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Ace and the Memphis Sound

The Hi Recording Years:

On his birthday, we honor the remarkable contribution of Ace Cannon, whose unique style and craftsmanship at Hi Records in Memphis have left an indelible mark on the history of music. The stylistic breadth of Cannon’s work during his time at Hi Records, from 1961 to 1971, is a testament to his versatility and artistry.

Starting with his biggest hit, “Tuff,” and spanning a decade, Cannon’s music is characterized by its soulful instrumentals, slow to medium shuffles, repetitive riffs, and simple R&B-pop hooks. His style can be likened to that of his labelmates, Bill Black’s Combo, with whom he occasionally shared the stage. Much like Black, Cannon’s singles were a favorite amongst jukebox aficionados, often selling well in the specific jukebox market, even when they didn’t chart.

Although the formula may seem simplistic, the tight grooves and gritty undertones of Cannon’s music set him apart, making his instrumentals more soulful. Notably, towards the end of the 1960s, Cannon adopted a tougher, grittier style that was explicitly derivative of fellow Memphians, Booker T. & the MG’s. This shift in style led to an improved sound, particularly evident in tracks such as “Funny (How Time Slips Away),” the downright funky “Soul for Sale,” and “If I Had a Hammer” — a rendition of the classic Peter, Paul & Mary folk hit.

One of the standout performances from Cannon’s Hi Records years is his 1971 cover of Joe Liggins’ “Drunk.” This track, featuring unexpected and creditable funk, is the only one in this collection to feature vocals, done in a suitably raspy manner.

In summary, Ace Cannon’s work at Hi Records is a significant chapter in the story of Memphis saxophone music. His ability to blend styles, create soulful instrumentals, and experiment with grittier sounds showcases his unique musical voice. For professional saxophonists and enthusiasts alike, studying Cannon’s work during his Hi Records years offers a wealth of inspiration and insight into the limitless potential of the saxophone.

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