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Dan Cunningham Mixes Stories With Songs

By Staff | Jul 15, 2008

Folk singer, musician, and storyteller Dan Cunningham hails from Morgantown, but plays all over West Virginia. His discography goes back to the 1970s. His early exposure to music came from his family’s eclectic record collection, including Fats Domino, Dinah Shore and Haydn. For more info, check out www.pickndawg.com. 

Graffiti: What are your latest projects?

Cunningham: I have been writing and doing a little preliminary recording, looking ahead to a new CD. I was recently in Nashville and participated in a “songwriter circle.”

Graffiti: How old were you when you first became a musician?

Cunningham: I took up the cello around age 9 or so. I started playing bass guitar in high school so I could join a band and be cool.

Graffiti: You have an unusual background of growing up on a mix of early ’50s rock ‘n roll, old time Appalachian music and classical. How do you meld it?

Cunningham: While my main focus is acoustic music with an Appalachian influence, I have been able to play with bands in a variety of styles. Being able to read music notation and charts has helped for “sit-in” gigs and is a great help laying out arrangements when I record.

Graffiti: Do you come from a musical family?

Cunningham: My mom played violin and my father string bass in high school. My father played in a dance band in the early ‘50s and I have occasionally used his old upright bass.

Graffiti: What was your first big break?

Cunningham: Of course, I have not had a “big break” in the sense that a rock star or American Idol winner has experienced. I have had some very encouraging stuff recently: a No. 3 finish in the 2007 Reader’s Survey on Kweevak.com and an appearance on Red Barn Radio.

Graffiti: You are a storyteller as well as musician. Do you change up your stories for different audiences? What kind of stories do you tell?

Cunningham: I love telling stories, but I have only really begun to incorporate significant storytelling other than songs in my performances. Intend to do more. However, storytelling is the backbone of nearly all my songs.

Graffiti: Are you a lifelong West Virginian?

Cunningham: Almost. I was born here. I hung around Parkersburg in 1975 and was a founding member of “Insured Sound” started by the late Dave Piatt. In October of that year, I moved to upstate New York and was gone from West Virginia for 10 years. I got a “real” job, was married, we had twin boys and just played and recorded on the side during the rest of my stay in the North Country. I moved back to West Virginia in 1985 and settled in Morgantown, where I had gone to school at WVU for a year as a cello major 1970-1971.

Graffiti: What CDs are you listening to these days?

Cunningham: That has been influenced recently by the rescuing of some old music some New York musicians and myself recorded back in 1982. I posted them on a MySpace page so they wouldn’t be lost again (Ed. note: Here it is: www.myspace.com/snapshotsmusic). It has prompted me to listen to some early Metheny recordings like “New Chautaqua” and “Watercolors.”

Graffiti: What venues do you play in West Virginia?

Cunningham: My usual spots in Morgantown are the Black Bear and Blue Moose, along with Books-A Million. I get over to Border’s Books in Parkersburg.

Contact Tamar at tfleishman@graffitiwv.com