Chicago blues guitarist Toronzo Cannon was born on Valentine’s day in Chicago, Illinois. In addition to being an accomplished guitarist, Toronzo is a vocalist and songwriter. He grew up on the South Side of Chicago near the Robert Taylor Homes and Theresa’s Lounge where he heard blues artists including Buddy Guy and Junior Wells.
Toronzo started out played reggae music before playing blues. He was a big fan of the 80’s MTV videos like the, Blondie, Devo, Earth Wind and Fire and the Police (where he discovered his fondness for reggae music), Psychedelic Furs, etc. Among the blues influences he has named are Albert Collins, B.B. King, Freddie King, Buddy Guy, Lonnie Brooks and Jimi Hendrix to name a few.
Cannon has also played guitar with the likes of Tommy McCracken, Wayne Baker Brooks, L.V. Banks and Joanna Connor beginning in 1996. Toronzo started his own band, The Cannonball Express in 2001. He recorded My Woman (self-released in 2007), Leaving Mood (Delmark, 2011) and John The Conqueror Root (Delmark, 2013). The third album was nominated for a Blues Music Award as Rock Blues Album of the Year in 2013.
Here is a little-known fact that you may be interested to know: Toronzo does have a day job, when he isn’t out and about playing the Blues on the road, he is a professional bus driver for the Chicago Transit Authority bus during the day and performs at night, on weekends and during vacation breaks.
Toronzo’s band mates include: Toronzo Cannon - Vocals, Lead Guitar, Rhythm Guitar, Background Vocals, Luca Chiellini – Keyboards, Dave Forte – Bass and Melvin “Pookie Stix” Carlisle – Drums.
Toronzo signed with Alligator Records in 2015. His Alligator Records debut, The Chicago Way, co-produced by Cannon and Alligator Records president Bruce Iglauer, was released on February 26, 2016 and had several B.M.A’s (Blues Music s Awards) nominations including: Best Album of the Year (The Chicago Way), Best Contemporary Blues Album (The Chicago Way), Best Contemporary Blues Male Artist and Song of the Year (Walk if Off).
Tonronzo mentioned to me when discussing the success of his CD ‘The Chicago Way’ “You know I was getting ready for work around 4 in the morning and I stumbled on this magazine from England called ‘Mojo’, they said in the magazine that ‘The Chicago Way’ was in the top 50 CD’s of 2016! And I was like Wow! That CD received a LOT of attention and I can’t be happier about it!”
The Chicago Sun-Times said of Toronzo, “The Bridgeport resident (and CTA bus driver) was immersed in the world of blues by hanging around Theresa’s Lounge. Today he’s one of Chicago’s new greats."
Toronzo Cannon is scheduled to appear at the 24th Annual Kalamazoo Valley Blues Association’s Blues Festival at Wings Event Center in Kalamazoo Mi. on Sunday July 24th.
G-Note Entertainment Magazine talked to Toronzo as he was taking a film crew from CNN around Chicago showing them the Blues clubs around town and talking about his latest CD, “The Chicago Way.”
G-Note- Tell me about the CNN crew that is following you today, what’s going on?
TC- “Well my record company, Alligator records had a request from CNN (CNN online) to have someone show them around the city and since I drive bus for the CTA, (Chicago Transit Authority) and I know the streets and the places to go for blues, it just worked out.”
G-Note: Toronzo, even though you have been on the music scene for years paying your dues, how does it feel to be an “over-night” sensation?
TC- “(Chuckling) man, I don’t know about the overnight sensation, but you got that right, all of us in the business we still pay our dues by traveling around the country and the world playing to small crowds and large ones. As a performer, you have you give the same energy and commitment to the people paying their money to see you perform whether you play to a packed house or festival or if there are just a few people at a club.”
“I’m very appreciative of the cats that have taken a chance and that helped me along the way, you know? They didn’t know me, they took a chance on me when no one knew me, Steve at Delmark Records (Steve Wagner Delmark general manager, producer and engineer) took a chance and now Bruce at Alligator Records, I thank them all the time for taking a chance on me and for letting me do my thing.”
“I’m not one of those guys that say, I’ve deserved this! Now pay me my due as they stand on the hill before the hill was built for them! No, I know it’s a lot of work, believe me, I’ve book my own gigs and call the clubs and making sure the hotels are set I did all the leg work and follow up, those are jobs that need to be paid. It’s a lot of work- real work.”
Toronzo continued “Before, it was (playing clubs, etc.) just something to do on the weekend and that was cool, but now there is a bigger demand or a different light looking at me. Alligator is a step up on getting the attention. It’s a real thing!”
G-Note- Is it hard to keep both of your careers separate?
TC- “Sometimes, now they are blending into each other. Recently I have done a couple TV things in Chicago whereas before, I could fly under the radar but now there’s always a news agency calling and asking about the CTA bus driver that’s playing Blues.“
“My music career is blossoming to the point where I can’t hide it anymore. I don’t need to be the king of the hill; I just want to be part of the movement. I'm proud to be standing on the shoulders of every great Chicago blues musician who came before me."
“I still have a couple of years to go as a CTA driver, and I still very much enjoy it (except the winters in Chicago) I’m the guy that keeps the line of people coming into the bus moving, lots of people have their headphones on and don’t pay attention to the line behind them and I’ll be saying ‘come on now, step on up, come on in and make a friend’. I’m nice about it but I definitely keep ‘em moving!”
“There are some people that I work with and they’ll look at my Facebook posts of pictures me in Moscow on a Friday and I’ll be back to work on Monday morning, I keep getting asked, weren’t you just in Moscow? ‘How do you do that?’ You just keep doing it.”
G-Note- Is it all the attention that’s on now as a Blues artist what you had wished or thought it would be?
TC- “It’s cool, I used to look at all of these guys in the magazines and would think ‘Oh man’ that would be great if I could be there someday, I do like the attention when I see my picture of an article about me and my music in the paper or in a magazine. Now, I’m not saying I’m like Otis Rush or Buddy Guy or anything like that, but yeah, it humbling! What keeps me grounded is that I will get back on the bus the next day, or the next Monday or whenever and I turn back into Clark Kent mode.”
G-Note- What is best advice you have received from one of the ‘Blue elders’ over the years?
TC- “I have been given a lot of advice throughout the years, but the one that stands out is something that the late, great Lonnie Brooks once said to me, ‘always wear a sharp hat and comfortable shoes’. That one stands out to me.”
To date, Cannon has performed at the Chicago Blues Festival nine times. He headlined in 2015. He has also toured and brought his special style of Blues music to dozens of cities across the United States as well as Europe. His overseas tours include Mexico (2010), South Africa (2011), Armenia (2013 and 2014), France and Netherlands (2013), France and Spain (2014) and Sweden, France, Spain, Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg (2015). Toronzo said “It isn't easy, but, like all of the Chicago greats who have come before him, blues is my calling.”
Blues Matters (UK) said, "Toronzo is the real deal. Blistering guitar and inventive songs: jealousy, double-crossing, knives and harnd grenades…Chicago style."
Blues & Rhythm (UK) said, “Without sounding like I'm going over the top with praise, this release is terrific and top heavy with superb musicianship and quality material and is worthy of any blues lover's attention. It also highlights the cream of the next generation of blues musicians starting to make their names on the Chicago blues scene."
For all things Toronzo Cannon including all tour dates and his appearance at the 24th annual Kalamazoo Valley Blues Festival at Wings Event Center, please go to: www.toronzocannon.com and the entire line up and for the 24th annual Kalamazoo Valley Blues Association’s Blues festival please visit www.wingseventcenter.com/events