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.


Click here to visit the News page from past years.


Follow this link to view videos of Johnny performing at the Kennedy Center Millenium Stage:

John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts




...Johnny... This year we imagine you looking down on us, your heart bursting with compassion and the hope that we can come together to spread love and light during this challenging time in history. As with every year that passes, we take this time to celebrate the creativity and song you continue to share with us all!


Image of rocks in Scotland by friend, healer and photographer Paula Lazaroff


The Celtic Fiddle Festival Plays 'Johnny's Set' in Glasgow 2016

Celtic Fiddle Festival is a band comprised of well-known fiddlers including Kevin Burke (Ireland), Christian Lemaitre (Brittany), Charlie McKerron (Scotland) and Nicolas Quemener (Brittany). Christian and Kevin were friends of Johnny's, and in January 2016, they played the Celtic Connections concert in Glasgow.

In their YouTube video, the Celtic Fiddle Festival perform 'Johnny's Set', which includes 'Leaving Brittany' and 'The Pernod Waltz'.


Johnny Cunningham performs at Parody Hall, Kansas City

We recently came across a treasure trove of YouTube videos paying homage to Johnny's many live performances around the world.

This one of Johnny performing at Parody Hall in Kansas City, Kansas, is particularly wonderful and was posted on 12 June 2016. Take a peek... Parody Hall in Kansas City, "Johnny delighting an American audience with his hilarious stories and fast fiddle tunes..."


Silly Wizard's Andy Stewart Passes Away

Silly Wizard rehearsal "back in the day" ........................................................................................... Scottish Glen, © Paula Lazaroff

Andy Stewart, long time collaborator of Johnny's in Silly Wizard, passed away on 27 December 2015, just after we posted our 2015 commemoration for Johnny's anniversary. Andy colorfully described the essence of Johnny in just a few words, but those words cut to the core. Watch Andy perform 'Land O' the Leal' and talk about Johnny

Casey Neill also remembers Andy's deep connection to Johnny, and another of Andy's homages to Johnny: "After the funeral reception in Edinburgh was ending, we had to clear the hotel event room. Everyone was on their way out when Andy Stewart stopped and began to sing. We all stood spellbound as he sang 'Banks of the Lee' a cappella, a song that Silly Wizard often performed. Andy's keening voice captured the sadness of the day and the beauty of Johnny's life in music with his friends and family around."

Read these moving tributes paid to "Silly Wizard Folk Legend" Andy Stewart, from Scotland's Sunday Herald and The Scotsman.


Johnny Cunningham on Fiddle with The Dancing Dogs

Posted on 9 July 2016, this is a great clip of Johnny recorded with the alternative rock band, The Dancing Dogs. The song is called 'Truth in Exile' by The Dancing Dogs, on their album Cynanthropy.

Listen the 'Truth in Exile' here


University of Edinburgh Archives Johnny Cunningham's Tunes

Click on this link courtesy of the University of Edinburgh > Discography to hear eight of Johnny's tunes online!


A Bit of History: the New Bedford Folk Festival's Celtic Extravangaza

Johnny Cunningham was the first host for the New Bedford Folk Festival's Celtic Extravaganza, which he hosted through the summer of 2003.

New Bedford Folk Festival brings together over 70 renowned and emerging performers and 90 plus juried arts and crafts vendors in New Bedford’s authentic historic district in July. In 2015, the 20th year of the New Bedford Folk Festival was celebrated.

If you are interested in joining the 2017 New Bedford Folk Festival, mark 8-9 July 2017 in your calendar and check on their website and Facebook page.


Johnny Kicks off the Thistle and Shamrock Radio Set in May 2016

Standing stones in Scotland, © Paula Lazaroff

On 26 May 2016, Johnny's tune started the set on Thistle and Shamrock Radio, featuring "Hebridean tweed workers’ songs, rowing songs, hiking songs, mouth music – their lyrics take a back seat to their integral rhythms that lighten the work." Take a look at the inspiring set below!

Program 1722: Song Beat (May 26, 2016) Week 21
Celtic Society’s Quickstep/42nd Highlander’s Farewell… by John Cunningham from Fair Warning (Green Linnet)
Sunny… by The Poozies from Changed Days, Same Roots (Compass)
Alasdair Mhic Cholla Ghasda… by Capercaillie from Sidewaulk (Green Linnet)
Miss Campbell of Sheeness/Balindore/Irish Jig… by Capercaillie from Sidewaulk (Green Linnet)
Don’t Forget Your Shovel…by Christy Moore from The Time Has Come (Green Linnet)
Tunnel Tigers… by Sean Keane from Turn a Phrase (Kells)
Mouth Music/ Eddie Curran’s Favourite… by Dolores Keane & John Faulkner from Broken Hearted I’ll Wander (Mulligan)
The Lady’s Dance… by Daimh from The Pirates of Puirt (Goat Island Music)
ID Excerpt: Sitting in the Stern of a Boat… by Alasdair Fraser from Return to Kintail (Culburnie)
Iomramh Eadar Il‘a‘s Uist/The Source of Spey… by Ossian from St. Kilda Wedding (Iona)
Charlie, Oh, Charlie… by Ossian from Borders (Iona)
Arran Boat Song… by Darol Anger with Alasdair Fraser from Diary of a Fiddler (Compass)
Pull Down Below… by Forebitters from Ships May Come…And Ships May Go (Forebitters)
The Waulking of the Fauld… by Ferintosh from Ferintosh (
Puirt… by Catherine-Ann MacPhee from Suil Air Ais (Greentrax)
Long Distance Runner…by The Easy Club from Chance or Design (R2 Records)


In Memorium, Environmental Sculptor Ron Rudnicki

"To the illuminated man or woman, a clod of dirt, a stone and gold are the same"... Bhagavad Gita

Environmental Sculptor Ron Rudnicki, age 60, sadly passed away in late October 2016. Ron was a fan and dear friend of Johnny's, who helped bring his ashes back to Scotland back in 2004. Read Ron's obituary on SouthCoastToday

Ron's sculptures pay homage to architectural ruins, natural stonescapes, meditation, and the elements. Read more on the GardenForeplay website, and see Ron's work in person at the DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park in Lincoln, MA and Jack Lenor Larsen's Longhouse Reserve in East Hampton, NY.


