The BEAST - Buffalo's Best 58 9/15/04--9/30/04

CHRIS CANNON: Rough and Ready

Interview by Mitchell Bonk

Chris Cannon has been haunting me for the last couple of weeks. First I was over at a friend’s house, and I slowly became aware that he was playing some really good music I hadn’t heard before. The sound was a crystallization of nearly every great old form of traditional American folk music—strains of blues, country, swing, and folk, echoes of all those great dust-caked 78s you never knew your great grandpa kept in his attic till he croaked. The lyrics were witty and gritty, the vocals gruff and raw. “Who’s this?” I asked. “Chris Cannon,” my host informed me. “Where’s he from?” I asked. “I think he lives right around the corner.” Huh.

A couple of days later, my girlfriend was raving about “some kid” she’d seen play an awesome set the night before. “He was just perfect,” she said, describing a sandpaper voice and a sweet, old-timey style. I knew right away of whom she was speaking.

Then I started hearing it all over. All kinds of people had heard or seen him, and enjoyed it enough to remark upon the experience. Cannon made an excellent first impression, to say the least.

So last Wednesday night when I dropped into Nietzsche’s for open mic, primarily because they weren’t charging a cover, I knew just who I was looking at, playing a rollicking three or four songs with an impressive impromptu band. I’d rarely seen an open mic crowd so engaged, but wasn’t surprised: Cannon’s music is rare enough to make an android smile and bob his head. The only surprise was that I hadn’t heard of him before. Now that I’m more familiar with his new CD, Suitcase Funeral, I’m convinced he’s got a real shot at making a career out of his music.

A few drinks later, I felt friendly enough to introduce myself, and decided it was my duty as a part-time music critic to present this unique local talent to his own hometown.

BEAST: I've never heard of you before, and now you're all over. How long have you been doing this? Where have you been all our lives?

Cannon: I've been doing it for a while, but mostly for my own amusement I suppose. Which is why I still do it; it's just that now other people are in the room with me.

How has your music changed over the years?

I used to do a lot of different things and kind of pass through different types of music quickly. Now to be able to perform the music with just a guitar it kind of gives me a box to stay in. I also used to take a whole day to write one song, which is something I've gotten over now.

A lot of people who talk about you mention Tom Waits at some point. How do you feel about that? Would you say he's an influence?

Well, I like a lot of what I've heard of Tom Waits. I'm not sure how accurate it is. I think people, and I do it too, have to have a place to put things in order to relate to them. So if they keep me in the room of their musical head that has Tom Waits in it, that's all right company.

 Yeah, I’d say you’re more traditional and upbeat. What are you listening to lately?

Mostly older records. Fats Waller, Emmett Miller, lots of old blues. Charlie Patton, Skip James, Son House, Mississippi Sheiks, Blind Blake, Blind Boy Fuller, Blind Willie Johnson, Blind Lemon Jefferson. All the blind guys. Blind Boys of Alabama... Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder.

 The CD really sounds good for a local release. Where did you record it? Who helped?

I recorded it in my house piece by piece pretty much by myself, with the exception of a good friend of mine, Dave Verdi, who played guitar on a couple songs.

Not too shabby. Which do you prefer, playing with a band or by yourself?

Well, I just did a show with Jim Whitford, Dave Verdi, and Rob Lynch. We hadn't ever played together before the show, and I think that made it a particularly good time. There's things you can do solo that you can't do as easily with other people, like changing the song around, or starting and stopping randomly. Or maybe I still did do that; it's hard to say.

I think I detect a shade of country influence in there. How do you feel about the state of country music?

I don't watch soap operas and I don't listen to modern country music. I listen to the older things like Bob Wills, Jimmie Rodgers, Moon Mullican, Hank Williams. But if you mean Toby Keith I'll pass.

Good answer. Any favorite local musicians?

I like Leigh Stoner's songwriting. I like listening to the Allen Street Jazz Band. I saw Joe Rozler play some great accordian the other night with the Jazz Band. I caught a little bit of a band called Fold in 1/2 Cat that was interesting. Mir Ali is a great guitar player. There's probably too many to say.

How can we get a cool gravelly voice like yours?

 Well I can tell you three things I've been told to stop doing: smoking, drinking, and screaming at inanimate objects. The last two I've already started working on.

Any thoughts on the upcoming election?

This is another soap opera. I'll go with the one who isn't listening to Toby Keith.

Thanks for playing.

No problem.

Chris Cannon’s new CD, Suitcase Funeral, is really very good; no BS. It’d be worth buying no matter where he was from. Order it at You can listen to his music and experience his unique speaking voice on “the Elavation Local Hour” at 10pm Friday, September 24th on WHLD 1270AM.

© 2004 The Beast