Band of the Week: Toronzo Cannon

MEET THE BAND:Toronzo Cannon (vocals, guitar)

BORN ON THE SOUTH SIDE: Born in Chicago, Cannon grew up on the city's notorious Southside. He says he didn't initially know it had such a rich blues history, but he'd eventually discover Theresa's Lounge, a hot blues joint that was in his neighborhood. While he was too young to go inside the club, "I used to look over the banister to see what was going on there," he says. "I couldn't even see the whole person. I was only going that way when my sister and I went to get ice cream. It was a half a block down. There was a penny candy place right on the corner there too."

A LATE BLOOMER: A bus driver for the Chicago Transit Authority, Cannon bought his first guitar at age 22 but didn't immediately start playing the blues. "I was listening to reggae at that time and I learned my chords," he says. "I was watching videos. I realized that every jam you go to is a blues jam. I got my electric a little while later and started learning the blues. That's when I had those full circle moments. I remembered stuff I heard as a kid. My parents would put it on the hi fi system and they would play cards and would have their brothers and sisters over. You would hear whooping and laughing." He was the assistant manager at a movie theatre, so he had plenty of free time. While movies were playing, he would go upstairs to the office and "try to get some chords together."

STEADY WORK AS A SIDEMAN: Throughout the late '90s and early 2000s, he accompanied a "high energy guy" named Tommy McCracken. "I played the Taste of Chicago with him," Cannon recalls. "I went from the jam stage to playing in front of 1,000 people. It was cool. I didn't want anything different in the house. It was my first real gig, and I told my family to not make me late. I wasn't thinking about anything else but doing the gig and learning his music."

WHY YOU SHOULD HEAR HIM: With his new album, The Preacher, the Politician or the Pimp, Cannon builds upon the foundation he laid with 2016's The Chicago Way. The album kicks off with the rousing "Get Together or Get Apart," a song that features some pretty dynamic guitar work. "I just wanted to tell stories that fit the human condition," he says. "I don't want to be mystical and write about things I never came across. My mode of writing is that if there are 10 people in the audience, I want at least six of them to identify with my songs. I think 'Insurance' effects everyone. 'Stop Me When I'm Lying' is like the new 'Walk It Off.' For 'I'm Not Scared,' I took the story about domestic abuse from a lady who used to get on my bus. I felt bad that I didn't see the signs."


WHERE YOU CAN SEE HIM: Toronzo Cannon performs at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 21, at Music Box Supper Club.

About The Author

Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected]
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