Picturing Johnny in One of the World's Most Beautiful Places

Flickr: oliver_clarke / Creative Commons Flickr: evocateur / Creative Commons

Strathaird Peninsula, Isle of Skye, Scotland. flickr: oliver_clarke / Creative Commons ........... The Fairy Pools, Isle of Skye, Scotland. flickr: evocateur / Creative Commons

A recent BuzzFeed article features the "25 Places in Scotland You Won't Believe Are Real", and we immediately thought of Johnny at the Isle of Skye, dancing along the ridges of the Strathaird Peninsula (home of the ruins of the Iron Age hill fort Dun Ringill) and dipping his toes in the interconnected pools and waterfalls of The Fairy Pools at Glen Brittle.

Sincere thanks to the photographers who generously shared their images as Creative Commons, so that we can share them with you here!





It is hard to imagine that Johnny passed away 12 years ago already... So much has happened in the world since 2003, but we have peace knowing that Johnny is with us every step of the way. Thank you to everyone who continues to hold Johnny and his loved ones in your hearts, and who celebrates his life and music the world over.


Mark CutlerHundreds Gather to Witness Historic Induction Ceremony of the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame

By RUDY CHEEKS, Alahverdian News

"On Sunday, April 26, 2015, the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame (RIMHOF) held its 4th annual induction ceremony and concert at The Met at Hope Artiste Village in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. Earlier in the week, there was a ceremony at Bovi’s Tavern in East Providence for the jazz inductees, consisting of Duke Belaire, Bob Petteruti and George Masso. Both events were sold out shows.

The main induction ceremony and unveiling of the new exhibits at the Hall (conveniently located next to the Met in the main hallway of Hope Artiste Village) was a joyous and eclectic affair featuring performances by a trio of garage bands from the 1960’s – all of whom had records on the charts back then – Brenda Bennett, veteran rhythm section players Marty Ballou and Marty Richards, and local legend Mark Cutler and two of his bands, The Schemers and The Raindogs." * We know Johnny was there in spirit!


The Incomparable Mark Cutler

Then came Mark Cutler and his early bands: The Schemers and The Raindogs. Before beginning his set, Mark, in a reverential style, hung a jacket owned by the late fiddle master Johnny Cunningham on a microphone stand on the stage. Johnny was a member of The Raindogs (as well as the legendary Celtic group, Silly Wizard). Also there were former Raindogs, Jimmy Reilly (Stiff Little Fingers, Red Rockers) and Darren Hill (Red Rockers).

The Schemers, perhaps Rhode Island’s most beloved rock band, still play occasional concerts and have a new record out called The Last Beach. The Schemers and The Raindogs were inducted by Paco Zimmer and Bill Flanagan.


Bill Flanagan Introduces the Crew

Bill Flanagan, 2014 inductee into the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame, and former VP at MTV, introduces Johnny, Jimmy Reilly, and Darren Hill at marker 8:10 of the ceremony.

Congratulations to Mark, Emerson, Darren, Jimmy and Johnny!




The Blue School

This past year, the violin class at the Blue School in downtown New York, NY, had the opportunity to learn 'The Darling Waltz,' composed by Johnny Cunningham. The Blue School is an innovative school that was created by The Blue Man Group.



It's a Raindogs Kind of Year

RaindogsRemembering Lost Souls

By Jimmy Guterman, ROLLING STONE (February 22, 1990)

3.5 Stars!

"Lost Souls is an auspicious debut record from five seasoned players who dig for new nuances in the most established rock & roll forms. The Raindogs, led by songwriter and guitarist Mark Cutler, are a dream of a bar band, able to execute fierce three-chord rockers as well as strong, thoughtful tunes at more deliberate tempos.

The Raindogs' songs are built around Cutler's earnest tales of people in emotional and moral conflict, but the band's secret weapon is fiddler Johnny Cunningham - the member who sets the Raindogs apart from a hundred other good roots-obsessed groups. The Raindogs integrate fiddle into their arrangements with an easy assurance. This extra dimension, with its nods to both the Louisiana bayou and Celtic music, adds firepower to the band's sound and lifts straightforward midtempo rockers like "May Your Heart Keep Beating" and the overtly traditional "Under the Rainbow" to higher ground. For his part, Cunningham always subordinates his lead lines to the songs, and the Raindogs' ensemble playing brings warmth to the edgy pop of "This Is the Place" (with its wryly ambivalent key line, "This is the place I like to call home") as well as to the craft garage blues of "I Believe."

Although the Raindogs open up their sound in a variety of ways, the tough ideas behind the songs aren't at all diffuse. What makes Lost Souls so invigorating is that it reminds you how a good record can explore musical byways and still be firmly grounded in hard, riveting, mainstream rock & roll."





Johnny read Dickens on the radio, along with Robert Anderson and other members, on Christmas Eve years ago... and now his memory lives on in holiday music around the world! Read below to see how he features in Canada, the US and Spain, in 2015...


Record-EagleChamber Concert of Advent, Solstice & Christmas Songs Blend in Manitou Woods, Canada

By Marta Hepler Drahos, Traverse City Record Eagle

MAPLE CITY - Logs crackled in the fireplace and lamplight glowed warmly as members of the chamber ensemble Manitou Winds rehearsed in the living room of their founder.

All that was needed to complete the feeling of winter were fat snowflakes drifting outside the picture window.

It’s an atmosphere the ensemble hopes to recreate Saturday at its "Winter Songs & Carols" concert at Grace Episcopal Church in Traverse City. The program blends songs of Advent, winter solstice and Christmas to set an introspective and reflective tone for the holiday season.

“I wanted to explore the season outside Christmas, but including Christmas — all the moods of winter,” said founder and creative director Jason McKinney, who plays oboe, piano and harp. “There’s a surprising amount of Canadian music, which wasn’t planned, and a lot of Celtic music, which wasn’t intended.”

Favorites include Loreena McKennitt’s “Snow, Sarah McLachlan’s “Wintersong” and Johnny Cunningham’s “King Holly, King Oak.” McKinney’s own “Three Celtic Carols” — composed using folk songs from Brittany, Ireland and Galicia — round out the group.

