston Lauterbach‘s book Beale Street Dynasty.

The building that once housed the Monarch Club is still standing at 340 Beale Street. It is now a Memphis Police station, serving as the headquarters for the E.D.U., or Entertainment District Unit, which polices Beale Street.

Memphis Police Station on Beale Street. This building was once the Monarch Club, run by Big Jim Kinane, the inspiration of Robert Wilkins' 1935 recording Old Jim Canaan's
Memphis Police Station at 340 Beale Street. This building was once the Monarch Club, run by Big Jim Kinane, the inspiration of Robert Wilkins’ 1935 recording Old Jim Canaan’s

Given the Monarch Club’s historical reputation, it is an ironic quirk of history that its former building is now a Memphis Police station.

Here’s how a U.S. National Parks Service website describes the Monarch Club:

“The Monarch Club at 340 Beale Street was a famous gaming house built by Jim Kinnane, the “czar of the Memphis underworld” immortalized in song by Robert Wilkins. Constructed in 1910 at a cost of $20,000, it was the South’s finest gambling parlor with a mirror-walled lobby and trap doors with secret exits in the case of a raid. In its heyday it was known as the “Castle of Missing Men” because a funeral parlor located behind the Monarch received patrons killed in gambling disputes.”

Here’s the lyric for Robert WilkinsOld Jim Canan’s, which indicates the above description of the Monarch Club may be quite accurate.

“I wished I was back at old Jim Canan’s,,
I’d take my baby to old Jim Canaan’s,
I wished I was back at old Jim Canan’s,
I’d stand on the corner and wave my hand,
And if you don’t believe that I’m a drinking man,

Just baby stop by here with your beer can,
I wish I was back at old Jim Canan’s,
I’d take my baby to old Jim Canan’s.

I wished I was back at old Jim Canan’s,
I’d take my baby to old Jim Canan’s,
I wished I was back at old Jim Canan’s,
I’d take my baby to old Jim Canaan’s,
I’m going uptown, buy me coke and beer,
Coming back and tell you how these women is,
They drink their whiskey, drink their coke and gin,
When you don’t play the dozens they will ease you in.

Still I wished I was back at old Jim Canan’s,
I’d take my baby to old Jim Canan’s,
I wished I was back at old Jim Canan’s,
I’d take my baby to old Jim Canan’s,
I wished I was back at old Jim Canan’s,
I’d take my baby to old Jim Canan’s.

The men and women running hand in hand
Going to and fro to old Jim Canan’s
Drinking their whiskey sniffing cocaine
That’s the reason why I wished I was back at Jim Canan’s
I wished I was back at old Jim Canan’s”

Recommended Recordings

Masters of Memphis Blues, on JSP Records, CD box set cover
Masters of Memphis Blues, on JSP Records, CD box set cover

Masters of Memphis Blues – a 4 CD set on JSP Records.

Along with 17 Robert Wilkins sides, this 4 CD box set also includes the complete early recordings of Furry Lewis as well as selections from Frank Stokes, Stokes and Sane, Gus Cannon and other Memphis bluesmen of the late 1920’s and early 1930’s.
 

 

 

Recommended Books

Book cover, Beale Street Dynasty by Preston Lauterbach
Book cover, Beale Street Dynasty by Preston Lauterbach

Beale Street Dynasty by Preston Lauterbach

This is an excellent history of Beale Street which includes information on Big Jim Kinnane and the Monarch Club.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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