The Chicago Way
Chicago born and bred blues guitarist/singer/songwriter Toronzo Cannon keeps the city’s blues flame blazing with The Chicago Way. Playing all self-penned material, Toronzo’s lyrics sting just as hard as his fretwork, and his singing resonates instantly with a gruff soulfulness that begs for repeated listening. From frisky shuffles and hard blues to buttery ballads and funky R&B, Toronzo Cannon blends all flavors of Chicago blues and makes them his own. “Deep, contemporary Chicago blues...razor-sharp guitar and compelling, forceful singing” –Chicago Tribune
All songs by Toronzo Cannon, Cannonball Express Music admin. by Small Scale Music, ASCAP
Toronzo Cannon Vocals, Lead Guitar, Rhythm Guitar,* Background Vocals
Brother John Kattke Hammond B-3 Organ, Piano, Keyboards
Pete Galanis Electric and Acoustic Rhythm Guitar#
Larry Williams Bass
Melvin "Pookie Styx" Carlisle Drums
Horns on "Fine Seasoned Woman" and "Midlife Crisis" arranged by Brother John Kattke:
Doug Corcoran Trumpet
Steve Eisen Tenor Sax
Robert Collazo Baritone Sax
Melon "Honeydew" Lewis Background Vocals
Blaise Barton Percussion
Produced by Bruce Iglauer and Toronzo Cannon
Recorded and mixed by Blaise Barton at Joyride Studios, Chicago, IL
Additional recording by Brian Leach
Mastered by Collin Jordan and Bruce Iglauer at The Boiler Room, Chicago, IL
Photos by Chris Monaghan
Packaging design by Kevin Niemiec
The Chicago Way. In the hard-edged City of Big Shoulders, nothing comes easy. You have to fight to succeed, whether it’s a battle to get out of poverty, a battle to find and hold a job, a battle to build a new business, a battle to expose political corruption, or a battle to become a musical icon. An aspiring blues musician in Chicago is battling against the toughest competition in the world. Chicago has more live blues clubs than any other city, and hosts the world’s largest blues festival. In the city that made Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter, Koko Taylor, Buddy Guy, James Cotton, Junior Wells, Son Seals and Lil’ Ed into blues icons, the bar for the best in blues is set very high. You have to deliver every night—intensity, energy, instrumental and vocal chops, and, above all, honesty and soulfulness. If you don’t deliver, someone else is waiting to steal your gig!
Over the last few years, Toronzo Cannon has emerged from this competition as Chicago’s next heavyweight champion of the blues. He’s paid his dues the old-fashioned way—first playing free at the Monday night jams and then earning his way to sideman gigs while sharpening his guitar chops and vocals. Fifteen years ago, he put together the first incarnation of his band, The Cannonball Express, while still gigging as a sideman. Playing for next to nothing, he steadily won an audience, fan by fan, with each searing lick and soulful vocal, until he could fill the city’s largest blues clubs. Last year, his status as hometown hero was confirmed when he lit up the largest stage at the Chicago Blues Festival, his supercharged playing and singing earning standing ovations from the crowd of tens of thousands.
Toronzo grew up on the tough South Side, raised by his grandparents in the shadow of the Robert Taylor Homes, the city’s notoriously dangerous high-rise public housing project. Only a few blocks away was the famed Theresa’s Lounge, where Toronzo, too young to get in, first heard live blues pulsing through the walls and out the door of the basement club. The sounds of Junior Wells, Buddy Guy, James Cotton and Magic Slim permeated his young ears.
But by the time he acquired his first guitar, at the age of 22, Toronzo had found a new musical fascination—reggae. He began trying to master reggae guitar, but soon he started sitting in at the city’s blues jams and found his musical home. “It was dormant in me. But when I started playing the blues, I found my voice and the blues came pouring out.” Toronzo immersed himself in the blues, influenced by everyone from Jimi Hendrix and Albert King to Buddy Guy and J.B. Hutto.
As Toronzo began leading his own bands in 2001, he started honing his songwriting. “I love the classic blues songs,” he says, “but I wanted to make my own statements for today’s listeners. I try to write songs that will be both up-to-the-minute and timeless.” As a songwriter, he sings about shared experiences with a keen eye for detail. “Blues is truth-telling music,” he explains, “and I want my audience to relate to my stories.” His Alligator debut is 100% Toronzo originals, songs inspired by his Chicago upbringing, his years observing the public while working as a city bus driver on the West Side, and his own battles and triumphs. His serious side is expressed in songs like The Pain Around Me, Jealous Love and Strength To Survive, while his slice-of-life humor and clever wordplay sparks Bad Contract, Midlife Crisis, Mrs. From Mississippi and his much-requested signature song, Walk It Off. In preparing to record this album, Toronzo wrote and rewrote his songs, crafting each word, groove and riff. This is a man who takes his songwriting very seriously, as seriously as he takes his firebrand guitar playing and straight-from-the-soul singing.
Toronzo Cannon has battled his way to the top of the ultra-competitive Windy City blues scene. He’s cut three previous albums (including two for the legendary Delmark label), earned multiple tours of Europe and delivered blistering performances around the U.S.A. Now, with this new album, Toronzo has taken a giant step forward, proving himself to be one of the most electrifying and original bluesmen of his generation. And he’s done it the hard way—The Chicago Way.
–Bruce Iglauer, Proud Co-Producer
I'd like to thank the Creator for life and experience. I'd like to thank Bruce Iglauer and the Alligator Records family for being part of the Chicago Way. Thank you to my family and ancestors—Linch, Earthy, Jan, Marcia, Garcia, Monique, PeeWee, Pritten, Ricky, Annie, Gayun—for my childhood memories and future memories and the strength to survive. I'd like to thank the musicians and engineers who contributed to this record for bringing all their talent and professionalism.
Big shout out to: Mike Wheeler and Al Spears for talking me off the ledge many times; Lisa Panoyan, creator and president of the first European Blues Cruise for helping me become known on the European blues scene; Vahan Danielyan of the Armenian Blues Association and all the blues societies, blues DJs, blues clubs and festivals; King Bee Rob; Giba Byblos; Bob Koester and Steve Wagner of Delmark Records; Vasti Jackson; Mezzo Productions; Tom Marker; Dave Specter; Donald Kinsey; Tony “Mad Dog” Colter; Gary Tyson; Jennifer Littleton; Mark Maddox; Kenny Zimmerman and all my inspirations in life.
Thank you to the creators of the "machines" that help me get my message out: Mark Baier of Victoria Amplifiers for designing and building the Cannon Amp; Kurt Wilson Guitars; Pierre-Luc Asselin of Guitares PL; and Dave Friesema of Function FX, creator of the Cannon Pedal.
Respect where the blues came from—love what the blues is doing for you—let the blues bring us together—right on!!!!!
–Toronzo Cannon, 2016
Melvin “Pookie Styx” Carlisle endorses and plays Sabian Cymbals, Slug Percussion Products and Vic Firth Drumsticks. Larry Williams endorses and plays Elixir Strings.
Toronzo Cannon is booked by Intrepid Artists