Also on the program: traditional Christmas carols including “In the Bleak Midwinter,” singer-songwriter Tori Amos’ “Winter” and former Vermont Benedictine monk Gregory Norbet’s “Winter’s Coming Home.”

It’s the first Christmas concert for the chamber ensemble, which formed in 2014. Other members include Sam Clark, piccolo and flutes; Anne Bara, clarinets; Laura Hood, horn and guitar; and Christina Duperron, bassoon.

All are active area musicians who felt something was missing until they got together.

“Chamber music is everybody’s secret (desire),” said Hood, a music teacher at the Leelanau School who frequently performs with area orchestras and bands. “You can hear yourself, you can hear others. It’s a musical conversation. It’s not a conductor telling you what to do.”


Wyoming Valley Art LeagueWyoming Valley Art League Hold ‘A Christmas Carol’ Reading Set to Johnny's Music in the U.S.

By Gene Axton, Times Leader

WILKES-BARRE — When Wyoming Valley Art League members Robert Anderson and Rose M. Wright lived in Massachusetts, Anderson organized Christmas Eve readings of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” that aired live on the radio station at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.

“We did these readings for seven years,” Anderson said. “I thought it was a great idea because ‘A Christmas Carol’ is done by many different groups during the season but we were doing the complete text of it. We weren’t doing an adaptation or an abridgment or anything like that, we were just reading the entire text.”

Anderson felt this would’ve worked great as a benefit, but the event never grew past a holiday gesture from the seven or eight friends who volunteered a sizable chunk of their Christmas Eve night to read for the listening community of U Mass Dartmouth. After spending a large amount of time in West Wyoming with Wright’s mother, the two moved to the area (of which Wright is a native) in 2010. When Anderson and Wright organized their first WVAL event in October 2014, it served as a benefit for Ruth’s Place, the Wilkes-Barre homeless women’s shelter. This inspired him to revisit the “A Christmas Carol” benefit idea.

“It was my version of Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest,’ in which I used Beatles music,” Anderson said. “It was the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth year and the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ discovery of America, so we combined these two into a play and we did it here as a benefit.”

Anderson’s Christmas Eve productions of “A Christmas Carol” sometimes featured musical accompaniment from late Scottish fiddler Johnny Cunningham. Theremin player Jason Smeltzer will accompany Nov. 29’s performance, which Anderson said will evoke a fitting atmosphere for Scrooge’s ghostly encounters.

Anderson started Sunday at the Circle series as a celebration of the arts, but the November iteration of the event is also a celebration of the holidays and the Wilkes-Barre community. When Anderson and Wright moved to the Wyoming Valley, they brought their Christmas tradition with them, and they’re using it to assist their new community in helping others.



Los dos últimos programas de Tráfico de tarareos en Diariofolk, (in Madrid, Spain)

Una interesante entrevista al grupo Vigüela, con motivo de la publicación de su último disco Temperamento y música tradicional de origen céltico son los protagonistas de las dos últimas ediciones del prestigioso programa de Radio Círculo, presentado y dirigido por Fernando Martínez.

El pasao viernes 21 de Noviembre, en el Espacio Ronda de Madrid, el grupo de Carpio de Tajo presentó su último disco, titulado Temperamento, un trabajo en el que recopilan algunos de los estilos más característicos de la música tradicional de esta comarca de la Mancha. Fandangos, seguidillas, jotas y sones componen su repertorio.

Después de treinta años de trabajo, abordan la investigación de la música de raíz desde otra perspectiva, basándose en los acentos musicales que encierran las melodías más que en el ritmo, la métrica y el compás. Temperamento es un disco realizado con mucho rigor pero a la vez con mucha emoción.

Listen: Vigüela, música muy tradicional de la Mancha

Dos familias que mantienen viva la tradición musical en Irlanda y en Escocia

Por un lado, Triona y Mícheál O’Dhomhnaill, irlandeses, y por otra Phil y Johnny Cunningham, escoceses, perpetúan la música tradicional de sus respectivos países, fundidos en varios proyectos. Desde Skara Brae, la primera referencia discográfica de los primeros, hasta Nightnoise. Una selección que incluye discos de Silly Wizard, The Bothy Band, Relativity y Nightnoise. También la propia Triona en un disco en solitario.

Listen: Hermanos escoceses, hermanos irlandeses



Ever An Inspiration

Johnny is ever an inspiration to musicians and laypeople with a musical bone... here is a song for your 12th anniversary, Johnny: La valse d' Amelie by Yann Tiersen. - Jenn

A Brighter School Life

My time at Portobello High school was made much brighter by hearing Johnny and Phil Cunningham play at the music competitions and school concerts. Thank you for many hours of light. - Lilly


Je red écouvre Johnny en cherchant sur Facebook, aprés avoir retrouvé un vieux disque vinyl de Silly Wizard. J'ai connu le groupe é Limoges (en France) entre 1973 et 1975... Je suis triste que Johnny soit parti, avec son violon... Qu'est devenu Bob Thomas? - Thanks, Nicole

For Johnny

The intent of love continues... - Zouhbie





Remembering Johnny this 11th year of the anniversary of his passing, and celebrating his life and music with all of you.


The Last Ship

Sting's exceptional musical, The Last Ship, has the honor of having three musicians in the orchestra who were all dear friends of Johnny: Christopher Layer on pipes, flutes, whistles; Mick McAuley on melodeon and Lisa Gutkin on fiddle.

The show is spectacular! If you are wondering if you should go, go now.

Sting joins the cast for a short run, and then Jimmy Nail will return to his role as Jackie White. Both men are incredible singers. Jimmy, an unknown in America and a star in Europe, carries a shipyard resonance in his voice, a hard-earned warmth and steel barrow strength. Hear him sing his own composition, Show Me Heaven.

Sting, risking it all, bares such heartache in his lyrics and melodies that I couldn't help but think of Johnny's score for Broadway's 'Peter and Wendy,' once described as having "music that could make a grown man cry."

Bursting with soul and talent, both shows deserve the words, 'Heart-wrenchingly beautiful!'

Images from Broadway Buzz


Congratulations to Chris, Mick and Lisa. That's a helluva a ship to be out on!

