You wouldn't think that someone who's spent her life around country stars would think that having her own album out is such a big deal. In Melonie Cannon's case, you'd be dead wrong.
Photo Credit: Erick Anderson
Her voice pulsates with excitement as she talks about her self-titled debut project on Skaggs Family Records. Cannon is the daughter of Buddy Cannon, who has produced albums and written songs for the likes of Shania Twain, Kenny Chesney and Reba McEntire. She has hung around recording studios most of her life and has worked as a background singer on recording sessions since her early teens.
Country fans have heard Cannon's vocal harmonies on Chely Wright's "Single White Female," Kenny Chesney's "I Go Back" and "Young" and Chad Brock's "Ordinary Life," among dozens of other hits. She sang background on all the songs in Craig Morgan's first album.
But this is her first time to pursue a record deal for herself.
"I've never done any of that stuff," she tells CMT.com. "I've been singing and singing and singing my whole life. But when it came down to doing what we did with this record, it was like finally finding a home for my voice. I think I probably could have [had a record deal], but Daddy was kind of funny about pursuing it -- not that he would ever say that he wouldn't. ... He didn't want anybody to think that he was doing anything for me for any other reason other than the fact that I was a singer. That's the up and the down part of his being in the business and [his] being my daddy: On the one hand it was great, because it has gotten me where I am. But on the other, I'm 31 -- it could have happened a long time ago."
Melonie Cannon was co-produced by her father and bluegrass stalwart Ronnie Bowman. The elder Cannon wrote or co-wrote four of the 10 songs, and Bowman co-wrote four. Among the other writers on the collection are Cannon's sister, Marla Cannon-Goodman, John Scott Sherrill, Kim Fox, Matraca Berg, Jim Photoglo, Leslie Satcher and Harley Allen. Her backup pickers include such stellar talents as fiddler Stuart Duncan, Dobro players Jerry Douglas and Rob Ickes, guitarist and vocalist Dan Tyminski and banjoist Robbie McCoury.
While Skaggs Family Records specializes in bluegrass music, Cannon doesn't see her album as being confined to that category.
"I didn't feel like I wanted to go do a bluegrass record," she says. "I wanted to go make something that was cool -- something that I loved. I told [Daddy] I wanted to bring somebody [else] in [to co-produce] because we had worked together for so long. I said 'I want to bring somebody in who doesn't know me like you do -- doesn't know my voice, doesn't know all the ins and outs of what I do. I want to bring somebody different.'"
Her father agreed. "That's when I called Ronnie Bowman," Cannon continues. "We got together with him, and he came up with this idea. Of course, [he involved] all of his buddies -- Jerry Douglas, Dan Tyminski, Barry Bales, Rob Ickes, all the big guys [in contemporary bluegrass]. He was like, 'This is how we need to do it. It's going to be great.' We went in and we started it, and it was actually -- I'm not going to say 'for fun' -- but it was for fun, to see what would come out of it. When we got the first three songs done, we knew it [worked]. ... What I do [on this album] is a complete throwback to the old music in the old days -- when it didn't matter what people looked like. It just mattered if you could sing or not. I hope that people would not just say this is a bluegrass record, because it's a lot more than that."
Cannon says she did the first demos for the album "a couple of years ago." One of those demos was of the Bill Anderson-Jon Randall tune, "Whiskey Lullaby," which this year became a hit for Brad Paisley and Alison Krauss. It's clear that Cannon still feels hurt about not having gotten the song out first.
"It just took so long to get the [album] out that we lost it," she says. "I learned a big lesson, I tell you that. It makes me realize that if people are taking songs off the record, it must be pretty dadgum good. ... I had it recorded for six or seven months, and I got a call that [Paisley and Krauss] were going in to do it. They already had a license on it, and we didn't. ... I know Brad and Alison wouldn't have done that to me on purpose. They wouldn't take a possible career song out of someone's hands. ... I think there was just a little miscommunication with the publishing company. ... It was pretty hard watching them sing it on the [Academy of Country Music awards show], you know? It kind of stung. But after that, I have to let it go and just move on to the next one."
Cannon says she got her record deal in a roundabout way. "[Disc jockey] Hairl Hensley started playing my music on [WSM-AM/Nashville, which broadcasts the Grand Ole Opry station] as soon as he got the first few songs. That's how Ricky heard it. Dad had gone out with Bill Anderson on the Grand Ole Opry cruise that they do every year. Ricky was out there, too, and they happened to be sitting with each other at a table one night. Of course, they've known each other for years. But Ricky was like, 'I've been hearing your daughter on [WSM], and I really dig her stuff.' Dad said, 'Hey, you want a copy of it?' Ricky said, 'You mean she doesn't have a deal? Of course.'"
Still there was one more hurdle -- doing a live showcase for the meticulous Skaggs. "I've been singing [in recording studios] for years," says Cannon. "But the stage is my home. I had to prove that to them. That's what Ricky wanted to see for himself. So my showcase for him was at the Ryman [Auditorium in Nashville]. I opened for him on July 17 of last year. It was my showcase, basically, just to see if I could pull it off. He loved it. I knew from that day that things were going to be great."
This fall, Cannon plans to co-headline with Bowman on a tour that is still being put together.