Interview with Dan Cunningham
Dan Cunningham played bass with the Phil Keaggy Band from 1976-1979. Dan continues to pursue music and took some time to answer a few questions. You can visit his website at www.pickndawg.com for more on the PKB and some vintage photos.
One-Way: Tell us a little about your musical background. What artists influenced you?
Dan: My musical preferences were blurred early on. When I gained access to the record player in our house at about age 5, we had 2 Haydn symphonies on 78's, and 3 singles: Dinah Shore on 78, Chubby Checker and Eddy Arnold on 45's. Like many of us, I was influenced as a teen by the Beatles, but the San Francisco bands also interested me by the late 60's. As a bass player, I was most influenced by Jack Cassady of the Jefferson Airplane. His extended lines were an exciting departure from the norm in popular music. As an acoustic guitarist, there were many influences, Leo Kottke being primary , although Phil certainly had my ear.
OW: How and when did you first meet Phil Keaggy?
Dan: I met Phil in the August of 1975 while visiting Love Inn in Freeville NY. I think he was working for the ministry duplicating radio tapes for The Scott Ross Show, and not playing out a lot at the time. I was invited to dinner and Bernadette served a wonderful dish, Oriental Bean Salad (food makes a real impression on me!) My memory is not real clear on the subject , but we probably played guitars after dinner because I think we showed off our respective versions of Gaspar Sanz's "Canarios". He finally recorded it on Lights Of Madrid. He may expressed interest in forming a band; can't remember for sure.
OW: How did the Phil Keaggy Band form?
Dan: I moved to NY in October of 1975, and by 1976 I was working for the ministry at Love Inn in a number of humble capacities (duplicating tapes, bookstore clerk). A couple of the elders met with me and told me the church wanted to send out a group to back up Phil as an outreach. Love Inn was already producing a radio show (The Scott Ross Show) and a newspaper/magazine called Free Love.. So it wasn't like someone saying, "Hey, let's form a band!". It was to be composed of musicians who were part of Love Inn. We were paid a very modest paycheck by Love Inn Road Ministries and believe me, no one worked at Love Inn for the money! Phil. Lynn, and myself were already on site, along with Peter Hopper, who was to head up the whole thing. So the first PKB had no keyboard and Peter on drums. Phil Madeira arrived soon after, and Terry Andersen, who had a previous connection to Love Inn, returned to the fold and was with us on drums from our first 1977 tour.
Phil Keaggy Band at Ramapo College
OW: Can you share any special memories while recording Emerging?
Dan: A couple of add things stand out for me. One was Gary Hedden's state-of-the-art studio. Another was Mexican food at Gary's house (the food things again!). The band struggled at the sessions to get the right feel for "Another Try", despite the fact we had been playing it on tour. After some experimentation, we went back to the way we had always done it and it turned out fine. There was a lot of discussion over which songs would be included on Emerging. I was personally disappointed that "Mighty Lord" did not make the cut, though a different version of the song was included on Re-Emerging. We actually put Phil Madeira's Weather Report style tune "So Hey!" on tape. Also Keaggy's song "Psalm 73". I guess they were both wiped at some point. "So Hey!" would have been a fun addition. "Psalm 73" is powerful and unique, but I'm not sure that it fit for Emerging. After I recorded my bass parts, I was done for the most part. The exception was the cello part for "Ryan's Song". I wrote out the part I had been playing on the bass and then worked with Karl Fruh, a top-notch cellist from the Chicago Symphony. While the other guys did vocals, I did some sight-seeing and errands in Chicago.
OW: How about memories from the years on the road with the PKB?
Dan: I had played in secular club bands that traveled to gigs that lasted a week or two, with the group playing 4 or more hours a night. This was my first experience traveling with a truck full of equipment, multiple vehicles and one night engagements. It can be exhausting. Vehicular breakdowns came in spells, and on many occasions getting to the next location was an adventure.
Playing with Phil is also an adventure: he is very spontaneous. You better be ready to pick up on a new wrinkle. I was used following along on the fly, but I think I'd have more fun with it now my mind-set was not as flexible then. On one gig in Chicago we were introduced and Phil begins playing something he made up on the spot for the first song. As a result of this kind of playing, many of Phil's songs morphed into musical creatures with new intros and mid-stream style changes. One of the more vivid memories of the road was of what I call "Living Room Music", in this case, Motel Room Music, or Motor Home Music. I remember the first time I head "Life, Love, and You" in a motel room with Phil alone on acoustic guitar. The magic and intimacy of those moments are never equaled on recordings.
OW: What other Jesus music artists did the band play with?
Dan: In some of our first concerts we shared the bill with John Michael Talbot. He later traveled with us a couple of times. Phil McHugh was always a great friend and he also traveled with us a couple of times. There were other one-shot deals like Honeytree, Orion, and others. Of course Ted Sandquist and Nedra Ross (former Ronette and wife of Scott Ross) were with us on at least few engagements as they were part of Love Inn.
