In Memoriam Johnny Cunningham
Johnny Cunningham passed away on the evening of December 15th, 2003. He died at home from a heart attack, embraced in Trisha's arms.
to visit the News page from past years.
Follow this link to view videos of Johnny performing at the Kennedy Center Millenium Stage:
Peter & Wendy Performs in Washington, D.C.
The musical composed by Johnny Cunningham plays through the month of June at the Arena Stage in Washington, D.C. For information, visit www.arenastage.org
Peter & Wendy is the winner of two Obie Awards. This unforgettable production, by world-renowned experimental theater company Mabou Mines, encourages "viewers to make an imaginative leap and fly into fantasy" (The Star-Ledger).
Song for New York: What Women Do While Men Sit Knitting
A Mabou Mines work-in-progress will be holding a reading on June 4, 2007, at 8pm, at the Bam Cafe in Brooklyn. The reading is free, but first come first serve due to limited seating. This reading is dedicated to Johnny. The performance dates are:
August 31 - Governor's Island
September 2 - Staten Island
September 5 - Bronx, NY
September 7 - Queens
September 9 - Bay Ridge, Brooklyn
For the latest updates on the performance dates and locations, visit the Mabou Mines website.
Mabou Mines in print
The cover story for American Theater Magazine, April 2007 features Mabou Mines' founders Lee Breuer and Ruth Maleczech.
Casey Neill's New Album: Brooklyn Bridge
He's put out records with famed folk label Appleseed Recordings and Amy Ray's (of the Indigo Girls) Daemon Records. Toured the world several times. And befriended some of his biggest musical influences - Jello Biafra, Pete Seeger, and Steve Earle. But, for Portland, Oregon-by-way-of-New York singer-songwriter Casey Neill, his greatest accomplishment is "Brooklyn Bridge". "Brooklyn Bridge" is his new album, an album that took six years to see the light of day and features friends from The Decemberists, as well as Erin McKeown, John Wesley Harding, and Eric "Roscoe" Ambel (from Steve Earle and The Dukes). Produced by legendary Scottish fiddler Johnny Cunningham, the catalyst for the record and the reason Neill was convinced to once again approach songs with electric guitar in mind, "Brooklyn Bridge" showcases the more rock side of Neill, including appearances by members of The Decemberists (Jennie Conlee is a member of Casey Neill's band when she's not on tour with The Decemberists; Chris Funk also played on the record and has been a longtime Casey Neill supporter), among many other friends. It all started in 1995 when Neill self-released his first album, "Riffraff." Delving into the folk world with a rich, raspy voice and world-traveled stories to indulge the audience, "Riffraff" quickly garnered good press and an audience. Landing Neill a deal with Appleseed Recordings. He followed "Riffraff" up with his self-titled, Appleseed debut. Then came 1999's "Skree", also on Appleseed, produced by Cunningham. It was in the studio that Neill and Cunningham formed a friendship and an unbreakable bond, keeping in touch regularly, discussing each other's music and life.
In 2001 Neill released "Portland West", a live record on Appleseed. Following "Portland West", Cunningham convinced Neill to play electric and make a record that encompassed all his influences - from The Pogues, The Clash, and New Model Army to Ted Leo, PJ Harvey, Lungfish, The Gits, Fugazi, and legends Nick Cave and Bruce Springsteen, in addition to his folk and Celtic ones. It was the beginning of "Brooklyn Bridge", a record that, when completed, would move from indie-rock to Celtic, from pop-rock to Americana, and with an earnest, punk mindset that few singer-songwriters can touch - and mean it - when weaving through various genres not only on the same album, but sometimes on the same song.
But, the "Brooklyn Bridge" road would be a long, exhausting, but ultimately rewarding one for Neill. The exhausting and most devastating, and reason for the delay in completing the record, was the untimely death of Neill's friend and producer, Johnny Cunningham, who died of a heart attack on December 15, 2003. "We had 12 finished songs in 2003 and we had begun to shop it. I had moved to back Brooklyn from Portland, Oregon. Johnny and I put a band together in the city to perform the material. We played a residency at the Living Room in October of that year," recalls Neill, discussing the completion of "Brooklyn Bridge" before Cunningham's death. "Johnny passed away suddenly that December and it was devastating. Two nights before he died, we sat in our local pub, the 11th Street Bar, and he gave me a talking to about life and music and his faith in this record. It was almost like he knew he was on his way out. I recorded a few more songs and edited the project since, always trying to imagine what his calls would be."
