DECEMBER 15TH, 2010 | JOHNNY'S 7-YEAR ANNIVERSARY

Painter Len Leone Brings Light to Johnny

I’ll always remember how the mood of the room would change when Johnny entered. He didn’t have to do or say anything but it all shifted to up beat and festive. His distinctive Scottish accent would ring out and bring a smile to all in attendance. AHHH… JOHNNY’S HERE. It seems it was only a few days ago we were hoisting a few pints and conjuring up a new project. When dealing with a sudden, tragic loss such as this I tend to embrace it, as I was not willing to let him go so easily. Trisha was kind enough to provide me with photographs as reference for the project soooo… I would meet with Johnny in my studio every night for several months just as we had done at 11th Street. This went a long way in alleviating the grief. Working on these paintings and drawings helped me to cope there by continuing our visits and extending our camaraderie. The paintings are safely tucked away, just as Johnny is and will remain, fondly, in all of our hearts.


Robert Burns Widow, Jean Armour's Letter Discovered

Johnny's friend and colleague, Nancy Groce, recently found a rare letter written by Jean Armour, Robert Burns wife, in a second hand shop in New York City. Nancy remarks on this serendipitous find, "The letter was looking for me because it knew I'd take it home." It's discovery and passage back to Scotland is chronicled in The Scottish Literary Review.

Nancy's 2010 book release is Lox, Stocks, and Backstage Broadway: Iconic Trades of New York City


Johnny and Phil Cunningham Reunite at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival

Johnny's good friend Nancy Groce was instrumental at getting the two brothers to perform together at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival.


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In Memory: T Bone Wolk (1951-2010)

A friend of Johnny's and Bass guitarist for Hall & Oates. Daryl Hall says, "T Bone was one of the most sensitive and good human beings that I have ever known."

Nick Lowe, Darly Hall and T Bone Wolk 'I live on the Battlefield"
www.youtube.com/watch?v=8IvVtYtL5S4&feature=related

In Memory: Andrew Grene (1965-2010)

Andrew and his twin brother Gregory were both fans and friends of Johnny's. Johnny produced Dreaming in Hells' Kitchen for Gregory's band The Prodigals in 2001. Andrew, a national of Ireland and the United States, was working for the United Nations Peacekeeping Mission in Haiti when the earthquake hit this year. Gregory describes his brother, "He believed passionately in the Haitian people. He believed in giving every person in the world a fair shot and he gave his life for that."

Foreign Minister of Ireland, Micheal Martin, says, 'Andrew is a part of a long and honorable Irish tradition of public service with the United Nations. His family and indeed Ireland, can be very proud of his work. There is a foundation in his honor; AndrewGrene.org which will use donations to assist the education and support of the Haitian people.


MEMORIES OF JOHNNY

I wish I could have personally thanked and congratulated Johnny for his song "Mona Lisa Lost Her Smile" sung by David Allan Coe. I find this to be the most profound and intelligent set of lyrics I have ever read and heard - pure genius! I can not help but cry when I read or hear those words. Thank you Johnny! I wish I could have met you. I have been inspired to listen to your other tunes. Sincerely, Gerry McDaniel.

Johnny my Mucker: I first met Johnny in Limerks Pub in downtown Boston 1985-86. My mate Liam Tiernan introduced me to him. I was in awe because I knew his work and talent was of the highest standard. When we got talking, I knew I had found a new friend and a smashing spud!! His humour was out of this world. All we did was laugh. We played sessions inLlimericks for awhile, spending long nights playing music we loved and laughing. I always believed Johnny was a rock and roll fiddler, so one day we were at the tall ships in Charlestown, MA. I introduced him to some rocker friends of mine (The Red Rockers), Jimmy Reilly from Belfast, who at one time drummed with Stiff Little Fingers, Daren and Tye from New Orleans. Jimmy asked me who was the cool rocker dude in the snake skin boots that I was drinking whiskey with. I told him that he was the best, most progressive fiddle player I had ever heard. Within minutes Jimmy was biting Johnny's ear off to form The Raindogs. Not long after this, I was involved in a serious car crash in Vermont. I was lucky to survive and had to move back to Ireland to start the long recovery. I didn't know of Johnny's passing and was quite shocked to find out through the Internet. All I can say is that he was one of a kind, unique and brilliant human being. I thank God that I had the chance to get to know him and enjoy his company. God bless you, Johnny, until we meet again. Sean Sands - Belfast

