Toronzo Cannon - Shut Up And Play! albumcover photo

Toronzo Cannon
Shut Up And Play!

Label: Alligator Records
Release: 7 June 2024

Toronzo Cannon has become a famous name in the blues in the last few years. Since the 2016 release of his Alligator debut, The Chicago Way, and the follow-up, 2019’s The Preacher, The Politician Or The Pimp, and his leaving his 25-year day job as a Chicago city bus driver, Toronzo has played across the USA, Europe and even performed in Japan (and he’ll be touring China in November). He’s become a Chicago blues icon, including twice headlining the Chicago Blues Festival (the world’s largest blues festival). He’s won worldwide airplay on blues radio. Guitar World called him “among the most inspiring southpaws to ever pick up a six-string” and Blues Music Magazine described him as “explosive…a one-man champion of Chicago Blues.”

Shut Up And Play! is packed with twelve new Toronzo original songs. Sparked by his searing guitar playing, they range from fun-filled, danceable tunes like Something To Do Man to Toronzo’s memorable tongue-in-cheek anthems including the first radio single, I Hate Love, to serious social statements like Had To Go Through It To Get To It and the title track. The song Shut Up And Play! was inspired by the response to Toronzo’s online posts about racism that he had encountered, and in support of Black Lives Matter. He was repeatedly told that his job was to be an entertainer, not to express himself passionately on social issues. As you can hear, Toronzo Cannon is not a man who will bite his tongue (nor would we want him to).

Toronzo was born in the heart of Chicago’s South Side, raised by his blues-loving grandparents, and grew up a few blocks from the famous Theresa’s Lounge. As a youngster, he would stand outside the club, listening to the sounds of Buddy Guy, Junior Wells and John Primer leaking through the doorway. He didn’t begin playing until he was in his early 20s, and by then he had fallen under the spell of reggae and the influence of Jimi Hendrix. But the music he had heard outside Theresa’s lured him back to the blues, and he began playing as a sideman in local club bands. At the same time, he was supporting his wife and daughter as a full-time bus driver. (It was only after his daughter was grown that he left his day job after 25 years and devoted himself only to his music.) He began leading his own band in the early 2000s, while honing his songwriting skills with a self-released album and two releases on the Delmark label. But his writing had matured when he joined Alligator. In fact, it was his distinctive songs that first impressed me when we began to talk with him about recording. Over his last three albums, his writing has blossomed. In combination with his fiery guitar playing and unvarnished storyteller’s vocals, he’s become a true blues star. One listen to Shut Up And Play! will confirm his immense talent and musical charisma.

Toronzo Cannon – Shut Up And Play!

1. Can’t Fix The World 4:15
2. I Hate Love 4:27
3. Him 4:44
4. Had To Go Through It To Get To It 3:54
5. Something To Do Man 4:08
6. Message To My Daughter 5:47
7. Unlovable 3:28
8. Guilty 4:07
9. Got Me By The Short Hairs 3:44
10. My Woman Loves Me Too Much 3:48
11. If I’m Always Wrong 3:55
12. Shut Up And Play! 5:58

Toronzo Cannon: Guitars, Vocals, Percussion and Handclaps
Brian Quinn: Electric and Upright Bass
Cole DeGenova: Piano, Organ, Nord and Clavinet
Jason “Jroc” Edwards: Drums
Phillip “Dante” Burgess, Jr.: Drums on “Him” and “Had To Go Through It”
Matthew Skoller: Harmonica on “My Woman Loves Me Too Much”

Produced by Toronzo Cannon and Bruce Iglauer

“I want my songs to be heard and experienced, not just listened to,” says cliché-defying, internationally beloved Chicago bluesman Toronzo 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 his third Alligator Records album, 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!, co-produced by Cannon and Alligator president Bruce Iglauer, finds Cannon, a former Chicago Transit Authority 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 radio single, the unassailable 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. Chicago’s New City declared, “Toronzo Cannon spins the innate human capacity of misery and regret into a kind of furious ecstasy.”

“I write what I know, what I feel,” Cannon says, “I like to put myself in the shoes of the subjects of my songs. This record is about the things going on in my life since 2019—it’s a document of what I’ve seen and been through, but the stories are universal. And it’s my way to get past negative things and keep my own sanity. Listen to the lyrics. I am a Black man in America. These are NOT protest songs. I try to create honest, common sense understanding with my songs.”