While shopping "Brooklyn Bridge", Neill decided to release "Live on 11th Street" as a homage to Cunningham, named for their watering hole of choice in New York's Lower East Side, and the last live show Cunningham would ever play. Still shopping "Brooklyn Bridge", Amy Ray came along and asked to release a record for Neill, cumulating in 2005's "Memory Against Forgetting" (Daemon/AK Press), which was a collection of demos, b-sides, and outtakes. With two live albums and a compilation under his belt, and "Brooklyn Bridge" waiting to be released, Neill decided to go into the studio and cut two more tracks, the rocking "We Are The City" and the melodic, hook-laden "The Holy Land" with his friends Conlee and Funk from The Decemberists. Adding these two songs to "Brooklyn Bridge", Neill thought about Cunningham and what he would think. He finally felt "Brooklyn Bridge" was complete. "My family lived at the South Street Seaport since the late 80s, in the shadow of the bridge. The scenes in The Holy Land took place right there, too. There are a lot of songs about New York and my time there. The bridge is such an iconic image of the city it just seemed to be the centerpiece. For all the New York songs, this project was shaped and influenced by Portland and its thriving music scene. It is also a town defined by its bridges," explains Neill on the title of the album and why he felt it was so fitting for the album and the journey the album took.
Fed up with shopping the album to big labels (at one point he was on
the verge of signing with one), Neill passed a copy on to In Music We
Trust Records, a Portland-based label that had released records for his
friends, and the two instantly struck up a deal. "When I first started
talking to In Music We Trust and they agreed to do this record, it just
felt right to be working with a Northwest indie label, and one that had
been successful with artists I know and admire. Why didn't this happen
years ago?" Neill will say without hesitation. Finally, six years
after the record began, it had a home and was going to get released. From
the title track, which opens the album, "a love song for a girl and
for the city", as Neill puts it, to the rocking "We Are The
City" ("another New York City anthem inspired by the underground
community on the Lower East Side in the 90s"). Through the Celtic-infused
folk-rock of "The Holy Land", a song that takes place in 19th
century New York and tells the story of a John and a prostitute dancing
in Water Street outside of Kit Burns' Sportsman's Hall, a notorious venue
where rat fights took place, Neill has a knack for storytelling and engaging
his audience, all while giving them something to emerge themselves into
and forget their worries for awhile. "Next door to Sportsman's Hall
was a brothel run by John Allen where hymns were sung in the main room.
Both Burns and Allen were hated by the moral and religious establishment
of the day," explains Neill about the song. One song Neill likes
to talk about is "Watch For Me", a bleak break-up song, but
one where the melody doesn't get lost or forgotten in the bleakness. Something
that worried Johnny so, "Johnny instructed me to party 'til dawn
the night before the sessions so I'd sound like hell, like Mark Lanegan,
because we were concerned it was going to be too pretty".
Summer 2003, Self-Portrait by Johnny Cunningham, after attending the Coney Island Neptune Parade
Neill also wrote "King Neptune" after Cunningham's passing and added it to the album. "I wrote the song for Johnny and recorded it with his brother Phil playing piano and accordion. I wrote it for a tribute show we did for him at Town Hall in New York," Neill explains. "The summer before he died he went to the Coney Island Mermaid Parade dressed as King Neptune." It was a long road to see "Brooklyn Bridge" through, but one that helped shape and give the record its sound. Neill is happy to finally pay homage to Cunningham once again, putting out the record he believed in so much to the world and allowing them to hear it. With "Brooklyn Bridge" soon to be released, Neill and his band are gearing up to tour in support of the record and will tour both in the summer and the fall.
To purchase "Brooklyn Bridge," click here.