My One Time Meeting with Johnny: Back in 87-92 I waited tables in a Scottish Pub in Columbus Ohio, when Johnny came in and sat at one of my tables. He and I just hit it off and he ended up just hanging out talking most of the night. I drove him back to where he was staying and he invited me to come check out the band he was in, The Raindogs, the next night. I went and was hooked on their music. Couldnt stop listening to it. I bought copies of both albums for many many friends. Fast forward to today I was sitting with my son (4 years old) watching music on Youtube when he said what music do you like Daddy, I said well let me show you and I looked up the Raindogs and was happy to find some old footage of them. I googled them and found out that Johnny had died in 2003. I only met him that one time but he left an impression on me, in more ways than one. He was a nice guy, funny and talented. He also changed how I listened to music and the types of music I liked! My heart goes out to his friends and family who really knew him. After watching some videos and explaing to my son that he had died, my son said, "Daddy, I am sorry I can't meet your friend, but I can listen to his music...can we watch it again!"

You Were a Massive Influence: I was a teenager when I first attended a Silly Wizard performance at SDSU in San Diego, California... must have been about 1981. That day changed my life, more than anyone could have known. I was already performing music and would soon explore music production. Watching Johnny and SW at that show (and then every other show I could attend) and meeting them all at a friend's house where the band was put up, inspired me to weave similar musical passages and moods into my own work. I may not have become as successful a musician had Johnny's passion not opened my heart that little bit more. I recall one show where Johnny and Phil were performing one of their legendary duets... as Phil was half way through a lengthy tin whistle solo, he paused to breathe, feigning that he has not taken a breath until then. That was a good minute or two into his solo. Everyone laughed. As Johnny then commenced his solo "response", he then also paused and feigned a breath a minute or so in, as if his solo thus far was also done in one breath. It was so ridiculous and hysterical!!! I will never forget it... never forget you, Johnny. Hope to hear you again in that Land O' the Leal someday! With love from that long-haired teenager sitting on the floor in front of the first row, Matthew Lien.

Remembering Johnny yesterday on the anniversary of his leaving this life and going on to the next one. He has and always be the dominant influence on my music, setting the bar for beauty and ferociousness. Miss him and yet feel him around often when the music hits that certain "note".

I remember so vividly the first time I saw Johnny Cunningham's "Soul of Christmas" on PBS. What a beautiful presentation! My family and I still have the video and CD. Thank you, Johnny.

I'd love to play the fiddle like he did, and I keep trying. With love, Wim VH - Belgium.

Johnny I think of you often and the good times we would have at Flann O'Brien's on a Monday. I would be behind the bar and it would be as though I wasn't even working ...you would have me laughing so hard. Then Kevin Armitage would come in...then the Rush brothers. Thank you for the joy you still bring to me when I think of those days. I take great comfort in knowing that our dear friend Kevin in his passing will be holding court with you again...may you both rest in peace ...play great music and share in the spirits...love you, Colleen

Silly Wizard. The very best folkgroup ever!!!!! Thank you, Sven Hopfner.


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Mabou Mines Performs Peter & Wendy at The New Victory Theater

Peter and Wendy returns to The New Victory Theater from May 6-22, 2011

Read more about Peter and Wendy

Click here for The New Victory Theater


DECEMBER 15TH, 2009 | JOHNNY'S 6-YEAR ANNIVERSARY

Professional Photographer Nakki Goranin Remembers Johnny

"Meeting John for the first time was the same as a reunion with an old dear friend. Johnny was one of those rare creatures that you experienced immediate intimacy with. He was and is a very dear friend. When Johnny saw these photos, which I took in 1986, he was living outside of Boston. His reaction to the prints was one that every photographer dreams of. He told me that I had captured the way he felt inside and photographed him the way he saw himself. For me and others, he is still very much here."