The Last Ship


'Remembering Johnny' by Mick McAuley

I got to know Johnny after I joined SOLAS, for whom he had produced the first couple of albums. I then had the pleasure of working with him on a Susan McKeown album called Bushes and Briars and then on the beautiful project called “Peter and Wendy”. The beauty of Johnny’s music speaks for itself and there is, therefore, no need for me to attest to it. But it was on downtime (usually about 4.30pm by Johnny's watch!!) during the assembly of a dance show called Dancing on Dangerous Ground that I really got to know him on a one-to-one basis. I’ll always remember our many conversations over various poet-worn counter tops of Dublin with great fondness. I learned a lot from him. As a person, I found him to be so generous of spirit, so encouraging and for a man who could talk for Scotland, he was a great listener. He could hear through the babble and listen for the essence of a thing. In music, this made him a great player and producer. In his writings, this made him genuinely unique. In life, it made him a great friend to have. I think of him often these days, now that I’m spending time on Broadway, because I would chance to say that nowhere was Johnny artistically happier than in and around the world of theater. He was made for it. And as amazing, wonderful and exciting a place as New York City is, it’s just not quite the same without him.


'The Realm of Froud' tribute for Johnny featuring 'Peter & Wendy' score

Friends of Johnny, Brian and Wendy Froud, made a truly beautiful memorial using the score Johnny wrote for Broadway's 'Peter and Wendy,' which also features Brian's beautiful art work.

The Realm of Froud

Musicians hang with Johnny during the Faeireworlds Festival hosted by Brian Froud.


'Captain Morgan'

New Bedford welcomed back the ship, Captain Morgan, after a 100 year hiatus. It was originally built by the New Bedford workers and now docks at Mystic Seaport. The summer of 2014 marked it's first return in 100 years to the home where it was built.

This is a fantastic website where the documentary, 'Big Ocean', written by Kevin Kertscher, describes the whaling town of New Bedford. Johnny lived on Water Street in New Bedford, where he had a magnificent view of the working harbor.

The first video is the Captain Morgan sailing from the New Bedford harbor, a view Johnny would have seen from his balcony on Water Street. At the 12 second and 49 second mark see Water Street where Johnny lived.

Johnny boat riding in New Bedford Harbor


The Last Wooden Whaleship in the World

The Charles W. Morgan is the last of an American whaling fleet that numbered more than 2,700 vessels. Built and launched in 1841, the Morgan is now America’s oldest commercial ship still afloat – only the USS Constitution is older.

The Morgan was launched on July 21, 1841 from the yard of Jethro and Zachariah Hillman in New Bedford, Massachusetts. She typically sailed with a crew of about 35, representing sailors from around the world. The whaleship measures 106 feet, 11 inches length on deck with her beam measuring 27 feet, 9 inches. Her main truck is 110 feet above the deck; fully-rigged, and she carries 7,134 square feet of sail. The huge try-pots used for converting blubber into whale oil are forward; below are the cramped quarters in which her officers and men lived.

Over an 80-year whaling career, the Morgan embarked on 37 voyages with most lasting three years or more. Built for durability, not speed, she roamed every corner of the globe in her pursuit of whales. She is known as a “lucky ship,” having successfully navigated crushing Arctic ice, hostile natives, countless storms, Cape Horn roundings and, after she finished her whaling career, even the Hurricane of 1938.

After her whaling days ended in 1921, the Morgan was preserved by Whaling Enshrined, Inc. and exhibited at Colonel Edward H.R. Green’s estate at Round Hill in South Dartmouth, Massachusetts, until 1941. In November of that year, theMorgan came to Mystic Seaport where she has since dominated the waterfront at Chubb’s Wharf.

The whaleship was designated a National Historic Landmark by order of the Secretary of the Interior in 1966, and she is also a recipient of the coveted World Ship Trust Award. Since her arrival at Mystic Seaport more than 20 million visitors have walked her decks. Where once she hunted and processed whales for profit, her purpose now is to tell an important part of our nation’s maritime heritage and the lessons that history has for current generations.


Mountain Folk Vault Interview

Take a listen to this unedited, uncut radio interview with Johnny from 1983. An archival Tribute to Johnny.

"Recorded in November, 1983, this interview features the great Scots-Celt fiddler Johnny Cunningham. Warning: This is an uncut, unedited studio recording and there are just a wee few curse words. Johnny Cunningham was in the studio with concert promoter Nina Mollica and show host "East Side" Dave Kline for the purpose of promoting a concert on 11/16/83, recording a commercial and creating a few short interview segments.

The original version of the Mountain Folk radio, TV & Internet show with producer / host "East Side" Dave Kline went on the air during the summer of 1980 as "East Side Dave's Bluegrass Festival" which later evolved to the Mountain Folk Show and has been promoting bluegrass, folk, mountain and outdoor-themed acoustic music ever since. The show was one of the very first radio shows to be podcast around the world on the Internet out of Penn State University.

This series of Mountain Folk Vault Interviews goes back in time to the vault of archives from the many guests who were interviewed on the show. The interviews are offered here as a contribution by the show and producer to the archive of information regarding the artists and music that the show was created to promote."



Thoughts for Johnny in 2014

So there I was, standing outside of Symphony Space awaiting the start of the very first Celtic Fiddle Festival in New York. I was minding my own business when a cab stopped in front of the venue and a bearlike but very happy individual proceeded to exit from the back of the cab. After he had thanked the driver a number of times, he seemed like he needed the love fest to continue... I was in his line of site so he made straight for me in a slightly hunched manner. How are you? Smiles and more smiles. The bear hugs continued... I knew who he was-the king of the Scottish fiddle, the man who after all made "Fair Warning" and played with Silly Wizard. Gobsmacked I was, I was here to see him but it seemed he was here to see us. 'Twas always that way from future fiddle festivals to the 11th Street Bar. Johnny, we hardly knew ye... ~ Felex

Night in this land. I sure love this music. I'm sure Johnny is playing this song in heaven. ~ Jim S.