OW: What finally led to the band's breakup?
Dan: I think there were a number of reasons, but my memory fails me for a definitive answer on this. I know that there was concern about some of the guys being away from their young families. Phil may have been making plans to move on or move out from under the umbrella of Love Inn Road Ministries, but I cannot say for sure after all these years. We played off and on for probably 8 months or more after the official breakup decision. The last gig was 1979 in Philadelphia.
OW: What did you do after the band broke up?
I bounced around trying my hand at different "honest" means of employment (un-musical) until I secured a steady job in advance of my marriage to Julie. I continued to work on various musical projects and spot performances with Ted Sandquist, Lance Demers, John Fischer, and others. Phil moved to Kansas City soon after the breakup. Eventually, everyone but Peter Hopper moved on. At one point Lynn, Lance DeMers, (who played with PKB in our last dates), Ben Pearson (who worked on our road crew) and I were considering moving to Nashville together, but it did not happen. I moved back to WV in 1985. Except for myself, the whole band is now in Nashville.
OW: Do you still see Phil regularly?
Dan: After Phil moved to Kansas City I did not see him for nearly 10 years. In that time Phil had moved to California, and then to Nashville. In the late 80's Julie and I visited Nashville and saw Phil, Phil, Lynn and Ben and their families. I saw Terry on a later visit. Since then I have visited Phil a few times in Nashville and a few times at his engagements. I now communicate with the other former PKB folks in Nashville on an irregular basis. We're still good friends. We had a great time recording the new tracks for Re-Emerging.
OW: Do you have a particular favorite Keaggy song or album?
Dan: There are a number of PK songs I really enjoy, but like a number of folks I have talked to, "Let Everything Else Go" stands out. While not my favorite, I think the song, "Town To Town", is a pop masterpiece. The fluid changes of style and time signatures are masterful. My choice of albums is heavily influenced by my affection for the sound of the acoustic guitar. I rate Phil's recent recording, Lights Of Madrid, among my favorites. I am assuming the tracks are the same as the advance copy Phil gave me, then called, A Touch Of Spain. I have yet to compare the track titles.
OW: How about early Christian music?
Dan: I heard most of the early Christian artists because I was duplicating the radio show tapes for the Scott Ross Show. I can remember enjoying many of them, with the Second Chapter of Acts being the first to come to mind. It was an artist on a secular label that had the most lasting influence on me, though. That was Judee Sill. On her album, Heart Food, she expressed her affections for Christ in very personal terms and sang in revealing fashion about the struggles in her spiritual walk. The imaginative lyrics and creative musical framework were unique at the time. Heart Food has been re-issued by a Japanese company.
OW: What do you think of Christian music in the 2000's?
Dan: I hear it often, particularly worship music as I have been a worship leader in our church. It has been fascinating to see the explosion of worship music in different styles. It's great that we are breaking out of our cultural rut and embracing the worship styles of Christians in other parts of the world. I am fascinated with creative musical expressions in a number styles, so I regularly listen to a wide variety of stuff. There is also much fine contemporary Christian music, but there is a limit to the range of expression we will hear in a commercial context. Contemporary Christian music is fulfilling it's mission to proclaim Jesus and provide edification in a style that fits into the flow of commercial music and provides a effective vehicle for that message. It can be innovative, but I do listen to a lot of Classical, Jazz, and other styles for purely musical reasons..
OW: What plans do you have for the future?
Dan: My first goal is pretty simple: to become a better guitar player. Aside from that, I want to get some my musical creations recorded. My first CD cleared out some of the stuff I had been fiddling with for years, in essence allowing me to "clear the decks" and think about new directions for my music. Although my wife and I perform together and know we have to keep our audience in mind in selecting material, I'm trying to free myself from the need for financial return on my musical experiments. I want people to enjoy what I'm doing, but I am enjoying trying out ideas and having fun with it.
OW: Tell us about your own music and new CD.
Dan: It's called, Into The Flow. I did the recording for it over a number of months in 2000, a piece at a time. As I stated earlier, it clears the deck of tunes I had written or started and sets them in final form. It is an acoustic guitar album with a few solo pieces, some over-dubbed stuff, and occasional appearances by other instruments. Most of the tunes are expressions of my old memories of events and places; a river boat passing at night, the sounds of a county fair, that kind of thing. There are musical portraits relating to our spiritual journey and a couple of short Classical pieces thrown in for color. People tell me it is very peaceful, which I guess is good. I have a pretty complete description of the tracks on my web site (www.pickndawg.com).
OW: How often do you perform?
Dan: While I do perform, most of the performing I do these days is with my wife, Julie, who plays the Celtic Harp. People are fascinated by the harp and we get most of our engagements because of that fact. I do get to play, but I also make a great roadie.. Someone has to carry the harp! Most of those gigs with the harp are for special events like dinners or receptions, a fact I have fun with on my CD on the song, "Tejas Tango".
OW: Dan, thanks so much for your time!