Nakki is the author of AMERICAN PHOTOBOOTH. She has also just completed a book for Norton on Tintypes, and is included in a traveling show American Masterpieces with the National Endowment of the Arts. Nakki still works with film and chemistry, and her work and reviews of her work have appeared in the New Yorker, Smithsonian, Geo, Focus, Black and White, People Magazine, the New York Times, and the Toronto Star. Her self-portraits are part of the International Center for Photography (ICP) permanent collection. Nakki lives in Burlington, Vermont and is working on her next photo book, as well as a book of self-portraits. Contact Nakki

All Photos © Nakki Goranin 2009. Note: The Raindogs band photo was taken later on, when the band played in Burlington, Vermont.


Peter and Wendy by Mabou Mines performed in Edinburgh, Scotland for the first time in 2009

Lee Breuer, Director of Peter and Wendy

“Johnny was a huge influence on this show. He brought a tough, dry Scottish sensibility to Peter and Wendy and he had such a gentle sense of humour, a sweetness. I even got to write a song with him – the final song, 2 is the Beginning of the End, which was an enormous privilege,” says Breuer. As Breuer pauses to gather his emotions, Lorwin interjects: “Look, Johnny was, indeed, still is, the beating heart of Peter and Wendy. I too got to write a song with him – the Wendy House Song."

Whenever he listens to Cunningham’s music, Breuer says, he weeps: “His music tells you what to feel and how to feel. We had all these plans to work on other things together ... We were devastated by Johnny’s death, so bringing it to Scotland is very emotive for us – it’s his memorial, a tribute in the memory of a remarkable man who died much too soon. It was Johnny’s dream for this show to be performed in Scotland. It’s just too bad he won’t be with us – but I guess he will be through the magic of his music.”

The Guardian: Peter and Wendy
The Scotsman: Theatre Review Peter and Wendy
The Scotsman: Johnny Cunningham's Music for Lee Breuer's New Take on Peter Pan Was the Start of a Tragic Celtic Love Story


MEMORIES OF JOHNNY

BRIAN O'NEILL:

What can I say about Johnny Cunningham? I first met Johnny in Boston when I auditioned as a keyboard player for “The Raindogs”. Jim Riley, formally of Stiff Little Fingers got me the audition. Johnny and I hit it off right away, and within minutes I realized that he was a musical genius. I got the gig and had three rehearsals – the first show was at Boston Garden. We were then in New York to do some gigs with Bob Dylan when the band got the news that their record company was dropping them.

I soon got a call from Johnny asking me to play piano on an album he was producing, in Boston for Robbie O’Connell. I spent a week recording and stayed at Johnny’s house. Johnny was a brilliant producer. He had a great ear and knew exactly what the record should sound like. I returned to New York and not long after that Johnny called me again.

He asked me to work with him on a theatre project in New York as his assistant. The project was ‘Peter And Wendy’ a work in progress, performed with live musicians, a narrator and puppets. I was very interested in the piece as I had composed music for a few plays at the Irish Arts Centre. Johnny arrived in New York and was living at the infamous Chelsea hotel. We were rehearsing at St. Ann’s Church in Brooklyn. The first day at St Ann’s it was just Johnny and I in a little room with my keyboard and his fiddle. He had the score already in his head. It just flowed out of his fiddle, so perfectly.

Every evening we would drive back to Manhattan and meet up with everyone involved with the show. There is a Spanish restaurant at the Chelsea that Johnny loved. We would arrive there with 10 to 15 people every night, drink sangria and eat tapas. One morning I was picking him up and went up to his room. I sat on his bed and a mouse ran across the floor. I screamed and shouted “Johnny, there’s a rat in your room!”. He started to laugh said, “Brian, that’s my wee mate.” “John, I will meet you in the lobby,” I said.  The next few nights at the restaurant I noticed Johnny was asking the waiter for the bread to take home. I asked him what’s with all the bread Johnny. He whispered, “ It’s for my wee friend.” I will never forget that night. We had so many laughs with Karen Kandel and the whole gang from the show.

I have so many fun memories of Johnny, especially hearing him perform. He looked so at home when he was on stage, very natural. I always said to him that he was the wizard in silly.

