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Toronzo Cannon: The Chicago Bluesman

Chicago Blues guitarist and vocalis Lorenzo Cannon
Courtesy of the artist
Chicago Blues guitarist and vocalis Lorenzo Cannon

Born on the southside of Chicago, Toronzo Cannon has seen and lived the blues. Driving a Chicago Transit Authority bus for 29 years taught him about all walks of life. “There’s other things that blues men go through, other than my woman left me,” Cannon said with a laugh. “There’s other issues that blues people can talk about and blues fans can relate to…that could considered to be blues that a lot of people don’t write about, so I decided, hey, I’ll write about it.”

Toronzo Cannon's latest album
Alligator Records
Toronzo Cannon's latest album

After years of balancing his music career with his day job for so long, Cannon has spent the last five years focused solely on the band. The result is a strong record of all original songs released last week on noted blues label Alligator Records called Shut Up & Play! The title is a take-off on the old line from people who want athletes to just “shup up and dribble.”

Telling his truth and social justice are definitely themes on Cannon’s records.

“Voter suppression…teaching us how to protest, books being banned with African American themes in it. You know, that’s being taken away, so if we were to push forward with some kind of reparations, we can’t even get to that because things are being chipped away of what we’ve already got,” he said. “As an African American man, I’ve got to say something about it. I’d be a fool if I didn’t. I’d feel like a fool. My grandfather would come visit me in a dream if I didn’t. It’s real life out there and blues is supposed to reflect real life. I think if the fans agree with that, they would understand what I’m talking about and they could empathize with the situation.”

Toronzo Cannon
Courtesy of the artist
Toronzo Cannon

Cannon’s music is the epitome of traditional electric Chicago blues, with modern lyrics. He has absorbed Buddy Guy, Muddy Waters, The Three Kings (B.B., Albert, and Freddie), Elmore James, Bob Marley, Hound Dog Taylor, Son Seals, Jimi Hendrix, and especially Luther Allison, and created something that is his own. With scorching guitar playing, funky bass, soulful singing, and gospel claps, Shut Up & Play! is a real treat for blues fans. Cannon has already had a lot of highs in his career: headlining the Chicago Blues Festival, being nominated for ten Blues Music Awards, and touring the world. But, at 56 years old, it feels like he’s hitting his stride right now.

Toronzo Cannon tearing it up with his Chicago Blues
Courtesy of the artist
Toronzo Cannon tearing it up with his Chicago Blues

Toronzo Cannon will play The Stanhope House in Stanhope, NJ on July 20 and The Loft at City Winery in New York on July 22.

 WATCH Dave Popkin's full interview with Lorenzo Cannon here.

 Toronzo Cannon – “Can’t Fix The World”:

Toronzo Cannon – “Shut Up & Play!”:

Toronzo Cannon – “Walk It Off” live at Kingston Mines, Chicago:

Luther Allison – “It Hurts Me Too” live:

<b>Dave Popkin</b> is a WBGO News/Music contributor, veteran sportscaster, educator and musician <br/>