Q&A with Chicago explosive guitarist Toronzo Cannon, real deal blueser, one-man champion of Windy City

"Blues should always be truth music and not always singing about failed relationships. Yes, that happens but write about other subjects. It dumbs down the Blues."

Toronzo Cannon:

Shut Up And Play (The Blues)!

Alligator Records will release Shut Up And Play! (Release Day: JUNE 7, 2024), the long-awaited new album from award-winning, world-beloved Chicago bluesman Toronzo Cannon, the third Alligator album from Cannon. With his richly detailed, truth-telling original songs, blistering, inventive guitar work and impassioned vocals, Cannon is on the cutting edge of today’s contemporary blues scene, and is known as one of the genre’s most creative artists. His sound is inspired by his heroes, including Hound Dog Taylor, Muddy Waters, Elmore James, Albert King, Son Seals and Jimi Hendrix. On Shut Up And Play!, Cannon blazes his own path with 11 emotionally-charged originals. From serious to humorous, his imaginative songs are fueled by his powerful, cathartic guitar solos and his soulfully authoritative voice. Shut Up And Play! was co-produced by Cannon and Alligator president Bruce Iglauer.    

 (Toronzo Cannon, world-beloved Chicago bluesman / Photo © by Sandro Miller)

The album finds Cannon, a former CTA bus driver, delivering timeless stories of common experiences, often unfolding in uncommon ways. His passionate and focused guitar playing sets his lyrics ablaze. From the first single, the attention-grabbing I Hate Love, to the gospel-inspired, autobiographical Had To Go Through It To Get To It, to the slow-burning, reflective Guilty, to the deeply personal Message To My Daughter, Shut Up And Play! tackles the gamut of human emotions. Song subjects range from the heartbreak of lost love, to the humor of daily life, to the pain of feeling invisible in today’s society, all as seen through Cannon’s wide-open eyes. Shut Up And Play! is bookended by two of Cannon’s most striking compositions, both a mirror of the times. The opener, the exuberantly performed blues scorcher Can’t Fix The World, shines a light on hypocrisy and duplicity, while unleashing dynamic, memorable guitar solos echoing the intensity of the vocals. The closer, Shut Up And Play!, takes a deep look inside, as Cannon vents his anger at being told to keep his opinions about the world to himself. As the defiant vocals command attention, Cannon’s frustrations pour into every note.

Interview by Michael Limnios                Archive: Toronzo Cannon, 2012 Interview

Special Thanks: Toronzo Canno & Marc Lipkin (Alligator Records)

How has the Blues and Rock music influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

I don’t know if the genre of rock has changed my view of the world, but Blues has always been a gauge of how the world is in this time. It’s social commentary in song. Rock does that also, but I consider rock to be the child of Blues, so rock has done what Blues has been doing years before rock and that’s to be a vehicle of message. That’s what I try to write in my songs something timeless but current.

Where does your lyrics creative drive come from? What's the balance in music between technique and soul?

My drive comes from life experiences, or my life hopes and visions. I feel I concentrate on lyrics a little more than the music even though I try to create the music not to overpower the lyrics. You have to find a balance to deliver it to the people, their souls, their ears that will make them want to listen past the first verse.

"To be honest with the listeners of my music. I try not to write anything I don’t know about and if I’m writing about a subject, I go talk to people or know people in that community or their life experiences and try to convey that in song.(Toronzo Cannon, a real deal blueser / Photo © by Sandro Miller)

You’ve one more release with Alligator Records. How did that relationship come about? Do you have any interesting stories about the making of the new album “Shut Up And Play!”?

Yes, this is my 3 album on Alligator. This was a hard album to write. I was "going through life" and wasn’t very happy with it. Bruce Iglauer of Alligator records has always been in my corner when it comes to the best development of my ideas and songs. He didn’t rush me to write the songs but was there when I was going "through life" to create these songs.

What has been the hardest obstacle for you to overcome as a person and as artist and has this helped you become a better blues musician? 

Life can be an obstacle, but I wrote a song "go through it to get to it". Take life as it comes to you. Sit back and take real honest "self-inventory" of yourself and deal with it. Bad times will pass but you have to realize that while you’re in those bad times. Don’t just sit there giving up.

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?

To be honest with the listeners of my music. I try not to write anything I don’t know about and if I’m writing about a subject, I go talk to people or know people in that community or their life experiences and try to convey that in song.

Why is it important to we preserve and spread the blues? What is the role of Blues music in today’s society?

Blues should always be truth music and not always singing about failed relationships. Yes, that happens but write about other subjects. It dumbs down the Blues.

"My drive comes from life experiences, or my life hopes and visions. I feel I concentrate on lyrics a little more than the music even though I try to create the music not to overpower the lyrics."

(Toronzo Cannon / Photo © by Sandro Miller)

Do you think there is an audience for blues music in its current state? or at least a potential for young people to become future audiences and fans?

Yes, they’ll always be younger fans but to generate more younger fans they have to be exposed to it from their hero’s. If the biggest young rock fans tell their audience that their hero’s were Blues guitarist or Blues singers, then they’ll be a knowledge and shift where the young fan will seek out Blues the same thing for rap. If Beyoncé or Jay-Z said the Blues is the basis for all popular music or the Grammys highlighted Blues, there would be a definite difference in how we are viewed by young people. Gary Clark jr. has done that.

Life is more than just music, is there any other field that has influence on your life and music?

I can’t say other than just being a good person and moving in spaces in my life that makes me feel good and whole. I ride around on my electric unicycle, I do a lot of self-care, I go to heat rooms, meditate, reflect etc. I’m in a good place in my life now. I’m good.

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