Never will forget you, Johnny,


In Dec. 2008 ‘Soul Cake’ is given a partial read at the 11th Street Bar as part of a memorial service for Johnny Cunningham, who’s music and life inspired the play.

In Dec. 2008 ‘Soul Cake’ is given a partial read at the 11th Street Bar as part of a memorial service for Johnny Cunningham, who’s music and life inspired the play.

DAN MORAN: In July 2009 ‘Soul Cake’ was part of a five day reading workshop by New York Stage & Film, held at the POWERHOUSE Theater on the Vassar campus. The cast included: Peter Gerety, Chris McCann, Jay Patterson, Michel Lewis and Brian Dykstra. Other writers involved: John Patrick Shanley, Beth Henley, Regina Taylor, Andrew Dolan.

ROB HAYES, AMHERST, MA: In the early 80's I was in my early 20's and saw Johnny at the Iron Horse in Northampton, Massachusetts.  He was playing that very cool fiddle of his with the head carved in the scroll.  I had recently become obsessed with fiddle playing myself, and at the end of the concert I struck up a conversation with him.  "Ah, do you play?" he asked me, and without a moments hesitation thrust his fiddle toward me.  I felt like the fiddle was still glowing with his energy when I tried it.  What a treat.  I'd swear my playing got a tiny bit better just on that wave of inspiration alone. Though he's been gone more than 5 years already, I think of him, that cool moment, and his music often.  Way too soon to go.

RYAN LEAF: I was saddened to hear of this great loss.  When I first got my driver's license in high school, I was excited to see that Nightnoise was performing in a little place in Sandpoint, Idaho (about 2 1/2 hours away).  I dragged my best friend whom mainly listened to the typical rock and roll angst music of our youth, but he and myself were held captive by Johnny's playing.  I got to talk to Johnny outside about a piece he wrote (my favorite at the time) and he had such a great sense of humor.  In his accent he said "I wrote that in Madrid one morning.  The sun was coming up, but I was going down."


Jerry Holland and Johnny Cunningham. Photo by Jack Rowell

Jerry Holland and Johnny Cunningham. Photo by Jack Rowell

Tribute to a Friend

From Jerry Holland's website: Jerry Holland, Cape Breton fiddler and composer extraordinaire, passed away peacefully on Thursday, July 16, 2009 at the Northside General Hospital, in North Sydney, Nova Scotia. He was 54. From a very young age Jerry established his name as a world-class Celtic musician – and eventually his compositions found their way into the repertoire of players of all traditions. Jerry was also widely thought of as a generous and continuous inspiration to his vast network of students and friends – at home and all around the world.

Jerry wrote a beautiful melody for his son, LONESOME EYES. It was posted, June 8, 2007 on YouTube Jerry Holland Update Part 2


DECEMBER 15TH, 2008 | JOHNNY'S 5-YEAR ANNIVERSARY

Graffiti NYC

Graffiti NYC

Johnny's handwritten note of a favorite quote

Johnny's handwritten note of a favorite quote


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11th Street Bar Reading of a Play written by Dan Moran

Johnny Cunningham was a friend of mine for far too brief a time. I've written a play that features Johnny, his music, and his friends. Johnny joined our circle at the 11th St. Bar for only the last year of his life. The play takes place on the day he died and in a place he loved. This is not a docudrama of Johnny's last hours. Instead it is a celebration of Johnny's spirit, his music, and the good times we had.

Lead in to the story:
"The date is December 15th, 2003.
The place is the 11th St. Bar, located in Manhattan's Lower East Side.
Two years have passed since the Twin Towers came a'tumblin' down.
The good feelings of community immediately following that terrible tragedy have cooled.
Developers are eating up every squat of vacant lot in the neighborhood.
Including the rat infested 11th Street Bar that many a local calls home.
The owner is selling and somebody's buying, but who?"

The play will be read at the 11th Street Bar on December 15th, 2008 @ 6pm, in memory of Johnny's Fifth Anniversary. It is free to the public and we hope to keep it informal. Johnny would have wanted it that way.

