Johnny Cunningham

Talking about the annoying habit of falling in love with dead guys, I seem to have acquired it somehow. However frustrating, it can be helpful at times, and this is one of those cases. About three years ago my Dad came back from the Celtic Fiddle Festival and mentioned something about a guy who was supposed to have been there, but had suddenly died before the consort. Human curiosity being what it is, I was slightly interested at the unexpected event but well, I didn't know the guy, and I soon forgot all about it. Ironically enough, I still vividly remember that day - even though I forgot it at the time. And this is why. Growing up I was exposed to all sorts of music. Bach sat right next to Aaron Nevil, Hank Williams, and the Beatles on our shelves. Mixed in there was a CD by a band called the Silly Wizards. It was a favorite, though we didn't know anything about the musicians. It was one of those random CDs - you're never sure of where you got it or why it's not more popular. Anyways, about three years ago, a few months after the fiddler had unexpectedly died, I sat down to listen to the Silly Wizards and it suddenly occurred to me that they really were the best Celtic band I had ever heard. I wondered if they had more stuff. It was around that time that I started to seriously get into Celtic music. Now I play the bohran and the pennywhistle, but then, I just contented myself with listening to CDs. I looked the Silly Wizards up online and ordered all their music. The more I listened the more I loved. I soon started to look up the band members and see if I could see them perform. The band had been dead a long time, but as far as I knew, all the members where still alive. I discovered that the band was comprised of some of the most brilliant and most talented Scottish musicians of their time, and each one had a widely different personality which came alive in the music. The Cunningham brothers were the most spirited and most talked about of the group. Johnny and his younger brother Phil ran the gigs as much on their humor and flamboyant personalities as by the music. Johnny was a stellar fiddler, while his brother followed right behind on his accordion. At 16, Johnny had left home to wander the streets of Aberdeen and join a crazy bunch of guys who called themselves the Silly Wizards. The music was good, but the laughs and the fun were even better. They soon had a following and began to record and tour. The Silly Wizards managed to put out about ten CDs before they fell apart. Johnny Cunningham was the first to leave. He had fallen in love with the US. He was young and already hailed as one of the best Scottish fiddlers in the world. A new horizon opened to him in America and his life became a pattern of endless tours and midnight gigs. For some reason, the Northwest has attracted Celtic musicians more than other cities. This is possibly because Kevin Burke, Ireland's greatest fiddler lives here, though I'm sure it's not the only reason. Johnny met Kevin as a young man, and they became the best of friends. As years wore on they founded the Celtic Fiddle Festival, a touring group of musicians comprised of themselves and Christian Lemaitre, a fiddler from Breton. Every year they took off a week or two from their busy schedule to tour the US together and play. Three years ago, they arrived here with the devastating news that Johnny had died. Johnny was one of those guys who attracted everybody just by the laugh in his eyes. He lived and played hard, but with such wit and joy that he lightened the lives of many people. I never had a chance to meet him, and the closest I ever came was the day I heard that a lone fiddler had passed away. It didn't hit me until later who he was.


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