Larry was born February 13th, 1938 in Clooneen, Granard, Co Longford, Ireland. He was one of 7 children born into a small farm of 50 acres. He stayed in school until he was 16 leaving with high marks in Irish, English and Maths. He had planned to be a Woodwork Teacher but family commitments meant he needed to start working so he left for Derby, England. He started as a carpenter and was soon promoted to foreman-scaffolder with Taylor Woodrow Construction. By day he was on the buildings, by night he played traditional music in local venues and weekends were for football with the local Gaelic team. He came back to Ireland in 1958 with a senior championship win and a wealth of experience in the building trade. He decided not to be a teacher and continued working as a carpenter. It wasn’t long however, until he was approached to join the Grafton Show band. This foray into a band meant he was playing 3 to 4 nights a week so after 2 years he gave up music altogether as it encroached on the day job. This decision didn’t last and it wasn’t long until the day job was left behind permanently and Larry began to see singing as a full time career.
MUSIC CAREER BEGINS
He joined a new band called the Mighty Avons and stayed with this band for the next decade. Larry had discovered country music and thanks to his sisters Breda and Anna living in America and Australia, he was able to receive new material in the post when it wouldn’t be readily available in Ireland.
He learnt a lot of Jim Reeves songs and was able to hit those famous low notes. The first song he learnt was “He’ll have to go” in 1959. This proved to be a blessing for him because he was asked to support Jim Reeves when he came to tour Ireland in 1963. On Friday 7th June in Lifford, Donegal, the Irish promoters who booked Jim Reeves tours had booked him to do 2 or 3 gigs a night and had promised to supply tuned professional pianos. In Lifford that night, the piano for Mr. Reeves was in a state of disrepair and he realized this much to his dismay when he sang a melody of his hits to the 1500 fans who had paid dearly to see him.
The piano in question was full of spiders, had broken strings and hadn’t been in tune in years so Mr. Reeves stood up after a few minutes, threw a white towel over his shoulder and left the stage. When the crowd realized he wasn’t coming back, the atmosphere instantly changed. This is where Larry entered to save the day and sang one hour of Jim Reeves hits. It placated the crowd and this catapulted Larry into the press. Word soon spread through the country that Larry Cunningham was Irelands answer to Jim Reeves.
In 1964 just over a year after the Lifford incident, Jim Reeves tragically died in a plane crash in Tennessee. Eddie Masterson, a solicitor in Sligo penned “A tribute to Jim Reeves” monologue on the back of a John Players cigarette packet and gave it to Larry who added choruses and melodies from Reeves many songs.
Larry and the Mighty Avons recorded the song and it sold 40000 in its first two weeks and went on to sell a further 250000
This was the beginning of an illustrious career that encompasses a total of 50 years. Some of the many highlights include: Performing at Wembley alongside American Country stars Loretta Lynn, Hank Williams Jnr and Johnny Cash. Larry and the Mighty Avons hold the all time record for the largest crowd at the Galtymore Ballroom in London. First Showband to play at New York’s famous Carnegie Hall. Performed for Princess Grace and Prince Rainier of Monaco, at the Mansion House Dublin when they visited Ireland. Achieving over 50 years in the business, Larry continued to enjoy singing and touring around Ireland, UK, Europe and the US up until his death after illness in late 2012. When he was not on tour he could be found at home in Granard in the house he built 50 years ago, with his wife Beatrice of 38 years who survives him. They have 4 children, Regina, Sinead, Lorcan and Barry and two grandchildren Molly & Peter. More of Larry’s personal and professional highlights with behind the scene stories can be found in greater detail in his book “ Larry Cunningham. A Showband Legend” by Tom Gilmore.