B.B. CUNNINGHAM, Jr
Born Blake Baker Cunningham, Jr., 6 April 1942, Jackson, Mississippi
B.B. Cunningham is the son of Buddy Blake Cunningham (1910-2000), who had two releases on Sam Phillips's labels : "Right Or Wrong"/"Why Do I Cry" (Sun 208, 1954, credited to Buddy Cunningham) and "You Pass Me By"/"Please Convince Me" (Phillips International 3516, 1957, credited to Buddy Blake). Never heard of them? You're not missing anything, they are among the least popular Sun singles. Old-fashioned crooning, even by 1954 standards. Sam must have liked his style though, for there are no less than 16 unissued tracks by Cunningham Sr. in the Sun vaults, which no Sun archeaologist has ever deemed worthy of resurrection.
In 1959, Cunningham Sr. started his own record label, Cover Records, in Memphis, assisted by his son B.B., who became a jack of all trades for the label : singer, songwriter, session player, producer and general handyman. One of the first records on Cover was B.B.'s "Trip To Band- stand" (Cover 5931), an obvious cash-in on Bill Parsons's "All American Boy". Credited to simply "B-B", it was one of the few vocal Cover releases by Cunningham Jr., who had six 45s issued on his father's label between early 1959 and 1962. Of the instrumental tracks, the one I like best is "Ivory Marbles", a pleasant piano rocker, which has been reissued on several compilations. By 1962, Cunningham Jr. had taken over the running of the label from his father.
During its 7-year lifespan, Cover Records issued rock n roll, rockabilly, R&B, jazz and straight pop, virtually all by local Memphis artists. A nice overview of the label's output can be found on the CD "Hot Rockin' Music>From Memphis : The Cover Recording Company Story", issued by Dave Travis in 2000 (Stomper Time STCD 10). It includes 13 tracks by B.B. (Junior, that is.) Probably the best known Cover release is "Ain't That A Dilly" by Marlon Grisham, which is available on countless compilations.
In 1964, B.B. became a member of Ronnie and the Daytonas, who had a # 4 hit with "G.T.O.", produced by Bill Justis. B.B. did not contribute to that recording, though. The group's leader, Ronnie, also known as Bucky Wilkin (son of Marijohn Wilkin, an established Nashville songwriter), disliked touring. For that reason, a pick-up band (featuring an entirely different lineup) was sent on the road to exploit the name. B.B. was a member of the touring version of Ronnie and the Daytonas, which developed into the garage band The Hombres. As such, they scored a # 12 hit in 1967 with "Let It Out (Let It All Hang Out)". B.B. was the vocalist of the group and also played keyboards. The spoken opening of their hit was copied from Red Ingle's 1948 novelty hit "Cigarettes, Whiskey and Wild Wild Women".
Also in 1967, B.B.'s brother Bill Cunningham was a founding member of the Box Tops, who scored 10 Top 100 hits from 1967-1970, including a # 1 ("The Letter"). The Hombres broke up in 1969. B.B. went back to being a session player (he does not only play piano, but also guitar and bass), always staying close to Memphis.
In 1997 Cunningham joined the touring band of Jerry Lee Lewis, of which he is a member until this day. There is general agreement among JLL fans that the current band (Kenny Lovelace and Buck Hutcheson on guitars, Robert Hall on drums and B.B. Cunningham on bass) is one of the best, if not THE best the Killer has ever had. Before Jerry comes on stage, the band is usually allowed four numbers on their own, and B.B. always does one vocal solo, usually from the Chuck Berry songbook. People who have met him say that B.B. is quite a character, always good for a funny story.
In 2003, Cunningham released the 14-track CD "Hangin' In" on the Supreme label. It features a new version of his hit "Let It All Hang Out" and mostly self-penned songs. Not exactly rock n roll, but not bad at all.
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