Casey's 10th Year (2013) Anniversary Tribute

For those of you who missed Casey Neill's heartwarming tribute to Johnny last year, here is the opening paragraph and link:

Thoughts on Johnny Cunningham, December 15, 2013 at 11:46am

Ten years ago this Sunday, Scottish fiddler Johnny Cunningham passed away in New York City from a heart attack at the age of 46. A decade later, his friendship and music continue to have a profound impact on my life. He was a giant soul - the kind of man who could walk into a bar full of strangers and in ten minutes everyone would be talking to him and laughing hysterically. He was a presence, usually clad in some combination of leather jacket, motorcycle boots, and scarf with long red hair, greying beard, and tattoos. I am no spiritualist but he had one foot in this world and one foot, or maybe just his big toe, somewhere else. And wow could he play the fiddle.





It's hard to believe that it's been ten years since Johnny Cunningham passed away in New York, NY. We want to thank all of you - Johnny's friends, family and fans who have honored and celebrated his life with your stories, memories and music. Here's to Johnny...

M. Martell

Thanks to Photographer M. Martell for this beautiful image of a red rose.


Johnny at West Isle Beach, MA 2003


BBC Radio ScotlandBBC Radio Scotland Honors Johnny Cunningham and Silly Wizard, 12 December 2013

BBC Radio Scotland's "Travelling Folk" honored Johnny on Thursday with this beautiful tribute hour. Click here to listen






Kathleen Biggins from the WFUV radio show, A Thousand Welcomes, dedicates 'Auld Lang Syne' from The Winter Talisman to Johnny

'Johnny was a wonderful Scottish fiddler and founder of Silly Wizard. Johnny was all round fun guy to be around. In this song, Auld Lang Syne, two different versions are melded together. This one is going out to Johnny, in his memory 10 years tomorrow." ~ Kathleen Biggins







StingThe Wilson Family, Performing with Sting on his latest album "The Last Ship": 22 December 2013

The Wilson Family and many other musicians from the North East of England (Kathryn Tickell, Peter Tickell, Julian Sutton), with actor and singer Jimmy Nail, join Sting on his latest album and Broadway play "The Last Ship." The songs are influenced by local music traditions - from pub-like folk tunes to a wall of sound from the full band.

After the show at the Public Theater in New York, Chris Wilson went to Swifts and shared this memory of Johnny: "Johnny Cunningham was a great character and I feel privileged to have met this extraordinary human being, who at such an early age managed the best electric folk group that I can recall over my years of being involved in folk music. The Silly Wizard concert with Johnny, in the Coatham Bowl, Redham, when he was about 17 years old was the best concert I ever saw in my life. Johnny was electric. Incidently, we are still in touch with Gordon Jones (ex-Silly Wizard) who is currently issuing The Wilson Family album onto CD."

Check out The Wilson Family's performance with Sting on BBC, 22 December 2013, here.


ConnollyCongratulations to Séamus Connolly, Awarded a NEA National Heritage Fellowship

We would like to take a moment to congratulate the talented Irish fiddler, Séamus Connolly, for being awarded the USA's highest honor in the folk and traditional arts, a National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) National Heritage Fellowship in 2013.

Click here to read about Séamus on the NEA website

And don't miss this wonderful film about Séamus on, "The Music Makers: Séamus Connolly and Friends" by Jim Higgins and Joan Ross.



Casey and TracyCongratulations to Casey Neill, of the Casey Neill Band, on his Marriage

Friend of Johnny's and the 11th Street Bar community, Casey Neill of the Casey Neill Band, was married to beautiful Tracy in Hawaii, on 4 February 2013.

In other good news from the Casey Neill Band, they've just released their latest album on 12 November, which includes a song called Sainted Streets about New York City's Lower East Side. It features a number of characters loosely based on people the neighborhood has lost - one of them, Johnny ... ("Here comes Davey with his scarf rapped 'round his throat / smoking and laughing in that famous black peacoat").

Thanks Casey, and we wish you and Tracy a lifetime of happiness and love!






Casey Neill at The Living Room with Johnny, where the album '11th street album' was recorded.


New Bedford Whaling MuseumExciting News for the New Bedford Whaling Musuem

A new building for the Educational Center and Research Library at the New Bedford Whaling Museum is being constructed on Water Street where Johnny use to live. Learn more about the Museum and this great project






A New Bedford Treasure

A New Bedford treasure, Johnny's 1981 album "Thoughts from Another World", given to the Band Dancing Dogs.






Ruth MaleczechRest In Peace Ruth Maleczech, Co-Founder of Mabou Mines

Johnny and Ruth were great artists and dear friends. She had only loving words to share of him. May the light be with them both. Click here to read words honoring Ruth by Gerald Thomas, on his blog.

Her obituary on states, "Ruth Maleczech, who co-founded the influential and sui generis experimental theatre troupe Mabou Mines and helped shepherd it through four decades of productions, becoming arguably its most visible member, died in her sleep Sept. 30 at her home. She was 74. As co-creator of Mabou Mines, Ms. Maleczech directed and/or appeared in many of the company's productions. A regular presence in the downtown theatre scene in the 1970s and 1980s, she became something of an earth mother figure not only to her own outfit, but to the New York avant garde theatre community in general—a role only buttressed by her warm, matronly aura."

Ruth was a supportive friend to Johnny during his collaboration with Lee Breuer and Liza Lorwin during the creation of "Peter and Wendy", a magical performance rich with puppets and music.




Chris MacguireRest In Peace Chris Maguire, Dear Friend of Johnny's and of the 11th Street Bar, New York

It's been a difficult year. A dear friend of Johnny's and of the entire 11th Street Bar family, Chris Maguire, passed away after a tragic accident. Chris and Johnny go way back, and we know they are up there together jamming and watching over all of us. Click here to listen to Chris performing "These Boots are Made for Walking" at the 11th Street Bar in New York's East Village, with Maria Arenlind.

In this photo, Chris plays guitar with friend Danny Barnum. Here, Danny shares his touching memories of both Chris and Johnny. Click to read the full story...

"First off I would like to thank Trisha McCormick for establishing this forum for those of us who seek to pay tribute to two unique and individual men. And so tonight I have been asked to share two anecdotal occurences as happened to me shared alongside my brother, my friend – Chris Maguire. And so, to him personally before I begin, I just want to say – buddy, thank you for the honor of being my friend. You will be sorely missed. My name is Danny Barnum. To those of you that knew Chris Maguire and Johnny Cunningham, respectively, hopefully what I am about to share will touch your heart in some way and give you the Lord’s peace as we go through this difficult time together. These two stories establish a connection, an everlasting connection, I believe, between me, my friend Chris, and a man who I never had the privlege of meeting in his life, but who I feel like I know – Johnny.

