Melonie Cannon fires away

Dan MacIntosh, October 2004

Melonie Cannon is the daughter of the famous writer/producer Buddy Cannon, but now that she has released her self-titled debut album via Skaggs Family Records, she's beginning to make a name for herself as a solo artist.

Cannon's new music is more acoustic and bluegrass-y than some of the slick sounds her dad (who also helped produce this release, by the way) helps create for artists like Kenny Chesney.

So it's only appropriate that she also spells her first name a little differently than most other 'Melanies' in the world.

"My mom said that my dad had a girlfriend one time named Annie, and that she really loved the name Melanie, but it has the name 'Anie' in it, so she wanted to change it," Cannon explains over the phone with a giggle.

Her name's spelling may be rare, but it's not completely unique. In fact, Cannon recently met another woman on the Internet with the same name spelled exactly the same way. She jokes that there's got to be a song in there somewhere, but unlike her dad and also her sister (Maria Cannon-Goodman), Cannon is strictly a vocalist - not a songwriter (yet).

"I'm not saying that I never will," she says about songwriting. "I've just never tried my hand at it. I've always been a singer and really focused on that. That's really been my art. I don't ever want to be the kind of person that starts cutting the wrong songs just because they wrote them. I've always been kind of scared of that. I see people do that, and it does a lot of damage to their careers sometimes. So you have to be careful with that. I don't want to be an artist that people write with, just because I'm an artist."

If Cannon does eventually begin to write songs, her sister Maria, who helped write "Ten Rounds with Jose Cuervo" for Tracy Byrd, has placed dibs on being her very first partner. "She told me that if I write with somebody else before I write with her, that she's gonna kill me," Cannon says.

Cannon started singing in the studio when she was only 14, so now that she's 31, she's been a professional singer for over half her life. She recalls her first demo session with Dean Dillon as being a rather innocent experience.

"I just knew him as Dean," she says now of the songwriter. "He was just my dad's friend. So I just went in there not scared a bit. I just went in there and did my thing. Actually, I met Kenny Chesney that day. He (Chesney) didn't even really know my dad at that point. They didn't build a relationship until years after that. I think all three of those songs got cut - I did three of 'em for him that day. That's a pretty cool thing."

Cannon only got truly serious about becoming a singer after a brief stint in the army.

"I was pretty wild," Cannon admits. "I was a rambunctious teenager. My dad was an alcoholic the first 15 years of my life. He sobered up about the time I started to be kind of a wild child. He really started paying attention to what I was doing, which made me rebel a ' whole lot more. He was there - but he really wasn't there - for all of my life (up to that point). Then all of a sudden, he wanted to know what I was doing and where I was going. I wanted his attention and his approval, and I went about it in all the wrong ways. And finally, I realized I was running with the wrong crowd and hanging with the wrong people."

Although she was also working in the music business while living this self-described wild life, something deep inside told her that she'd need to straighten out her life first before she could seriously make a go of being a professional artist.

"I figured that I could probably get me a record deal and screw it up for myself real quick. Or I could take and moment and get myself together personally, spiritually, mentally and physically and really be able to handle what was coming. I think God puts you on a path, and - for whatever reason - that's the path He put me on. I did the army thing, and it didn't work out, and I was home within a year-and-a-half. And I think that my life really started at that point."

Generally speaking, folks join the armed services to be all that they can be. But everybody also has personal reasons for making such an extreme life choice, as well. For Cannon, this experience had more to do with what the service did to her inside, than with any particular sort of career training.

"I joined it for the discipline," she states simply. "I wanted to learn what the real meaning of respect for other people was. And that's what they taught me. I was only there for a short period, but it really taught me life lessons in a short period of time. I learned a couple of really quick lessons over three weeks in boot camp. I learned what it meant to respect people, other than just you. I learned that there were more people living in the world than me. And I think that half the things I did as that wild selfish teenager, I probably wouldn't have done if I'd had the kind of respect for other people around me that I have now. That I gained by joining the army. I don't regret this experience, and I wouldn't go back and change it for nothing. I'd do it again in a heartbeat."

After being given an honorable discharge, she came home and began to work with her dad. But instead of jumping right into the limelight, Cannon began her career in the nuts-and-bolts behind the scene world.

"He (Buddy) asked me if I would come in and just help him in his office, listening to songs and helping him pick some of this stuff," she remembers. "So I came in as the sort of receptionist/song plugger/A&R person. I got a little bit overwhelmed because I was doing demo sessions in between and singing on records here and there. I had a lot going. I had my first child at that time. I had a lot on my plate. So I kind of asked him if I could kind of back out of part of it. And so I really started focusing on the A&R side of it. I just went and listened to the songs for the artists he was working with, which were Kenny (Chesney), Chely Wright and Sammy Kershaw."

"I think that really helped me get in tune with what great songs really were. I think that (recognizing good songs) is probably just a little bit in my blood from my daddy. I think that period of time helped me really pick the good from the bad. I think it's really been a great stepping-stone to this (performing) side of my career because I know how that side of it works. I've viewed it at all angles, and now I finally get to do this artist thing, and it's really a special moment in my life. It's like I'm really stepping out of the shadow and into the spotlight."

Chances are, however, it will take a little while before Cannon can completely separate herself from the large shadow cast by her dad. And while she is expected to talk a lot about Buddy during interviews, her mom, Billie - who is rarely ever mentioned in the press - is just as vital to her success.

"Mom is where I get my talking from," she only half kids. "I could talk to the wall. That's what I always tell everybody. I could probably sit and talk by myself for hours. She (mom) is the rock of our family. She obviously stayed married to my dad through a lot of hard times, (and) a lot of times with no money and him not being there and him being gone. And as a kid, it's kind of funny because she sheltered us from all of it. I didn't really was never spoken to me that my father was an alcoholic until I was 15. And she hid it from me all those years - from me and my sisters. My older sisters knew more and kind of remember more. But I really don't. I was kind of sheltered from it. But I think that's given me the opportunity to love my dad in a way that maybe I wouldn't have been able to, if I really would have known what was going on. It it's all because of her being that shelter for me and that rock."

Unlike her dad and her sisters, Cannon's mom is not musically inclined.

"No, not at all," Cannon states emphatically. "Daddy used to tell her that he'd go to church with her, but he wouldn't sit by her if she sang. She doesn't sing at all, but I'll tell you what, she's one of the most intuitive people I've ever met when it comes to people in general. Whether she knows it or not, she does help me make choices. She helped me make my choice with my manager. She helps me with my children."

Cannon is on Ricky Skaggs' label, and the esteemed bluegrass musician, Ronnie Bowman, also helped produce her album. But she's quick to point out that her music is not strictly bluegrass - even though it is a whole lot purer than much of what tries to pass itself off as country music these days.

"Bluegrass is a different world," Cannon explains. "I think what I've done is I've brought what I grew up with and what I'd learned as a teenager and brought those two worlds together and kind of just made my own little thing. People are going to call it what they want to call it. I just call it music. It's acoustic music, if anything. People are classifying it as bluegrass, and Americana and country and all this stuff. But it's influenced by artists of all different genres, such as Bonnie Raitt and Emmylou Harris. I listen to everything."

It makes little difference how you label Cannon's music - or even how you spell her first name, for that matter - because what she creates is simply the good stuff.

© Country Standard Time • Jeffrey B. Remz, editor & publisher •