P.S. from Dan: In my life I have been fortunate in friends and family. I have loved and been loved by some truly extraordinary people. Johnny Cunningham was one of those extraordinary people. Not because of who he was, but because of who he wasn't. Johnny wasn't a braggart, or a phony, a name dropper, an egoist, or a self-serving bastard. And yet he had every right to be. His talent was enormous.


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The Sligo Indians: Tony DeMarco's first solo album after playing for 30 years

New York's Irish Fiddler for the 11th Street Sunday Sessions

"I knew Johnny since we were both about twenty years old. The first time we met, he was out on the street in front of Kenny's Castaways on Bleecker playing fiddle. We both had that long hair, hippie look and we were both fit as a fiddle. That was over 30 years ago. We made friends and it lasted all those many years. I played a number of Sessions in town and whenever Johnny was in the city he come by and play a few tunes with me. During his last year with us, Johnny broke his wrist and part of his wrist rehab was showing up at Sessions I was running at that time; Swifts, Paddy Reillys, 11th Street. I would always give him my fiddle, and he'd start by a playing a tune or two, slowly nursing himself back to fiddling. Eventually he'd be holding onto my fiddle for a half hour - hour, playing like there was no tomorrow. Johnny was larger than life. In his music and his persona. He lit up the room, he lit up the bar, he lit up the sessions whenever he came by. He loved to be around the music. And the People." - Tony DeMarco


NEW ALBUM BY KEVIN BURKE

Kevin includes on his latest album the instrumental, 'For Johnny' composed by Phil Cunningham


JOHNNY & LA MUSGANA ON YOUTUBE

La Musgaña - Manuel Luna - Johnny Cunningham, at the Centro Cultural de la Villa. Madrid. Abril 1997. "Carrito de siete estrellas"

La Musgaña y Johnny Cunningham. Grabación en el Centro Cultural de la Villa de Madrid. Abril 1997.


DECEMBER 15TH, 2007 | JOHNNY'S 4-YEAR ANNIVERSARY HONORED BY BARRY CRIMMINS

The More Jagged Path

I can't believe Johnny Cunningham's been gone for four years. At times it seems like he got up and excused himself just a moment ago and presently he'll burst back in with some amazing story about what he ran into while he was away. At other times it seems like it's been forever since the saintly sinner walked among us. Either way, alas.

Johnny was an infectiously incorrigible slave to his art. True to his virtuoso soul, he was always working and playing. It seems impossible that someone could get that much of each into a mere 46 years. Johnny did it by burning the candle at both ends with a fire that sparked his great music and sparkled in his eyes.

When we met, I'd known of the great Johnny Cunningham for years. I'd caught Raindogs gigging around Boston and had seen Johnny perform with other acts, as well. I was an unabashed fan. I was pleased and charmed to learn that Johnny had seen me perform here and there. As was his way, he lavished generous praise upon me concerning my work as a political satirist. I resisted the compliments, allowing that Johnny had a world-class sense of humor but he could also do something. Musically speaking, I was tone deaf. Johnny said, "Aye, Barry but ya don't understand, that's what recommends ya! There's no fear ya'll ever know any better!"

We had a good laugh and if I recall correctly, several beers. Before the second round, we were friends. Before the evening ended we were good friends. I had joined a club with several thousand members. The good friends of Johnny Cunningham.

After that we regularly ran into each other on Monday afternoons in Harvard Square. We looked at Monday as our weekend. In those days we were both performing at least five or six nights a week, with plenty of travel mixed in. Motivated by a strong sense of justice and powerful thirsts, we felt we had a right to at least one day off. Still, during 'normal' business hours on Mondays there were loose ends to tie up concerning scheduling, travel, upcoming projects and so on. So it would be late afternoon or early evening before our unplanned but nonetheless frequent get-togethers commenced.

We didn't talk much about show business, except to speak of our mutual friends in the racket. Friends were never forgotten when Johnny was around. Mostly we interacted with the other patrons, trying to get them to behave as if Saturday fell on Monday for them, too. As the evening wore on, we'd move from tavern to tavern, often with a growing entourage of revelers who had no idea their pied piper was actually a legendary Scottish fiddler, who was also a composer and producer and friend and mentor to a Who's Who of music.

