The late Memphis musician B.B. Cunningham will be recognized with a place on the Beale Street Brass Note Walk of Fame, with a ceremony set for May 29 at 6 p.m. inside the recently opened Jerry Lee Lewis’ Club at 310 Beale St.
Cunningham was killed in October 2012 while working as a security guard, investigating an incident at the Cherry Crest Apartments.
Born into a musical family — his father was crooner Buddy Blake and his brother Bill Cunningham would help found pop-soul group the Box Tops — Cunningham had a long and interesting career.
A graduate of Messick High, he played in a series of teen combos, eventually forming the Hombres who scored a chart hit with the garage classic “Let It All Hang Out” in 1967.
After the Hombres’ career slowed, Cunningham worked behind the scenes at the famed Sounds of Memphis Studios.
In 1971, he moved to Los Angeles where he served as chief engineer at Independent Recorders, working with the likes of Billy Joel, Elton John, and Lou Rawls. He would ultimately return to Memphis a few years later, launching his own studio.
Starting in the late-’90s, Cunningham spent 15 years as a member of Jerry Lee Lewis’ band.
He released a solo album, Hangin’ In, in 2003, and continued to perform with various local outfits until his passing.
Noted Memphis musician B.B. Cunningham Jr., a longtime member of Jerry Lee Lewis's band, was killed in a shooting early Sunday morning, according to police and a member of his family.
The incident happened just before 2 a.m. Sunday morning at the Cherry Crest Apartments in Southeast Memphis. According to police, the 70-year-old Cunningham, a security guard in a neighboring apartment complex, heard a shot in the Cherry Crest Apartments and went to investigate. When police arrived at the complex at 1460 Cherry, both Cunningham and a 16-year-old boy were found dead from gunshot wounds.
Reached at his home in the Washington D.C. area, Cunningham's brother Bill, a founding member of '60s Memphis pop-soul band the Box Tops, could only verify that his brother had been shot and killed in the incident.
Sunday afternoon, bloodstains and a latex glove left behind by police could be seen in the courtyard of the rundown apartment complex.
Byny Garcia lives in a unit on the second floor, across the courtyard from the shooting. He was listening to music when he and his wife heard the gunshots.
"It's like five or six shots. I don't think anything about this because it's common," he said.
Garcia pointed to the bloodstains near a sapling, saying that's where the teenager fell. Cunningham was about 30-40 feet away, near a stairway.
"I liked him. We have a good memory from him," Garcia said about Cunningham. "He'd take care of the old people and the Spanish kids. He was a good person. We don't feel good at this moment."
Garcia said his wife, who didn't speak English, saw a black man and a white woman flee from the scene, possibly in a green Honda.
During a career that spanned more than 50 years, Cunningham proved one of the most versatile talents in Memphis, working as a musician, frontman, songwriter, session player, engineer and producer.
Born Blake Baker Cunningham Jr., he was the product of a musical family. His father was a crooner who recorded under the stage name Buddy Blake, cutting a pair of pop vocal numbers for Sam Phillips' Sun Records and Memphis International label in the 1950s.
At 14, the junior Cunningham became the youngest member of the local musicians union. He helped his father run the family's Cover Records label, for which he served as session player, producer and artist, releasing a series of solo sides in the late-'50s and early '60s.
A student at the musically fertile Messick High — home to members of Booker T. and the MGs, guitarist Reggie Young and many others -- B.B. Cunningham led the Six O'Clock Boys, scoring a small regional hit with "Ivory Marbles." He established a national reputation in 1965 as member of the touring version of Ronnie and the Daytonas, known for the song "G.T.O."
That band would eventually morph into the Hombres. Cunningham would play keyboards and sing for the group, which scored a #12 chart hit with "Let It All Hang Out" in 1967.
A classic of the garage band era, Cunningham's reading of the song would endure — it would be featured in the early-70s Nuggets album, be used in Cameron Crowe's 2005 film "Elizabethtown," and in recent ads for Foster's Lager.
After the Hombres career slowed, Cunningham went to work behind the scenes at the famed Sounds of Memphis Studios.
In 1971, he moved to Los Angeles where he served as chief engineer at Independent Recorders, working with the likes of Billy Joel, Elton John, and Lou Rawls.
He would ultimately return to Memphis a few years later, launching his own studio. Since 1997, Cunningham had also been a member of Jerry Lee Lewis' band. He released a solo album, Hangin' In, in 2003, and continued to play with and inspire several generation of local musicians up until his passing.
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