Der aus Massachusetts stammende Singer/Songwriter war in den 70er Jahren nach Berlin gekommen und wurde innerhalb der dortigen Clubszene bald eine feste Größe, nicht zuletzt durch seine häufige Zusammenarbeit mit damals schon bekannten Künstlern. So hatte er zum Beispiel seinen ersten Studioauftritt als Gitarrist für die Aufnahmen für Hannes Waders Album “Sieben Lieder”. Bereits in dieser Zeit hat er als Musiker, Komponist, Textdichter und Produzent mit hunderten von namhaften Künstlern zusammengearbeitet, von Peter Maffay und Veronika Fischer über Udo Jürgens bis hin zu Heinz Rudolf Kunze.
Seine eigenen Plattenveröffentlichungen begann er mit der Ende der 70er Jahre erschienenen LP “Have a Little Faith in the Kid”, gefolgt von “Comin' Back for More”, “Blitz: the Game” und “Tom Cunningham & the Broadcasters: Germany.”
Neben seinen eigenen Veröffentlichungen profilierte sich Tom Cunningham zunehmend als Plattenproduzent, unter anderem für Romy Haag, Queen Yahna und Rick De Lisle. Als echte Pionierleistung kann man seine Mitte der 80er Jahre einsetzende Zusammenarbeit mit DDR-Musikern ansehen. Er war überhaupt der erste aus dem Westen, der Musikproduktionen für DDR-Gruppen übernahm und so deren musikalischen Ausdruck ein zeitgemäßes Soundbild verlieh. Erfolgreich war vor allem “Casablanca” von City, eine Platte, die viel Kritikerlob erntete, nicht zuletzt für ihre transparente Produktion. Später setzte er diese Arbeit mit Produktionen für Karat und Keimzeit erfolgreich fort und er veröffentlichte 1996 die beachtenswerte CD “Hagelberger Street”.
Tom hat vor vollen Häusern gespielt mit seiner eigenen 7-Köpfigen „Tom Cunningham Band“, besetzt mit einigen von Berlins besten Rockmusikern und Backup Sängern. Parallel dazu findet kontinuierlich die Studioarbeit an eigenen Projekten oder mit und für andere Künstler in Berlin, London oder Nashville statt.
Foto: Zuzana Richter
Berlin, Winter 1971 – Spring 1972: Tom and James (Jesse) in Steve Club & Go-In
The next night in November we went down to a place called the Steve Club. It was minuscule, built right up unto the railroad tracks that went through the center of town. Folksingers have been there before; their tattered old folk gigs and imposing stares running down along the indoor walls of the club. Next to the Lenin and Marx posters, placards from Tony Sheraton and Derroll Scott were seen; they had played to great acclaim in former days.
The stage was tiny, a hole in the wall for solos or duos. Again, we were sober and serious: "My Babe," "Keep on Truckin" and "Gypsy Nights," serious music for a serious audience. The bartender, Christoph, didn't crack a smile the whole time. That scared us (although we came to know later that he treated all newcomers like this). I mean, we thought we were pretty good, even “hot shit”. Down in Athens people laughed, danced, made love, you name it when we played. But these Germans! It takes a whole lot of “weasel-shit” (Jame’s term) to get them on your side.
We played our set, got a smattering of applause. Christoph remained unenthused. We went back to the small room where the musicians stayed. "This is bullshit,” James said. “No sooner are we in Berlin, and we’re bombed out. We won't be asked back here again.”
“There is one more chance," I said. "It's called the Go-In. It's everything that this has, and it’s much bigger; more lively, a real stage with lights.
"Yeah, forget about this place," said someone from the crowd, who I later found out was called Stephanie. "The Go-In is the place to be. Not cut and dried, like a bunch of old beans here in the Steve Club; you see people really moving onstage. It's loud, but when people like you, they really love you."
The Go-In. That was the place to be. Funny name, though. I guess they took it from the French new wave films, like Be-in, Do-in, Stay-in…Go-In. In a block called Bleibtreu Strasse, it was right in the middle of what could be called the West Berlin-high end downtown. The street levels were shops and restaurants, but up above were five-story houses, built mostly during the Kaiser era. High ceilings and elegance were the watchwords. Streets were partially cobblestone and only allowed two lanes, so with broad shade trees and a Kino, cool boutiques and a variety of restaurants, it was pretty much a pedestrian zone.
The Go-In was right next door to an Indian restaurant (we later saw the Indian-looking chef doing business there). James and I walked in with false bravado, and after asking "who's in charge here?" and were directed to a guy named Jo. He had on a loud, skin-tight T-shirt, was taking orders and serving up beer.
Upon being asked what he paid, he replied, "Between five and 500 marks." He and the Indian guy (who kept him company) laughed, but we took it seriously. "Five and 500 marks," we thought. "Halfway between is 250 marks. We gotta be at least good enough for 250."
The warmup room for the Go-In was downstairs, a tiny chamber, among the trash cans before you got to the toilets. The walls were covered with graffiti, a good portion of which was in English.
But we had no interest in that now. The set had to be a killer. Now we got serious, and it seemed to me a tiny step was made.
"We gotta start with a tornado, get ‘em right out of their seats, leave ‘em coming back for more," I said, with not a little bit of a false bravado.
"Like ‘Country Pie’," James said, and I couldn't have agreed with him more.
"Right, and we got a finish with the number like ‘Then I've Got to Leave’." We were just going over it when a garbled voice came over the tinny loudspeaker, "Tom and James to the stage please."
We bounded up the stairs but, having got there, put on our "I don't give a shit" smiles and ambled loosely on stage.
The crowd was loud, but we didn't let them bother us. We tore through the numbers, all the while laughing as if it didn't really matter. There were only three microphones, not four, so we ganged up both guitars on one.
We built it up to a climax, and sure enough, the applause came. And it wasn't just applause either; there were whistles and hollers and shouts of "Yeah, man!”. After our 20 minutes set, it was time for an encore, or “Zugaben". Now we were riding the wave; we dug into our musical grab bag to pull out a chestnut. "Oh me oh my, I love that country pie…" now Tom and James were in command. "What about it, James? Have we got another one?"
"Well, I believe I do.” And he launched into the main A-chord of Wayne Grajeda’s "Then I've Got To Leave":
“When you gonna give me love
Stop believin’ you’re so high above me
When you gonna give me love
And see things my way…"
The applause was tumultuous. That was a gig.
"Let's put these guitars away, and mosey on up to the bar," I said. Ever so cool, we sidled up to the places where drinks were poured. But Joe wasn't smiling; he went on pouring beer and taking orders as if that was a normal Thursday night.
"Um, Joe…" he placed a few more orders for drinks before turning his attention to me.
"What about some money?" He thought for a moment, and then he said: "I can pay each of you...seven marks."
Seven marks. Seven lousy marks. Still - it was double the amount we got in Munich. And we saw a diner down the street that sold souvakia for a mark.
And Joe filled up our books with four more gigs. With the promise of a higher rate if we pulled the audience.
We shook his hand, and we took the gig.
The four gigs in the Go In lead to another eight gigs. And Christoph, who was in charge of the Steve club, also piled on the gigs. He never did laugh, but we managed to tell when he was happy; he simply got out the address book and gave us two more gigs a week, more than anybody else had.
© Tom Cunningham