Chris Maguire is still with us. No man as good as he was can ever truly be gone. Johnny Cunningham will never truly be gone. I would just like to say, if you are looking for guidance as to what to do, I can tell you this: Chris Maguire would have said never retreat; never back down. Live life to the fullest. To finally wrap up my statement, I will tell you this: I love Chris Maguire, and if there is a heaven that we all are promised, we know we will see Chris again in that eternal bright white city because deep down I know that Chris and Johnny are getting together and arranging music. Gentlemen, I will see you there some day." ~ Danny Barnum



Mickey FinnsRest In Peace Ray Kelly, Lead Singer of the Mickey Finns

"The Irish American rock and roll community was gutted to its core this week [17 January 2013] with the news of the sudden death of Ray Kelly, 46, former singer and guitarist on some of the best Prodigals albums and lead singer of the Mickey Finns. Kelly, a carpenter in the construction industry, was injured while at work and passed away suddenly. Read more about Ray and his life on the Irish Central, here.

I saw Ray in the Fall of 2012 at the infamous 11th Street Sunday Session. We were gathered outside the front door having a good crac, Ray standing on a rock engraving in honor of Johnny, telling us all about his time working with Johnny, producer of Dreaming in Hell's Kitchen; by The Prodigals. Ray, in his childlike heartfelt wonder, exclaimed that working with Johnny on that album was the most influential musical moment of his career and how much he loved and missed the man. That was the last time I saw Ray, and a most memorable moment at that... ~ Trisha

Click here to watch Ray perform "Leaving": Ray Kelly of the Mickey Finns sings Leaving at a seisun in the hotel lobby after the Fox Valley Irish Fest in West Dundee, IL.



Support for The Andrew Grene Foundation

Gregory Grene established the Andrew Grene Foundation for his twin brother, who lost his life while working for the UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti during the tragic earthquake on January 12, 2010. Click here to watch an update on the foundation three years later - January 2013. Hear Matt Damon and Clint Eastwood, along with Gregory Grene, speak about Andrew's service.

Andrew was both a friend and devoted fan of Johnny's. Please be a fan of Andrew's fund. Visit for more information and donation links.

Donations go toward the education of Haiti's children and Microfinance for small business' in Haiti.

Best Wishes to Gregory on the outstanding success of the first school in Andrew's honor: Andrew Grene High School!




Johnny met this lovely lady in New Mexico when he toured with The Winter Talisman, and accepted her invitation to join her Native American family in their Tipi sweat lodge.


AMY G: We are celebrating Johnny today, and here is a photo of Johnny's summer vacation view 2003; Fire Island. Much love to you!


JENN: For you, Johnny, on the 10th anniversary of your passing... A magnificent Cape Town sunset peeks out from behind a mountain of clouds - with a lamppost saying hello! Thank you for your spirit, heart and music. Inspired by you over the years, I learned to play your moving ballad, "Night in that Land". You've inspired many over the years and across the world!

Jenn Warren


GIANLUCA: I greatly admire Johnny, from when I discovered I was always fascinated by his music and his personality ... a BRILLIANT musician and a great man. I'm a fiddler too and I always listen Johnny's stuff - from Silly Wizard to Winter Talisman - and I always try to look like him. I always keep it in mind as a reference ... He was not a fiddler like everyone else, he was an artist, a musical genius, he had his own style and a voice that no one else ever will. I feel deeply connected to Johnny's music - his fiddle and Johnny as a man. He is one of my great musical heros and idols. From Rome, condolences. RIP Johnny, you will be forever immortal, thank you. All best to your family and friends, from the biggest italian Johnny fan.


TWAN: It is Johnny's 10th years anniversary soon. It must be still very hard for his family and friends to miss him! I only knew Johnny from a live performance long time ago and I still listen to his magnificent music. Every now and then I play a videotape of the last performance of Silly Wizard. The music touches me, even more now I have grown older. The beautiful sound of the fiddle played by Johnny strikes me every time again. Although I am not a fiddle player he has inspired me in my humble career as a musician. I play the guitar and banjo in a Celtic Band (Skibbereen) in the Netherlands. I am sure that Johnny is still missed by thousands of people. Not only the ones that knew him personally. To me he will always be the excellent musician with a great sense of humour. He was and still is undoubtedly a very special person to me. "A lot of people cross your path but only a few touch your heart!" ~ Twan Masala. Kerkrade, The Netherlands.





Photographs: Johnny in Silly Wizard, "Hermanus Old Harbour, South Africa" by Jenn Warren


WGBH Remembers Silly Wizard


Host Brian O'Donovan highlights an old recording made of this seminal band by WGBH engineers in one of their final concerts in the Boston area. Recorded at the Somerville Theatre in 1986, this features the late Johnny Cunningham with brothers Phil and Andy Stewart in rare form.

(Johnny and Phil do their own set about 140 minutes in)

Photograph of Silly Wizard






Brooks Williams "Johnny's Farewell"

Brooks Williams recorded "Johnny's Farewell" in Ellen Hamby's Atlanta home on August 5, 2009.

The song (BMI Work #9509451; Red Guitar Blue Music (CAE/IPI #222917482)) was written by Brooks L. Williams (BMI, CAE/IPI #223038801.)

At the Minden Opera House, Brooks also performed "Johnny's Farewell" on Valentine's Day, 2009.





Trisha McCormick's Tribute to Johnny Cunningham, Lincoln Center OurLand Festival

Trisha McCormick accompanied by John Walsh sings 'The Ballad of St. Anne's Reel.' The song was written by singer-songwriter David Mallet, and this performance took place at the OurLand Festival, Lincoln Center, 2012.


Photograph of Johnny and Trisha at the Essex Hotel, New York City ~ HAPPY HOLIDAYS!







