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LIVE REVIEW -- Toronzo Cannon
GLT blues radio

Toronzo Cannon & The Cannonball Express

with opener Jimmy Nick

December 30, 2016

Buddy Guy’s Legends, Chicago

Toronzo Cannon by Howard Greenblatt

By Robin Zimmerman

Photos: Howard Greenblatt

From Berwyn’s Harlem Avenue Lounge to Rosa’s on Armitage and B.L.U.E.S. on Halsted, Toronzo Cannon has been a longtime A-lister on a slew of local blues bills. But since signing with Alligator Records last year, his live shows in the old ‘hood have been fewer and farther between.

However, this past December was old home month for the keeper of the Chicago Way flame, who still holds down his day job as a CTA bus driver. Cannon had a show on December 3rd at SPACE in Evanston. He closed out the year with a gig at Buddy Guy’s Legends on December 30th.

While Cannon and his crew have been busy bringing Chicago blues to far flung places, it was great to see them come home to roost in the 312. Cannon’s show at Legends featured many cuts from his chart-topping Chicago Way CD to some covers like Little Johnny Taylor’s “Everyone Knows About My Good Thing.”

One of Cannon’s musical heroes is the late Jimi Hendrix. In addition to sporting more than a few Hendrix tattoos, Jimi’s influence is permanently inked in tunes like “John the Conquer Root.” This cut from Cannon’s Delmark Records days is always a highlight of his live shows and the take at Legends was no exception.

Toronzo Cannon

After a shout-out to “all the women who don’t know they love me,” Cannon launched into a lengthy version of this song, complete with incendiary guitar licks. In another homage to Hendrix, Cannon played a few closing riffs with his teeth.

In addition to his musical chops and song writing expertise, Cannon has the gift of gab and has mastered the art of entertaining monologues. As befits someone who penned “Midlife Crisis,” the soon-to-be 49-year old Cannon made more than a few references to his age. He had a shout-out to the “Solid Gold Dancers” as well as talking about  “being at home with one sock and watching reruns of  “My Favorite Martian.”

Taking this all in was the elder statesman of Chicago blues, Mr. Buddy Guy. The “Legends” owner was hanging out near the front bar, surrounded by his team and signing customers’ t-shirt and poster purchases.

Cannon made note of Guy’s presence when he proclaimed, “We in Buddy’s house now whatever city or country you're from, give it all to Buddy.” Cannon then gave his all in playing “Walk it Off,” which he said was a favorite of Guy’s.

Guy—and the many other patrons at his club—saw opening set highlights that included “Bad Contract,” “When Will You Tell Him About Me,” “Fine Seasoned Woman,” “Cold World,” “Mrs. from Mississippi” and an up-tempo “King Bee” to close out the first round in fine fashion, right around midnight.

Toronzo Cannon

Cannon might hold top billing but his Cannonball band is definitely up to the task of backing up this fast-rising international act.  Band members include bassist David Forte, drummer Pookie Styx (a.k.a Melvin Carlisle) and keyboardist Luca Chiellini.

During the break, there was strong evidence of Cannon’s emerging stardom. Draped in a Chicago flag, he obligingly signed Chicago Way CDs, newly printed t-shirts and posed for a seemingly endless round of photos with both local and foreign fans.

The crowd thinned out a bit during the band’s second set but Cannon and company came on strong. Those lucky enough to stick around saw a cameo appearance by “hoochie man” Lindsey Alexander as well as a sizzling instrumental tribute to Ronnie Earl—another one of Cannon’s musical heroes.

Another second set highlight was Cannon’s “Pain Around Me.” While he kept it light for much of the night, this song’s message hits home as it covers Chicago’s rising crime rate as viewed from Cannon’s vantage point as a city bus driver.

Cannon closed out the night with a cut from his John the Conquer Root CD on Delmark. “Woman Enough to Leave Me,” left Styx, Forte and Chiellini ample time to showcase their musical talents with a few extended solos.

Cannon and the band return to Legends on January 27th as the opening act during Guy’s extended residence there. Prior to that, they’ll be taking on Kansas before jumping across to pond for some late-January dates in the UK. Then, it’s more gigs in the greater Midwest before a tour of Switzerland. Cannon also announced that he’ll be part of the “Experience Hendrix” tour at the Chicago Theatre on March 25th.

Jimmy Nick

Jimmy Nick and his “Don’t Tell Mama” band rewarded early birds with a rollicking live performance to kick off the night. Nick has been playing Chicago area clubs since the age of 16 and has already garnered many accolades.  He was a finalist in the 2012 “Blues Guitar Slinger” challenge and has competed at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis after winning the River City Blues Society’s band challenge.




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