For native New Yorker and Indiana transplant Jeff Cannon, ducking in and out of his many identities has become a lifestyle.
“I’m willing to remake myself as many times as I need to if that’s what it takes to serve the issues and people I care about,” he says.
Born and raised in New York City, Cannon is the son of former Columbia University Chaplain and social justice advocate John Cannon, and the great grandson of World Peace Foundation founder and publishing magnate Edwin Ginn. Chasing visions of a better world has been something of a family business.
This summer Cannon will release “13 Questions,” his fourth solo CD, nearly 12 years after his last release. The tightly focused CD, Cannon’s state-of-the-social-union aural landscape, has been in the works for more than two years, and has taken Jeff all over the country to work with his favorite friend-musicians in his old haunts from Nashville to New York to Boston. The new sound is stark and bold, as noted in a recent review in Neufutur magazine: “13 Questions is an album that feels absolutely epic in scope… Cannon’s eclectic style is able to pull disparate influences and styles from the whole of twentieth century music, establishing an unmistakably twenty-first century sound.”
Of his dozen years away, Cannon has no regrets. The homeward move was a no-brainer.
“My daughters were 4 and 1,” he explains. “I was missing important moments when I was on the road. There was no substitute for being there.”
He settled in as a freelance writer and journalism lecturer at Indiana University. And took advantage of the chance to get his Master’s degree, and then his Ph.D., which is only a dissertation away. His non-fiction novel “Buskers: A Street Performers’ Tale,” about the Cambridge, Mass. Street performing community, will also hit shelves in the coming year, close on the heels of “13 Questions.”
Identified as a music prodigy at young age, Jeff attended a boarding music school in New York City from the age of 9. In the 80s he led popular DC-area pop-rockers The Kids to regional acclaim, then withdrew into a busy management career before reemerging in 1994 on the Boston Folk Scene, where he soon joined the management team that successfully reestablished the legendary roots music club Passim as a community non-profit.
As a singer-songwriter Jeff found quick success at that time in the New England scene, reaching the final three of the 1995 Boston Acoustic Underground competition, playing acoustic venues throughout the Northeast, and then, fueled by widespread support from a web of national folk radio DJs and syndicators, touring the national folk circuit, including such prestigious billings as the Kerrville Folk Festival in 1997.
When he left the road life in 2002, Jeff established a reputation as a folk DJ in his own rite as Host of WIUX and Internet radio show “Folk From the Heartland” from 2003-2007.
Jeff has been supported on his CDs by a who’s who of contemporary folk and alt-country: Patty Griffin, Greg Greenway, Johnny Cunningham, Rani Arbo, Jake Armerding, etc., as well as some of the best in side-sters. The new CD features Jim Hoke (Dolly Parton, Kenny Chesney, Faith Hill, Wynonna Judd, etc.), Stu Kimball (Bob Dylan Band), Adam Steinberg (Dixie Chicks, Patty Griffin, etc.), jazz horn notable Pat Harbison, and many others.
The hats will continue to rotate, but the issues are always the same for Jeff: it’s always about reaching a little higher, making things just a little more fair:
“I’m at an age where I’m willing to say it’s about the imprints we make on our institutions. You can’t have a just world if the systems are rigged. I know we all wrestle with when to fight, and when to let go. For me it’s not enough to say ‘I got mine.’ Mine just doesn’t matter in any real sense. What matters is ours, as in the “us” that will be sitting in this spot in 50 years from now, or 1000, for that matter. It still comes down to you and me, even then. Mikhail Bakhtin, the Russian social theorist, brilliantly wrote in exile, ‘Nothing is ever completely dead. Every meaning will have its homecoming festival.’ I believe that offers a perfect roadmap for living, to make each step count believing that someday it will have its moment, and in a place where it will truly matter for someone.”
With the release of 13 Questions, Cannon’s many hats are for the first time on the table together.
“It’s nice to have it all out there for once,” he says. “But I’ve journeyed enough to know that will change. And long enough to know that’s a good thing.”