By James Reddiough
Larry Cunningham was a country legend who enjoyed chart success in the 1960s and right into the early 1980s in the field of country and Irish music. His first success was in the UK charts with A Tribute to Jim Reeves in December 1964. At this time, he was the lead singer with the Cavan showband, The Mighty Avons. Larry came from Mullinalachta near Granard in North Longford, where he was born on the 13 February 1938. He played Gaelic football as a young man and he was a carpenter by trade.
He first played with the Grafton Showband from Gowna in 1958 before joining the Mighty Avons in 1960. They played on the same stage as Jim Reeves and The Blue Boys on the 7 June 1963, during Reeves’ tour of Ireland. This was in the Orchid Ballroom, Lifford, Co. Donegal, when, due to a badly tuned and broken piano, Jim Reeves sang a few songs and then left early. Larry, who was Ireland’s answer to Jim Reeves at the time, took to the stage and performed a range of Reeves’ numbers and helped to save the night for the Orchid Management. The rest is history and it launched Larry’s career as a singer of Jim Reeves songs as well as in his own right.
Jim Reeves was killed in a plane crash along with the piano player of the Blue Boys Dean Manuel, on the 31 July 1964. A solicitor from Tubbercurry, Eddie Masterson, penned a tribute to Jim and gave it to Larry and the Avons. They put music to it and recorded it in the Pinewood Studios and it got into the UK charts and into the Top Ten here in Ireland. The hits followed after this and Lovely Leitrim went to number one in 1966 and there were others like Among the Wicklow Hills and Slaney Valley, to mention but a few, also the Pretty Little Girl from Omagh and Annaghdown were successful for Larry too. In all he had 25 songs in the Irish charts from 1964 to 1984. His most recent were in 1983 and 1984 with Story of My Life and Galway and You.
He formed a new band in 1969 called The Country Blue Boys and they were a very successful country and Irish band during the early 1970s. When Larry married in 1972 he left the showband circuit and went into recording and the concert business and he also opened a number of businesses. In 1973 he recorded the LP Good Old Country Music in Nashville, and he also recorded an LP, Larry Cunningham Remembers Jim Reeves. He also recorded a successful single with Margo called Hello Mr. Peters, a song that was a success in the US for Roy Druskey and Priscilla Mitchel during the 1960s.
Larry also performed and recorded with fellow Longford artiste Mary O’Connor in the early 1980s and they were very popular. The name of the act was Larry Cunnigham, Mary O’Connor and the Country Blue Boys and they were very popular on the Mayo Ballroom circuit. Larry won many awards and was a star at the Wembley Festival in the 1980s when he made a comeback as a solo singer. This writer recalls seeing him perform in Scamp’s Nite club Enniscrone around 1984. He loved to sing and he was a very helpful man when this writer was researching and writing a book on the 1963 Jim Reeves tour of Ireland. Larry kindly penned the foreword to the book and he also told me about the night in Donegal when Reeves left the stage.
Larry was popular in Mayo where he sang in the Royal in Castlebar and the Eclipse in Ballyhaunis. He sang at the Claremorris Festival and the opened the Irishtown festival in August 1970 with his new band The Country Blue Boys. He played in the Moyland Ballroom in Ballina also in the same month. As recently as 2001 he performed in Bonniconlon. He also packed out the Broadhaven Ballroom in Belmullet in 1970, such was his popularity with his backing group The Country Blue Boys.
Larry has been gone from us now some ten years but his music lives on and he is played frequently on local radio in particular. He passed away on the 28 September 2012 and his passing was greatly mourned. During his life he made an immense contribution to the field of country music in Ireland and further afield.
May the soul of the Country Gentleman rest in peace.