Watercolor by Lenny on 11th, © '05-'06
"Fire Island" Watercolor by Johnny Cunningham, 2003
In Memory of Friends
Micheal O'Domhnaill: October 7, 1951 - July 8, 2006
Good friend and Partner in crime, Relativity and Nightnoise
Gordon Duncan, Scottish Master on the Bagpipes
...from Lament for James, Earl of Glencairn, by poet Robert Burns
'I am a bending aged tree, That long has stood the wind and rain; But now has come a cruel blast, And my last hold of earth is gane; Nae leaf o'mine shall greet the spring, Nae simmer sun exalt my bloom; But I maun lie before the storm, And ithers plant them in my room.'
Songs for New York, Mabou Mines
Mabou Mines' Songs for New York production is in the works, to be performed in 2007. For more information, visit www.maboumines.org.
Johnny delivered this toast for the 30th Anniversary celebration of Mabou Mines, in 2001:
Here's to Creativity, and to Sacrifice. Here's to support and forward thinking. Here's to truth in the midst of falseness, and exploration in the face of the obvious. Here's to belief and trust in the process. Here's to strength under duress. Here's to those that give. Here's to those who use the gift. Here's to all who benefit from it, and here's to Mabou Mines. Happy 30th and many more. ~ JC
Dougie MacLean, Album Release
Dougie's new album Inside the Thunder, includes the second song on the record "Song for Johnny," written in memory of a friend.
This verse in the song tells of their friendship, and highlights the album's name:
It seems we never learned to play it slow; We just danced inside the thunder.
Bill Morrissey, Album Release
Bill's new album I Ain't Walking includes the song "Johnny's Tune", featuring Cormoc McCarthy on harmonica and Bill Morrissey on guitar and vocals.
Bill wrote about Johnny on his way into the studio to record this album, October 10, 2005:
I'm going back into the studio in a day or two to work on my eleventh record and it just doesn't seem right for Johnny not to be there. There's just a big hole in my heart. I'm recording with Billy Conway, Kent Allyn, Cormac McCarthy and a few others, all of whom were good friends with Johnny here in New England. His presence is always there with us and his name comes up quite often. And Johnny stories abound as you can well imagine.
I first recorded with Johnny fifteen years ago and we somehow managed to slog our way through Europe and the US several times. If ever I had a musical soulmate, it was Johnny. When we were both living in Boston, I'd write a new song, thinking it was self-contained and didn't really need any back-up, call him up, he'd come over and by the second verse he had a fiddle line that became so integral to the song it just seemed ridiculous to play it alone.
I could go on and on.... I miss him so much - his playing, his company, his wit, his perspective.
Love to all of you."
"In the early '80s, along with producer Darleen Wilson and the late Scottish fiddler Johnny Cunningham, Morrissey designed a template for recording lyric-driven modern folk music that was so widely imitated better-known songwriters often got the credit for inventing it. One simple instrumental statement is used, but so intelligently the results feel much more fat and embellishing than they really are. Cunningham's repeating fiddle lines on "Inside" and "Handsome Molly" are each so carefully considered they feel not only like organic pieces of the melody, but of the lyric." ~ Scott Alarik, February 2004
The Klezmatics' Wonder Wheel is Grammy Nominated
The Klezmatics' new album Wonder Wheel, released on July 25th, recently received a Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary World Music Album for 2006.
Lisa Gutkin, fiddler player, shared some words about her new album and the song dedicated to Johnny called "Gonna Get Through This World" (lyrics by Woody Guthrie 1945, music by Lisa Gutkin 2003).
"I wrote the song just right around the time of Johnny's death. We performed it the week after at the 92nd Street YMCA. I feel that the song helped me and a lot of other people get through Johnny's death."
Visit The Klezmatics' website: www.klezmatics.com
Celtic Crossings, WMUA 91.1 fm, Amherst, MA
December 8th, the radio show Celtic Crossings out of Amherst, Massachusetts, remembering the life of Johnny Cunningham. Sharing the vast influence that Johnny had on music and so many musicians, WMUA celebrates his life and remembers all of our passed loved ones who we pray are listening to Johnny in that place they share.
