The late, great Larry Cunningham, who passed away on Friday night.
The was great sadness and shock on Saturday morning when news started filtering through that the legendary singer Larry Cunningham had passed away at the age of 74 years at St Vincent's Hospital in Dublin on Friday night.
Larry was laid to rest when thousands attended his funeral mass yesterday morning (Tuesday) in St Columba's Church, Mullinalaghta.
Larry from Cloughernal near Granard was the very first Irish-based artist to make it into the British pop charts at the start of the '60s. The manner in which he could reach those low notes in such a relaxed and natural way endeared him to music fans all over these islands and indeed globally.
Larry Cunningham was born in February, 1938 in Clooneen, Granard, and was one of seven children.
Ballyhaise man, Peter Smith, was a member of Larry's band the Mighty Avons from late 1961 right up until 1969 when the showband business was flying at the time.
Peter said that himself and his brothers Jimmy and Paddy started the Avons, and then Mickey Brady joined on lead guitar and then Ronnie Griffith, Gerry Walsh and Brian Finlay came on board. "We needed a good country singer at the time. We had been doing all sorts of Rock and Roll and Pop. It was going well for us then Larry joined and he had a great voice and was a great country singer," recalls Peter.
He remembers Larry as a great people's person and said they shared some great times during that era.
Peter fondly recalled the time the band played for Princess Grace at Powerscourt. They had the biggest crowd ever in the Galtymore in Cricklewood when they packed in 6,500 people.
The Avons also played in the Royal Albert Hall in London on a couple of occasions and he recalled the time back in the early '60s, when the tribute to Jim Reeves got into the British charts.
Peter revealed that Larry's mother used to sing the song 'Lovely Leitrim' and Larry recorded that number and it became a massive hit.
Larry and Shay Hutchinson were the first singers to bring country music to Ireland and Larry was singing as well as ever in recent years.
Peter who played tenor sax said that Larry was a very easy man to work with. "We enjoyed those times but there was a lot of heavy travelling, but the roads were very quiet at the time. You could travel from Cork to Cavan and not meet two cars on the road."
Big Tom McBride said he was shocked when he heard the news. "It is hard to believe that this business is still going and that Larry will not be part of it," he told the John Murray Show on RTE.
Big Tom added that Larry was known as "The Boss" in the business and it was very sad to see him gone. He added that he was one of the first artists to make county music popular in this country. "He was the pioneer of country music in this country and the rest of us all tagged in along with him," said Big Tom.
Larry recently recalled that he got his first big break when Jim Reeves came to Ireland and he played with him in Lifford in County Donegal in 1963.
Sometime later Reeves was killed in an air crash and Larry went on to have a smash hit with a tribute to Reeves. The monologue was penned by Eddie Masterson on the back of a John Player cigarette packet.
Larry Cunningham added the choruses and melodies from Reeves' songs and it went on to sell over a quarter of a million records, entering the UK charts and making him Ireland's first superstar in England.
He went on to perform alongside such great stars as Loreto Lynn, Hank Williams and also played at Carneige Hall in New York.
Fr Brian Darcy, a personal friend of Larry's, speaking on the John Murray show said that Larry Cunningham was always himself. "There was nothing put on and he still spoke with the same accent. He was the same on and off the stage and was a great man to read a crowd." He could have them eating out of his hand within minutes by simply being Larry Cunningham.
Of course Larry was a great carpenter and Fr Brian said that Larry built houses and built his own house. "The children would tell you that he was their fix it man and if he visited any of them in their new homes, he brought the tools with him".
He is survived by his wife Beatrice, and daughters Regina, Sinead and sons Lorcan and Barry, and two grandchildren Molly and Peter.