Bus driving bluesman retires after decades of drawing inspiration from behind the wheel

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CHICAGO —  They say you can’t sing what you don’t know, and for 27 years it was the people riding in his CTA bus and visible out the front window that kept bluesman Toronzo Cannon’s wheels turning.

“The bus was my muse for a lot of years,” Cannon said. “You know, I got a front road view of the world.”

Cannon says he wouldn’t be the bluesman he is without relating to those he picked up, and his songs are inspired by thoughts or conversations he had while driving his route.

“I drive through seven tax brackets, you know,” Cannon said. “Sometimes I’m a counselor, you pull up and say, ‘How you doing?’ and they’ll really tell you how they’re doing.”

Growing up along 49th Street and Michigan Avenue, Cannon knows Chicago has always been about the beat of the daily grind. Behind the wheel or on the stage, Cannon strikes a chord for many.

“They say I know exactly what that guy is talking about, I know what he is singing about… that’s the common bond,” Cannon said.

For 27 years, Cannon lived this double life. Driving the bus paid the bills, while his real passion was up being up on stage. 

“No matter how big that stage is… that’s my world,” Cannon said.

This week marked Cannon’s last run. But as every bluesman will tell you, the end of one line only marks the beginning of another.

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