Please visit www.wmua.org for more information about Celtic Crossings.
Book Release and Exhibit: Stephanie Ledkin, Photographer
Stephanie Ledkin's new book From Every Stage: Images in America's Roots Music, was released and exhibited on September 9 at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. The From Every Stage exhibit, like the book, takes music fans on an insider's tour of life on the boards, backstage and beyond the footlights. Images featured include bluegrass legends John Hartford and Roy Huskey Jr, as well as Johnny Cunningham, Snuffy Jenkins, Roy Acuff, and Doc Watson, among others.
The Dancing Dogs
The new album, Patience, is dedicated to the memory of good friend Johnny Cunningham and their friends Lucien & Dorothy Beauregard. Tom Short, Joseph Rapoza, Matt Ryckebusch, Jim Robitaille, Jimi Beauregard, and John Nieman, recorded the new album in Providence, RI, in 2002. The Dancing Dogs website: http://www.whalingcitysound.com/
Tom Short's "Johnny Stories"
"This guy plays violin."
That was how I was introduced to Johnny Cunningham. My band Pumpkin Head Ted was playing in a little dive in New Bedford, MA, and Johnny was at the bar. Of course, everyone is treated with suspicion in New Bedford...if you are any good, why are you here? I asked if Johnny would sit in with the band, he borrowed a violin and blew us all away!
Over the next few years, Johnny became a good friend. He was a prolific reader to say the least, and he devoured books like he played the violin - very fast. I was delighted if I could lay some great book on him that he hadn't heard of, but that didn't happen much. We would also share drinks, cigarettes, and conversations.
Pumpkin Head Ted had some great nights playing with Johnny, but the Apple Peach Festival, an outdoor harvest celebration in Acushnet, MA, was the best. On stage, we were about to start the third tune when the power went out. The pie baking ovens had blown the main breaker! We decided to play acoustically, and Johnny said, "Let's get down off the stage so they can hear us." We jumped down into the audience, got into a circle, and had a great jam right among the folks.
Johnny played and recorded with The Dancing Dogs, the first time was at an outdoor benefit concert in Fairhaven, MA. He also helped the production of our second CD "Cynanthropy," and played a great solo on a tune of mine called "Truth in Exile." He felt that a tune by our trumpet player, Joe Rapoza, needed another rhythm part, so he layed down a track on a martini glass - it was perfect!
New Bedford misses Johnny Cunningham very much. We think about him and speak of him often, and are so thankful he came into our lives. I miss his humor and breadth of knowledge more than anything.
Kristina has a new album released, titled In the Earth's Fading Light. The song "Like a Thief" was written in memory of Johnny Cunningham. Visit her website: http://www.kristinastykos.com/
Verse from "Like a Thief" And like a chill expecting love; You could always make one shed a tear; You'd catch the hardest heart like a thistle down; Then spread your wings and disappear.
"Well, it's about Johnny. I couldn't let his death go by without at least trying to get the last word." ~ Kristina
July 3, 2005, 8pm
The 2005 Summerfest Celtic Extravaganza took place at the Custom House Square Stage in New Bedford, MA. John Whelan, Hanneke Cassel, the Jennifer Roland Band, Kevin Burke, Genticorum, Jeremy Kittel, Gina LeFaux, and Lisa Moscatiello took the stage.
The Celtic Fiddle Festival
The Celtic Fiddle Festival's new album "Play On..." includes the song "Leaving Brittany", composed by Johnny Cunningham. Johnny wrote a passage in loving tribute to his friends Danny Kyle and George Jackson, which the Celtic Fiddle Festival included in their new album.
Play on, Johnny
Solas© Henry Diltz
Solas performed at Satalla (37 West 26th Street NYC) on March 16th, 2005. After two standing ovations, Seamus Egan and Winnie Horan played their encore performance for Johnny: two tunes from their first album, the classic "Solas".
Their latest CD "Waiting for an Echo" is dedicated to our friend and producer Johnny Cunningham whose spirit will live on forever.
In addition to producing both of Solas' albums, Johnny worked with Seamus on the musical "Dancing on Dangerous Ground".