Fellow Musician John McGann's Passing

by Earle Hitchner... Whether as lead or accompaniest, John was a brilliant string player, encompassing mandolin (1985 Mandolin Champion), guitar, dobro, and electric bass, as well as a superb arranger, composer, producer, and transcriber... John performed and/or recorded with the Wayfaring Strangers, Rust Farm, Beacon Hillbillies, John Whelan, and the Celtic Fiddle Festival, among others... John McGann was one of a kind. His genorsity and thoughtfulness matched his extraordinary musical skills... As I write this, I'm listening to my favorite tune by John, the magisterial "Canyon Moonrise," from his solo album UPSLIDE, for which I had the priveledge of writing the biographical essay. (This magnificent melody also appears on the inaugural CELTIC FIDDLE FESTIVAL album.)

Photograph of John McGann and Joe Derrane at Skirball







e. e. cummings, "In Memory of Bill Poten and Johnny Cunningham" by Sarah Poten

Photograph by Lisa Smith, 11th Street Bar


2012 Caricature of Johnny Based on 1982 Wood's Hole Folk Music Society article, by Anna Freeman (13 yrs)



Photograph by Paula L


CHRIS: Today I'm asked..."tell me a name of a fiddler that I have to hear...." "Johnny Cunningham"....thanks she says. Out comes some amazing fiddling, just a few feet away. "Is it amazing and damn near impossible, while at the same time being delightfully musical?" I responded. She chuckled. "Then that's Johnny!"

Years after the loss of such a beautiful person, Johnny Cunningham is fixed in time for many of us who enjoyed his live shows, recordings and the times that were created around him. It is important that his name lives on and more people hear his spirit.

MIKE M: I have been a fan of Nightnoise for some time, and for past few years been trying to learn more of each artist.

My daughter currently plays violin and is studying music in Louisiana, and I used to pay Nightnoise and she really enjoyed listenig to the violin of Johnny. I remember taking my daughter to the Renaissance Fair in Dallas, TX and she really enjoyed the Celtic music played there. And when I told her I had some at home, we went straight home and listened to Nightnoise.

I just learned of Johnny's passing today (10/19/2012) and I wish I would have tried harder to find out more of the band members.

I now have some of Johnny's other CDs and I can just imagine him smiling and enjoying life as he played.

God bless you and please keep his memory alive. I know I will try.


RIP Larry Reynolds, 2012


Follow up on 2010 post: Robert Burns Widow, Jean Armour's Letter Discovered

Johnny's friend and colleague, Nancy Groce, tells the story of discovering Jean Armour's letter to Robert Burns. Its discovery and passage back to Scotland is chronicled in The Scottish Literary Review. Download here


Special Thanks to Johnny's Webmistresses

DALRIADA: Thank you, dear person, whoever you are, who keeps Johnny's website up and running. I come here every so often just to connect with the man and his friends, again and again. I cry rivers of tears when I read the new articles and see new photos. Thank you so much for this. Sending love & peace & best wishes for the new year. Slainte mhath.



DEcember 15th, 2011 | Johnny's 8-year anniversary

Johnny Reads D.H. Lawrence on National Public Radio

Charlie McCormick: I heard Johnny on the radio this morning as I was driving.....Hopefully WFUV will include it in their show archives later. He was reading this poem by DH Lawrence "God is Born".

The history of the cosmos
is the history of the struggle of becoming.
When the dim flux of unformed life
struggled, convulsed back and forth upon itself,
and broke at last into light and dark
came into existence as light,
came into existence as cold shadow
then every atom of the cosmos trembled with delight.
Behold, God is born!
He is bright light!
He is pitch dark and cold!

And in the great struggle of intangible chaos
when, at a certain point, a drop of water
began to drip downwards
and a breath of vapour began to wreathe up
Lo again the shudder of bliss through all the atoms!
Oh, God is born!
Behold, He is born wet!
Look, He hath movement upward! He spirals!

And so, in the great aeons of accomplishment and debacle
from time to time the wild crying of every electron:
Lo! God is born!

When sapphires cooled out of molten chaos:
See, God is born! He is blue, he is deep blue,
he is forever blue!

When gold lay shining threading the cooled-off rock:
God is born! God is born! bright yellow and ductile
He is born.

When the little eggy amoeba emerged out of foam and nowhere
then all the electrons held their breath:
Ach! Ach! Now indeed God is born! He twinkles within.

When from a world of mosses and of ferns
at last the narcissus lifted a tuft of five-point stars
and dangled them in the atmosphere,
then every molecule of creation jumped and clapped its hands:

God is born! God is born perfumed and dangling and with a little cup!

Throughout the aeons, as the lizard swirls his tail finer than water,
as the peacock turns to the sun, and could not be more splendid,

as the leopard smites the small calf with a spangled paw, perfect.
the universe trembles: God is born! God is here!

And when at last man stood on two legs and wondered,
then there was a hush of suspense at the core of every electron:

Behold, now very God is born!
God Himself is born!

And so we see, God is not
until he is born.

And also we see
there is no end to the birth of God.


Remembering with the Raindogs

my brother johnny. to know him was to love him. the greatest times of my life was when i was with you. two many stories to tell slan mo chara till we drink a dram again then roll on the floor in laughter. jimmy reilly, belfast













Johnny Cunningham Loved the Poetry of Blake and Burns

By Earle Hitchner (printed with permission)

"Literally and musically, I tend to swim more in the runnels than the mainstream. As poet Philip Larkin once admitted, "I feel very much the need to be on the periphery of things." ...

A founding member of Silly Wizard, Johnny Cunningham (1957-2003) appears on all the band’s best albums, including the best of their best, So Many Partings in 1979. Track 5, “Donald McGillavry / O’Neill’s Cavalry March,” still gives me a head-to-toe thrill, especially the second tune powered by the Cunningham brothers, Johnny on fiddle and Phil on piano accordion.

This December 15 will mark the eighth anniversary of Johnny Cunningham’s death. A heart attack claimed him at age 46 in New York City. But I still take solace in an inscription he had on the back of his fiddle. The words appeared near the image of a tree, ostensibly the one from which the wood for his fiddle was taken: “In life I was mute, but in death I sing.”

The music and personality of Johnny Cunningham still sing in me. I know I’m not alone in feeling this way. Shortly after his death, I wrote two articles about him for the Irish Echonewspaper. Here, I’ve tweaked or truncated the article conveying my reminiscences about him and tucked in a few others.