One night Johnny and I decided we were going to get a regular patron of one joint to loosen up a bit. Our target was a classic trust-fund tragedy who came in and slowly sipped martinis while doing the Times crossword puzzle. We never had gotten more than a grunt out of the fellow. Johnny said, "Just to look at him is to know that privilege has kept from him the opportunities you and I have met along the more jagged path life's presented us."

Within a half an hour Johnny had the scion of a bitch dancing! Johnny wasn't dancing. I wasn't dancing but the sourpuss was. He wasn't dancing well, mind you, but he was dancing just the same and having a great time. Before the night was over, Johnny was wearing the rich man's tie as a headband and our new friend was lunging for the tab. A certain fiddler had explained to the Brahmin that money isn't properly appreciated until it's gone.

Johnny Cunningham left me with something to remember him by -- my own name. He asked me my heritage and I said I was Irish-American. He replied, "It's pitiful that ya don't even know where you're from."

Then he explained to me that the 'Crimmins' family in Ireland was first a Scottish clan known as the 'MacCrimmons'. He told me about my people, something my own people had never done. According to Johnny, my ancestors were the maniacs who led the charge into battle, playing bagpipes until the enemy was engaged, at which point they became a vicious hand-to-hand assault force. He said, "That's right, Bar, your lads walked point with bagpipes. And off the battlefield, no one messed with them. To this day, any MacCrimmon is given a wide berth in Scotland."

I expressed some skepticism but Johnny would have none of it. "You think ya haven't even a wee bit of that blood in your veins? For fook's sake, have you thought about what it is ya do for a living? Ya tell Americans they aren't God's gift to the world and you've done it for years and ya aren't dead yet! Just wait - one of these days I'll Introduce you to friends from Scotland and when I tell them your name, you watch them step back and make way."

Months later Johnny and I were working a benefit somewhere and he had a gaggle of Scot musicians accompanying him. I poked my head into his dressing room to say hello. "Oh, you're here, Bar! Brilliant! I want to introduce you to some lads from back home."And then he winked at me and grinned wildly and said, "Boys, I want ya ta meet my friend, Barry CRIMMINS!"

As if on cue they all jumped backwards. Between chortles Johnny said, "Ya needn't worry, he's gentle unless ya cross him."

I know he set the whole thing up - at least I'm pretty sure. And I never checked out the 'MacCrimmons walking point with bagpipes' deal because if Johnny took the time to contrive that tale, I wasn't about to let facts stand in its way. What I know for sure is that Johnny Cunningham wanted me to have what he had and that was a deep and abiding connection with the world and many people. Even if I hadn't a wee dram of Scottish blood in me veins, Johnny not only welcomed me to his clan but he brought me into it in a place of honor. He did it with wit, generosity and humor. He did it with flair and a melodic grace. He did it as if he knew he would leave too many of us, too soon, with nothing but lovely memories of a saintly sinner.

- Barry Crimmins


New Bedford, Johnny's home for many years

New Bedford, Johnny's home for many years

The Neediest Family Fund of New Bedford

Sponsored by the local Standard Times newspaper, the Neediest Family Fund of New Bedford helps townspeople during this holiday season. A Christmas donation was made "with love and memory of Johnny Cunningham" by Holly, Arielle, and Ron.

To learn more about the Neediest Family Fund of New Bedford, visit their website.


Scottish Tradition: Johnny Cunningham on YouTube

The Cunningham Brothers on Box and Fiddle. Two of Scotland's finest musicians of recent times. Strathspey and Reels

The Cunningham Brothers again. Phil on mandolin, whistle and accordion with Johnny showing his talent on the fiddle.


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FRIDAY, AUGUST 31st, 2007 | MABOU MINES 'SONG OF NEW YORK' OPENING NIGHT

Read today's NEW YORK TIMES feature article about Mabou Mines' unique traveling performance 'SONG FOR NEW YORK: What Women Do While Men Sit Knitting'

Dear Friends, New Yorkers and Fellow Artists:

We at Mabou Mines are excited to invite you to see our most joyful and unusual production to date. SONG FOR NEW YORK: What Women Do While Men Sit Knitting is a musical celebration of the city that will be performed FREE to public audiences on the waterfront of Gantry Plaza State Park in Long Island City, Queens.

