Freddy Picariello was born in Swampscott, Massachusetts, moving to the neighboring town of Lynn as a child. His father worked as a truck driver and also played trumpet and sang in local bands. Freddy grew up listening to the rhythm and blues music of Big Joe Turner, Buddy Johnson and others on the radio, and learned to play guitar. After attending Lynn Vocation High School, he made his recording debut in 1955, singing and playing rhythm guitar on a single, "Cha-Cha-Do" by the Spindrifts, which became a local hit. He also played lead guitar on a session for an R&B vocal group, The G-Clefs, whose record "Ka-Ding Dong" made No. 24 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1956. At a young age he joined the National Guard, took a job driving a truck, married, and became a father.
Inspired musically by Chuck Berry and Little Richard, he formed his own group, Freddy Karmon & the Hurricanes, which became increasingly popular in the Boston area, and began to develop a trademark strained singing style. He also became a regular on a local TV dance show, Boston Ballroom, and, in 1958, signed up to a management contract with Boston disc jockey Jack McDermott. With lyrics written by his mother, he prepared a new song which he called "Rock and Roll Baby", and produced a demo which McDermott took to the writing and production team of Bob Crewe and Frank Slay. They rearranged the song and rewrote the lyrics, and offered to produce a recording in return for two-thirds of the composing credits. The first recording of the song, now titled "Tallahassee Lassie", with a guitar solo by session musician Kenny Paulson, was rejected by several record companies, but was then heard by TV presenter Dick Clark who part-owned Swan Records in Philadelphia. Clark suggested that the song be re-edited and overdubbed to add excitement, by highlighting the pounding bass drum sound and adding hand claps and Freddy's cries of "whoo!", which later became one of his trademarks. The single was finally released by Swan Records, with the company president, Bernie Binnick, suggesting Freddy's new stage name of "Freddy Cannon". After being promoted and becoming successful in Boston and Philadelphia, the single gradually received national airplay. In 1959, it peaked at No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100, becoming the first of his 22 songs to appear on the Billboard chart, and also reached No. 13 on the R&B singles chart. In the UK, where his early records were issued on the Top Rank label, it reached No. 17.
He stayed on the Swan label with producer Frank Slay for the next five years, and became known as Freddy "Boom Boom" Cannon, for the thumping power of his recordings. Dick Clark brought him national exposure through his numerous appearances on his television program, American Bandstand - a record of 110 appearances in total. In the words of writer Cub Koda:
"Freddy Cannon was a true believer, a rocker to the bone. Freddy Cannon made rock & roll records; great noisy rock & roll records, and all of them were infused with a gigantic drum beat that was an automatic invitation to shake it on down anyplace there was a spot to dance."
His second single "Okefenokee" (credited to Freddie Cannon, as were several of his other records) only made No. 43 on the charts, but the next record, "Way Down Yonder In New Orleans", a rocked-up version of a 1922 song, became a gold record and reached No. 3 in the pop charts in both the US and the UK, where it was the biggest of his hits. Cannon toured in Britain, and in March 1960 his album, The Explosive Freddy Cannon, became the first LP by a rock and roll singer to top the album charts in the UK. For the next two years, until early 1962, he continued to have lesser chart hits in the US, in some cases with versions of old standards including "Chattanoogie Shoe Shine Boy" and Edward "Kid" Ory's "Muskrat Ramble". His hits also included "Twistin' All Night Long", recorded with Danny and the Juniors and also featuring Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons on backing vocals. However, one of his biggest hits came in May 1962 with "Palisades Park", written by future TV Gong Show host Chuck Barris. Produced by Slay with overdubbed rollercoaster sound effects, it reached No. 3 on the Hot 100, No. 15 on the R&B chart, and No. 20 in the UK.
Cannon also appeared with Bobby Vee, Johnny Tillotson and others, in the movie Just for Fun, made in the UK in 1962. Although his popularity in the US faded, he remained a popular touring act in Britain and elsewhere in the world for some years. In 1963 he signed for Warner Bros. Records where he recorded his last two US top twenty hits, "Abigail Beecher" in 1964, and the following year "Action", from Dick Clark's TV show Where the Action Is, which he recorded with top Los Angeles session musicians including Leon Russell, James Burton, Glen Campbell, and David Gates. Also in 1965, Slay acquired Cannon's Swan recordings and sold them to Warner Bros. He appeared, along with The Beau Brummels, in Village of the Giants, a teen movie with early film appearances by Beau Bridges and Ron Howard, and played himself, and performed one of his songs, in the final episode of the teen soap opera, Never Too Young, on 24 June 1966. After leaving Warner Bros. Records in 1967, Cannon released singles on several labels, including Sire, Royal American, Metromedia, MCA, Andee, Claridge, Horn, and Amherst. In the 1970s he recorded and became a promotional man for Buddah Records, but returned to the lower reaches of the charts in 1981 with "Let's Put the Fun Back in Rock'n'Roll," recorded with The Belmonts for MiaSound Records and in 1982 appeared in the independent movie, The Junkman. Thereafter, he continued to work with Dick Clark at his Bandstand reunion concerts, and to tour all over the world. In 2002, he released an album of seasonal songs, Have A Boom Boom Christmas!!
A resident of Tarzana, California, Cannon continues to put on performances at assorted concert venues. He has complete control and ownership of his Swan and Warner Bros. masters.