I know what you’re thinking: Why not wait until December 15 to post this blog entry? My answer is: Johnny, who marched to a different bodhran beater, would not have minded, so why should I? Besides, I was rereading some verse by William Blake and Robert Burns yesterday, and it restirred memories of Johnny, who loved the work of both. I guess you could say this blog entry represents Johnny on the spot.

Click here to read my substantially revamped Irish Echo piece..."


Johnny's Tune, by Bill Morrisey

Born to the traveling life that is what we do
We use the whiskey and the wit
And the luck to pull us through
You look up to the gray sky

And tell yourself it's blue
You look for the famiiiar
When you have to face the new

And these days
The sun don't rise
As much as it goes down

Things look a little different

Now that Johnny has left town...





Requiem for Bill Morrisey, friend and colleague of Johnny's

By Barry Crimmins

... Bill's tongue was in cheek when he wrote his Letter from Heaven but I believe in his immortality. You see, Bill lived in and documented an age but he played to the ages, the destination for which he was truly bound. If I know Bill, his arrival was hunble, unassuming. "Me? Live forever? Really?"

"Yeah you, Bill Morrisey. Right through there. You're friend Johnny Cunningham is expecting you."

So he gently pushed open the door marker "reserved for those who made a permanent and positive impact" and carefully walked in to size up his new circumstances. Five minutes later he'd won over everyone. Next, the greatest writers and artists of all-time demanded a few numbers from the new guy. And with Johnny on the fiddle, Bill astonished them. And there, once and for all, he found true love, and it is perpetual, and you'd be wise to mention his name to the bartender.

Read the full article here



Peter and Wendy

By Rohana Elias-Reyes, for on May 8, 2011

Mabou Mines’ Peter and Wendy, now running at the New Victory, is a wonderful production to bring children to, but it is not a piece of children’s theater per se and you should definitely heed the recommendation that it is best for those eight and older. Its immensely beautiful theatricality is shot through with moments of deep sorrow for the loss of youth. You and your kids will recognize the basic story—the Darling children Wendy, Michael, and John fly off to have adventures in Neverland with Peter Pan, leaving their grieving parents and nursemaid, a dog named Nana, behind. However, here the focus is primarily on Wendy’s relationship with Peter and not on the amazing events that take place in Neverland. In this staging, based on J.M. Barrie’s novel Peter and Wendy, rather than his play Peter Pan of a few years earlier, the feeling is of childhood remembered from the distance of adulthood, rather than an experience of exuberant youthful adventures. The late Scottish composer Johnny Cunningham’s Celtic score (a nod to Barrie’s heritage), beautifully performed by live musicians and singers, adds to the feeling of nostalgic longing and loss.

Click here to



Johnny Mooning. my wife Jill and I went to see the Celtic Fiddle Fest in Madison Wis. years ago. We sat at the far edge of the balcony, where our line of sight was down across the stage (the long way)...we could see backstage too. At one point, whilst Kevin Burke was doing his solo set, we saw Johnny and a friend backstage. Johnny had on one of those long duster coats. As we watched in amazement we saw Johnny remove that duster, turn around and drop his drawers...mooning Kevin and us. We broke up laughing and pointing while Burke struggled to keep his composure. Then the friend standing next to Johnny pointed up to the balcony and apparently told him we could see his "moon". Very funny and very unforgetable. I miss you Johnny. ~ J McNally

Hi Johnny! Nice music you did while in "Silly Wizard" band. Thank you for this! ~ Greetings from Republic of Moldova.

Your music lives in our hearts. Johnny you were one of the best. ~ Lots of love from Barcelona

Aye. Just missing you Johnny.I'm happy to still have the music. See you a very very long time from now. ~ Eamon

We still love and miss Johnny. Winter and Christmas greetings and hugs to his family and loved ones! ~ Ty

Dafey's Locker, New Bedford, MA. Johnny and Ellie play seagulls. We love you Johnny. ~ Ellie




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.

Len Leone


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. Click here to view on youtube.

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"


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; 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 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 great music and share in the you, Colleen

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


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





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."

Note: The Raindogs band photo was taken later on, when the band played in Burlington, Vermont.

Nakki is the author of AMERICAN PHOTOBOOTH, 2008. 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.

All Photos © Nakki Goranin 2009,
Contact Nakki


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

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

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.”




Memories of Johnny


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,



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.

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 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.




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."


A Tribute to a Friend

Jerry and JohnnyFrom 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.



Jerry Holland and Johnny Cunningham. Photo by Jack Rowell







Graffiti NYC


Johnny's handwritten note of favorite quote


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.

-Dan Moran

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."


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






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

Season's Greetings!



La Musgaña - Manuel Luna - Johnny Cunnungham


La Musgaña y Johnny Cunningham





The Isle of Sky

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


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 : Phil & Johnny Cunningham

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

Scottish Tradition: Phil & Johnny Cunningham 2

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



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.

Sincerely, MABOU MINES


GANTRY PLAZA STATE PARK is located at 474 48th Avenue, Long Island City, Queens (718-786-6385). Easy public transportation is available.

Subway: 7 train to Vernon Blvd/Jackson Ave. Walk west 2 blocks to Gantry State Park OR G train to 21st St/Jackson Ave. Walk west 3 blocks.

Bus: B61 or Q103 to Vernon Blvd/Jackson Ave. LIRR: station at Borden Ave and 2nd St. Long Island City.

Water Taxi: The NY Water Taxi runs from Manhattan to Borden Ave in Long Island City. Visit for schedule and fares.


(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.



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:

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.



The musical composed by Johnny Cunningham plays through the month of June at the Arena Stage in Washington, D.C. For information, visit

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.






The cover story for American Theater Magazine, April 2007 features Mabou Mines' founders Lee Breuer and Ruth Maleczech. Congratulations!



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




Micheal O'Domhnaill: October 7, 1951 - July 8, 2006

Good friend and Partner in crime, Relativity and Nightnoise



...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.'











Mabou Mines' Songs for New York production is in the works, to be performed in 2007. For more information, visit

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'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'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 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:




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 for more information about Celtic Crossings.



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 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:



"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:

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'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



© 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".