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Toronzo Cannon Remains True to His Roots as He Showcases "The Chicago Way"

FitzGerald's in Berwyn
Photo courtesy of Michael Lepek

As Chicago prepares to elect a new mayor, it remains to be seen who the city’s next leader will be. But local blues fans know that there’s one person who truly embodies “The Chicago Way” and has all the requisite skills needed to bring a diverse group of constituents together.

Although he’s a “bluesman on a mission” and not a declared candidate, Toronzo Cannon has repeatedly demonstrated his ability to win over audiences and remains dedicated to the causes that matter to him. This bona fide south sider’s civic pride is visible in many manifestations.

Following the release of his 2019 Alligator album, “The Chicago Way,” Cannon was touring the world with a Chicago flag and a rising star’s swagger. He had a quarter century as a CTA bus driver under his belt and a front-row seat to the day-to-day dealings and drama on various routes in and around the city.

Photo courtesy of Michael Lepek

Utilizing his story telling and songwriting skills, Cannon was able to vividly describe his observations of Chicago Street life and draw listeners into everything from the dichotomy of “preachers, politicians or pimps” to a somewhat humorous take on the pitfalls of dealing with insurance companies. All in all, “The Chicago Way” is chock full of songs and life lessons straight out of the City of Big Shoulders.


Flash forward to 2023 and you'll find that Cannon retired from the CTA in 2020 but remains a driving force in the Chicago blues world and beyond. He recently signed on with the Killer Blues Headstone project's board of directors and this partnership is already bearing fruit for both the headstone project and Chicago blues lovers. Cannon will headline a benefit at Buddy Guy’s with all proceeds going to fund the Killer Blues project. The event will be held on Sunday, April 2nd with more details available here.

At FirzGerald's for "Bluesday Tuesday"

Killer Blues Founder and President Steve Salter said that he has installed 81 headstones in the Chicago area---the largest number of the 150 headstones he has placed to date. He has plans to add more around Chicagoland in the months to come. Salter said that the headstones placed have cost $102, 533 to date with funds coming from donations, festivals, book sales and other means.

Photo courtesy of Steve Salter

Since the Killer Blues Headstone project's revenue stream depends heavily on musical fund raisers, Salter was extremely grateful to see Chicagoans like Cannon along with Gee Hive productions pitch in for a cause that is so impactful on a local level.

Cannon kicked off the year in fine fashion. He was the headliner at the monthly “Bluesday Tuesday” event on January 7th at FitzGerald’s in Berwyn. In addition to the usual band of regular attendees, there were quite a few new faces in the audience, which demonstrated Cannon’s ever-expanding reach.

While Cannon’s song writing skills always hits close to home, his guitar expertise conjures up images of Jimi Hendrix. Albert King, Buddy Guy and a few other musical luminaries. The Hendrix vibe is especially prevalent on “John the Conqueror Root" which was released during Cannon's Delmark days. He blasted into this number at “Bluesday Tuesday” to an appreciative audience,

Tom Marker has hosted “Bluesday Tuesday” since he came up with the concept eight years ago. As Marker looked back on the steady success of this monthly event, he noted that Cannon is always a popular draw at the doing. He said that “the people who are good and well-received basically come and do a Bluesday Tuesday each year.” He added that “what makes Toronzo a big draw is that everybody likes him. “

Marker noted that Cannon’s “songs are diverse, his lyrics are clever, and his timing is impeccable.” He added that, “all of his leads to really great songs" yet it remains to be seen where Cannon's next lyrical turns will take him. After all, much has transpired since the Chicago Way in 2019. The man who penned “Mid Life Crisis” has retired, dealt with a divorce, and made it through the Covid-19 lockdowns, among other things.

Cannon's acoustic set at FitzGerald's

Cannon continues to play at local and nationally renowned clubs and recently went to France with up-and-comers Ivy Ford and Joey J. Saye. Since Cannon can always be counted on for insights on his life and the state of the world in general, it will be interesting to see his musical response to all his experiences since The Chicago Way was released.

Tom Marker summed it up nicely when he said that. “A young man such as Toronzo, who is only in his mid-50s is always working on getting better.” He added that “he has ambitions to be even better than he is now!”

As the blues world waits for Cannon’s next Alligator release, his live shows might hint at what’s next for this talented artist. Whether he’s trying out new material or breaking into a thought-provoking acoustic set, it’s safe to say that this perpetuator of The Chicago Way will continue to connect with audiences and remain a popular live draw.


Mar 26, 2023

Great write up and great photos too!


Mar 19, 2023

Another great story.

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