Toronzo Cannon was born in Chicago on February 14, 1968, and grew up in the shadows of the notoriously tough Robert Taylor Homes. Theresa’s Lounge, one of the city’s most famous South Side blues clubs, was close by. As a child, Cannon would stand on the sidewalk outside the club’s door, soaking up the live blues pouring out, while trying to sneak a glance inside at larger-than-life bluesmen like Junior Wells and Buddy Guy. He also heard plenty of blues records growing up in his grandfather’s home, and listened to soul, R&B and contemporary rock on the radio.

Cannon’s sister gifted him his first guitar at age 22, and his natural talent enabled him to quickly master the instrument. Although his initial focus was reggae, he found himself increasingly drawn to the blues. “It was dormant in me. But when I started playing the blues, I found my voice and the blues came pouring out.” He absorbed sounds, styles and licks from Buddy Guy, Albert Collins, Hound Dog Taylor, B.B. King, Albert King, Freddie King, Jimi Hendrix, J.B. Hutto, Lil’ Ed Williams and others. Although influenced by many, Cannon’s biting, stinging guitar sound is all his own.

From 1996 through 2002, Cannon played as a sideman for Tommy McCracken, Wayne Baker Brooks, L.V. Banks and Joanna Connor. But he was determined to prove himself. In 2001, while continuing to work as a hired-gun guitarist, he formed his own band, The Cannonball Express. By 2003, he was working exclusively as a band leader. His first three albums—2007’s My Woman (self-released), 2011’s Leaving Mood (Delmark) and 2013’s Blues Music Award-nominated John The Conqueror Root (Delmark)—document his rise from new kid on the block to promising up-and-comer.

Cannon fulfilled that promise with the 2016 release of his Alligator Records debut, The Chicago Way, with his maturity as an artist on full display. The album was hailed as the emergence of one of the most electrifying bluesmen to burst onto the international stage in decades. The groundbreaking 2019 follow-up, The Preacher, The Politician Or The Pimp, built upon the foundation he’d laid, creating and defining his vision of contemporary blues. Local, national and international media all took notice. CNN filmed Cannon leading a tour of Chicago blues clubs and then broadcast the piece around the world. Local Chicago television station WGN won an EMMY award for their piece on Chicago’s new blues master. England’s tastemaker MOJO magazine declared The Chicago Way the #1 Blues Album Of 2016, and The Preacher, The Politician Or The Pimp as the #2 Blues Album Of 2019.

Cannon has been nominated for ten Blues Music Awards, and, as his fan base expands, so do his friendships with famous musicians. Gary Clark, Jr. declared, “Toronzo is a beast. He lights the room up,” and Joe Bonamassa rightly pronounced, “Toronzo’s a great guitar player, excellent vocalist and an amazing personality.”

Cannon has performed at clubs and festivals at major cities all over the U.S. and continues to bring his music directly to his fans. He’s toured Canada, the UK, made his way across Europe and even to Japan. He has played the Chicago Blues Festival on ten separate occasions, bringing tens of thousands of his fellow Chicagoans to their feet. His live performances unfailingly earn him heaps of critical praise and hordes of wildly enthusiastic new fans. “Listen to a master bluesman at work,” declared the UK’s Blues & Rhythm magazine. “This is modern blues at its creative best.”

Now, with Shut Up And Play! Toronzo Cannon delivers his songs with purpose and passion. “It’s not about the solos,” says the man whose blazing guitar work continues to impress, “it’s about the songs. People get used to everyday life, so it’s easy to miss the things around them. I know the problems of Chicago, the hardships. I write about those things. But I love my city, warts and all. I grew up here. It molded me and gave me the people and places I know and love. And it produced the Chicago blues giants that came here from down south. I’m proud to be from Chicago and to be able to stand on the shoulders of every great Chicago blues musician who came before me.”

All the attention he’s received only makes Cannon more focused. “I feel like I’ve become an ambassador for Chicago blues. People expect a lot from me,” he says. “But it’s good, because I’m forced to keep upping my game.” And like all the Chicago greats who have come before him, blues is his life’s calling. “You don’t choose the blues,” he says. “The blues chooses you.”

Ook op Blues Magazine ...