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Toronzo Cannon biography



Throughout the history of Chicago blues, the intensely competitive local club scene has served as a proving ground for the musicians, where only the best rise to the top. Iconic blues artists from Muddy Waters to Howlin’ Wolf to Koko Taylor to Hound Dog Taylor to Luther Allison all paid their dues in the Chicago blues bars before leaving their mark on the world. The same holds true today, as newcomers look to legends like Buddy Guy, Eddy Clearwater and Lil’ Ed Williams for inspiration in taking their music from Chicago to fans across the globe. Now, Chicago-born and raised blues guitarist /vocalist/ songwriter Toronzo Cannon is ready to write his own story as he emerges as one of the city’s most popular and innovative blues musicians. Cannon’s unofficial launch from local hero to national star took place on June 13, 2015 at the world renowned Chicago Blues Festival, where he performed as a festival headliner for the massive crowd. After announcing that he had just signed with Alligator Records, he delivered a riveting set, instantly earning tens of thousands of new fans. Original songs filled with razor-sharp solos rained from the stage, as Cannon melded the deepest Chicago blues with contemporary lyrics and soul-tinged vocals. The Chicago Tribune lauded his performance, saying, "Festival headliner Toronzo Cannon’s extroverted, compelling guitar style and forceful singing won over a new audience." His upcoming Alligator CD (as yet untitled), set for release in early 2016, was recorded in Chicago and produced by Cannon and Alligator president Bruce Iglauer. The album is filled with Cannon’s original songs — from searing blues anthems to swinging shuffles to soulful ballads to blistering rockers — which tell timeless stories of common experiences in uncommon ways. “I’ve never worked harder,” Cannon says. “I challenged myself at every step, writing each song to connect with someone in my audience at any given show. I try to write songs that will be both up-to-the-minute and timeless.” With his Alligator Records debut, Cannon knows more and more people will be hearing his message: The future of Chicago blues is in good hands. According to Cannon, “To be from Chicago and be signed to Alligator is unreal. To be part of Alligator's history...I'm at a loss for words." According to Iglauer, "I've watched Toronzo grow as a singer, player and songwriter over the last ten years. He's now become a major blues talent, using the Chicago blues tradition as a launching pad to create his own unique, contemporary, vision. His music comes right from the heart of the city." Cannon was born in Chicago on February 14, 1968, and grew up in the shadows of Theresa's Lounge, one of the city's most famous South Side blues clubs (and a place where Iglauer was a regular patron). As a child, Cannon would stand on the sidewalk outside the door, soaking up the live blues pouring out while trying to sneak a glance inside at larger-than-life bluesmen like Junior Wells or Buddy Guy. He also heard plenty of blues growing up in his grandfather's home, and listened to soul, R&B and contemporary rock on the radio. Cannon bought his first guitar at age 22, and his natural talent enabled him to quickly master the instrument. Although his first focus was reggae, he found himself increasingly drawn to the blues. "It was dormant in me. But when I started playing the blues, I found my voice and the blues came pouring out." He absorbed sounds, styles and licks from Buddy Guy, Albert Collins, Hound Dog Taylor, B.B. King, Albert King, Freddie King, Al Green, Jimi Hendrix, J.B. Hutto, Lil' Ed and others. Although influenced by many, Cannon’s biting, singing, guitar sound is all his own. As a songwriter, he writes about shared experiences with a keen eye for detail. "Blues is truth-telling music," he says, "and I want my audience to relate to my stories." As a singer, his impassioned vocals add muscle and personality to his already potent songs. From 1996 through 2002, Cannon played as a sideman for Tommy McCracken, Wayne Baker Brooks, L.V. Banks and Joanna Connor. But he was determined to prove himself. In 2001, while continuing to work as a hired-gun guitarist, he formed his own band, The Cannonball Express. By 2003, he was working exclusively as a band leader. Cannon's first three albums — 2007’s My Woman (self-released), 2011’s Leaving Mood (Delmark) and 2013’s John The Conqueror Root (Delmark) — document his rise from promising up-and-comer to star-in-the-making. Toronzo Cannon has become one of Chicago's most recognized and most popular bluesmen through the sheer force of his music, his soul, his songs, his live charisma, and maybe most impressively, his passion for what he is doing. He’s played the Chicago Blues Festival on nine separate occasions, either as a sideman, a special guest or, most recently, as a main stage headliner. When he’s home, Cannon drives a Chicago Transit Authority bus by day and performs by night. Using every vacation day and day off and working four 10-hour shifts a week, Cannon arranges his schedule to gig out of town as much as possible. He's performed in a number of U.S. and European cities and continues to build his audience one roof-raising show at a time. It isn't easy, but, like all of the Chicago greats who have come before him, blues is his calling. "I am proud to be part of a movement,” he says, anxious to hit the road and bring his music to new fans in new places. “I’m proud to be standing on the shoulders of every great Chicago blues musician who came before me."