Melonie Cannon Biography
Almost everybody in Music City knows Melonie Cannon -- it's just taking the rest of the world a little longer to catch on.
Raised in the wings of the Grand Ole Opry, Melonie mingled as a young girl with the Olympians of country music. She knew them through her father, songwriter and producer Buddy Cannon, a giant himself in this town.
She was just fourteen when she sang on her first recording session. And by the time she'd reached high school, studio dates filled her calendar. Sammy Kershaw, John Michael Montgomery, George Jones and Kenny Chesney were among the many who made use of her voice -- its easy reach from whispered intimacy to exuberance, its way of wrapping around a melody and finding truth in a lyric even the first time through a tune -- Melonie Cannon’s voice has been a favorite of some of country music’s best for years.
The wonder is that it's taken this long for the secret to escape. On her debut self-titled album, Melonie Cannon, she delivers with a rare blend of down-home soul and uptown professionalism.
She does in fact have down-home roots, going back to Jackson in west Tennessee, where she was born. But from age three, she’s called Nashville home. As far back as she can remember, her father was a big-time player, first as a musician with Tillis and shortly after that as a producer for a number of headliners. To Melonie, these artists weren't legends; they were just her dad’s friends.
"Porter Waggoner, Minnie Pearl, and my favorite, Connie Smith … I saw them all at the Opry," she remembers. "When Daddy wasn't there, he was out on the road, and when he'd come home I was so happy just to hang out on the bus and imagine traveling with the musicians. I grew up with that same feeling. It was almost like a sickness, and I never got rid of it."
The more she yearned for that life, the more she sang around the house. Melonie spent hours in the basement, playing through her father's record collections, looking for songs that spoke to her. From old 78s to the latest Emmylou Harris, her repertoire sprawled across generations and genres. For hours, she would fill their home with the sound of her voice. Almost from day to day, confidence grew and her grasp of performance strengthened.
Soon after, the studio doors began opening for Melonie. Her first session was with Dean Dillon, when she had just turned fourteen. Over the next few years Melonie would alternate between high school classes and the recording studio, for example, singing a duet with Sammy Kershaw on "Cry, Cry Darlin'" when she was all of sixteen. She developed friendships with a few of country music’s newest songstresses in town, Chely Wright and Shania Twain, after working on various albums together. And she might have gone on doing exactly that to this day, if not for one sudden change in plans.
"I joined the Army," she says. "I had gotten pretty wild by that time. I was hanging out with the wrong crowd. It's funny, because my daddy suggested that I move to Austin, but I knew I didn't have the self-discipline for that. If I had gone I probably would have turned into a washed-up drunk, singing in the same bar for the next fifteen years. I needed more structure in my life."
There was no shortage of structure in the Army. And, much to her surprise, Melonie found it exhilarating. Whether waking up to a pre-dawn, dewy chill each day at Fort McClellan, Alabama, or building her weapons and martial arts skills in basic training, she found a kind of focus that had been lost through her wild escapades in high school. "It was giving me a new lease on life," said Cannon. But after taking a fall during a morning run and fracturing her hip, eventually Melonie was given a medical discharge and went back home to apply what lessons she had learned to the "real world" back home.
"I learned something about self-respect in the Army," she insists. "Not only that, I learned respect for other people. There was nothing wrong in how I was raised, but it had all been about me, at least as far as I could see. Realizing that I wasn't the only person in the world was the best thing that could have happened to me."
Ready for anything, Melonie returned to Nashville and began making new connections. She began visiting Nashville’s legendary Bluegrass venue, The Station Inn – and her new musical circle of friends widened to include some of bluegrass’ best musicians. Eventually she began bringing these friends over to play together, just as her father had done with his colleagues years before. One of these new friends was Ronnie Bowman, the former lead singer for one of bluegrass music’s most popular bands, The Lonesome River Band – and the first time he heard Melonie sing, Bowman said right away, "I want to work with you." Melonie knew after that, "it was going to happen. Finally, I was going to do this thing on my own."
Bowman lined up an A-list group of bluegrass musicians which included Dan Tyminski, Jerry Douglas, Rob McCoury, Barry Bales, Stuart Duncan and Rob Ickes – "an, ‘oh, my God band," Melonie says with a laugh – and they went into the studio to begin producing sides for Melonie’s debut album. Everyone performed live. Melonie cut the scratch vocals with the band, and they sounded so good on playback that she didn't bother to do a separate overdub.
The three songs that came out of that first session impressed Buddy enough to arrange two more studio visits, again with Melonie cutting her vocals live with the band. After just three of these dates they had the ten tracks that would introduce Melonie to the world.
But that door wouldn't open until Buddy burned these tracks onto a CD and gave it to Hairl Hensley to play during his Bluegrass show on WSM radio. Ricky Skaggs caught one broadcast and asked Buddy for a copy. What he heard posed a challenge: It wasn't quite bluegrass, it wasn't quite commercial country … but it was breathtaking just the same. With his musician hat on, Skaggs had no trouble connecting to Melonie's performance; and as head of Skaggs Family Music, decided no matter what genre or classification the album - or - Melonie Cannon as an artist was going to fall under, knew it was exactly the kind of music he wanted for his label.
Melonie further established her musical validity to Skaggs one day soon after that, at the Mother Church of Country Music – the Ryman Auditorium, where Skaggs had invited Melonie to do an opening performance. Aside from the soundman, the place was empty when she and her band showed up; and though she had known the room so well throughout the years, this was her first time on center stage. They were just warming up on their second song when she noticed that someone else was there after all.
"Out from under the balcony at the back of the room comes Ricky," she remembers. "He comes up front and sits down. I just keep singing. We finish the song, and he stands up" -- and here Melonie starts clapping her hands. "He was yelling, 'Yeah! Whoo!' It was like a rock concert! He was so excited, and I knew that I had found a place for myself at Skaggs Family Music."
She also closed a circle that day, one that began long before when she watched her father play his first Nashville gig on that same stage. From a little girl peering out from the wings of the legendary stage to the moment she stood herself in that spotlight, from yearning for her father's attention to having him produce her first album, Melonie has already begun and finished several journeys. With the release of Melonie Cannon, a new journey, bristling with possibilities, begins.
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