Tuesday, October 09, 2012


Fans of eye catching album covers or head scratching music might've overlooked "The Two Sides of Larry," but there was something about that face. That was one side of Larry, and for a buck, I was willing to find out more. I'm referring to the British import, which made things all the more exotic.

The title, as it turns out, referred to Larry Cunningham's love of both traditional Irish music (he was from County Longford) and C&W crooning (as made popular by Jim Reeves).

A kid singer and actor (on the TV show "Christmas Pantomime") as well as a violinist and accordion player, the versatile, if oddly headed long-nosed and jug-eared entertainer got his big break in 1963 by actually replacing Jim Reeves on stage in Donegal. Reeves was a huge star in Ireland, and (with perhaps a little bit of a strong-arm from the Irish Federation of Musicians) included local Irish show bands in his performances. But all did not go as smoothly as his crooning, and at one notorious performance, he could no longer deal with a piano that wasn't up to his standards, and he walked off. The show went on without him: Larry and his "Might Avons," well-schooled in C&W, gave the audience all they could want.

Reeves, attempting to pilot his small plane through a thunderstorm, crashed and died on the afternoon of July 31, 1964. Larry Cunningham recorded "Tribute to Jim Reeves," and became the first Irishman to have a hit record on the British Top Ten charts. Then, to show his "two sides," in 1965 he rode "Lovely Leitrim," a more traditional Irish ballad, to #1, and with that, he flew right over Great Britain to Carnegie Hall, making a successful American debut. Larry left the Mighty Avons in 1969 to lead his own group, but his marriage (in 1972) and his four children had him thinking of a more stable life, which involved less touring, and more time at home where he owned a supermarket. He had three Top Ten hits in Ireland in the 70's ("Goodbye Comes Hard To Me" in 1973, "This Time of the Year" in 1974 and "My Kathleen" in 1975) and one Top 20 in the 80's ("The Story of My Life" in 1983). His last single to get significant airplay was "Walk On By" in 1984.

Larry's cunning plan to Cunningham the charts made him a figure of some respect in the 70's and 80's, but we'll go back to his glorious debut in the mid 60's in order to sample his two sides. Actually, three. His version of "My Heart's In the Heart of Killarney" is not only Irish, it's South American…he's got a kind of Desi Arnaz rhumba arrangement to it, which will throw off anybody trying to clog dance with their hands cemented to their thighs. This is followed by the appropriately named Jim Reeves hit "I've Enjoyed As Much of This as I Can Stand."

Sadly, "face up" but six feet under is the current side of Larry Cunningham, but as long as there's vinyl, there's immortality for the traditional Irish and C&W-loving singer with the smooth voice and distinctive face.

CUNNING LARRY: My Heart's In the Heart of Killarney…I've Enjoyed As Much of THIS as I Can Stand.

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