Friday, August 31st
Tuesday, September 4th
Thursday, September 6th
Friday, September 7th
Sunday, September 9th
Rain date: Wednesday, September 5th

Seating for the performance and access to the audience photo booth will begin at 6:45 pm each night. All performances begin at 8:00 pm. We hope to see you at Gantry Plaza State Park.


(Why I Blame Johnny for) MY CAREER AS A DRAMATURGE

by Nancy Groce

It was fall 2003 and I had just finished working on the massive “Scotland at the Smithsonian” program for the 2003 Smithsonian Folklife Festival. In addition to being an old friend, Johnny had be invaluable as one of the key advisors that helped us shape and present a very successful ten-day celebration of Scottish culture on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. I had escaped for a vacation in northern California and was enjoying a lovely lunch at a local winery when the phone rang. It was Johnny asking if I would be the “dramaturge” for an upcoming Mabou Mines production called “Song for New York.” The show was in its earliest stages, but he excitedly told me, he was going to write the music. And it would involve poets, actors, musicians, a chorus of knitters, and a barge…

Although I’m primarily a folklorist and ethnomusicologist, Johnny knew that I also had a long-standing interest in New York City history and culture and that I had been totally impressed and charmed by “Peter and Wendy.” My initial reaction was to be flattered but to decline. “I have no theater experience,” I told him, “I’m really busy, I don’t have the foggiest idea what a dramaturge does, and I barely know how to spell it.” “Well, think about it,” he said. And so I did. And after dismissing the idea entirely, I started to think it might actually be great fun to work with Johnny on a project as well as with a distinguished theater company like Mabou Mines. The next day, I rang him back. “OK,” I said, “I’ll do it if you can explain what a dramaturge actually does and walk me through everything else.” He swore he would. About a month later in early December, he came through Washington on tour and after his Kennedy Center gig we went out for dinner to discuss dramaturging. Unfortunately, we wound up spending the rest of the evening drinking and gossiping about all and sundry. We never did get around to the theater piece, but we agreed we would have a serious discussion when we both got back to New York at Christmas time. Unfortunately, fate intervened.

After Johnny’s death I admitted to Ruth Maleczech and her Mabou Mines colleagues that I had no idea what a dramaturge does and offered to step aside. They were incredibly generous and supportive and wouldn’t hear of it. When my friend Lisa Gutkin was brought on as the composer, there was another reason for me to stay. So while I’m still not sure I know what I’m doing, it has been a rewarding and fascinating journey and I feel fortunate to have been involved in an exciting creative project with such exceptionally talented artists. Nevertheless, I still blame Johnny.


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HELPING JERRY HOLLAND

A good friend of Johnny's, and fellow musician - Jerry Holland, a renowned fiddler of Cape Breton style, has recently been diagnosed with cancer and is asking for your prayers. His friends and loved ones have set up a website for more information and for ways to help him in this time of need: www.jerryhollandfund.org

Jack Rowell, a professional photographer and friend, took these photos of the two Fiddlers. Visit Jack's website to see more of his work. Thanks to all for your support, and best wishes, Jerry.


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PETER & WENDY PERFORMS IN WASHINGTON DC

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. Congratulations!


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".

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.


DECEMBER 15TH, 2006 | JOHNNY'S 3-YEAR ANNIVERSARY

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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

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..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

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Dougie Maclean'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

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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:

"Dear friends,

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 KLESZMATICS' WONDER WHEEL IS GRAMMY NOMINATED

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The Klezmatics' new album Wonder Wheel, released on July 25th, recently received a Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary World Music Album for 2006.

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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


DECEMBER 15TH, 2005 | JOHNNY'S 2-YEAR ANNIVERSARY

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.


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THE DANCING DOGS

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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.


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KRISTINA STYKOS

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


SUMMERFEST

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.


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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

 

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SOLAS

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".

© Henry Diltz

© Henry Diltz

 

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