Memphis musician killed while helping co-worker

Associated Press Modified: October 15, 2012 at 8:00 pm •  Published: October 15, 2012
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"He loved protecting people and standing up for people's rights and watching their back," Joseph Cunningham said.

Other prominent Memphis musicians who died this year include Memphis Horns tenor saxophonist Andrew Love and Booker T. and the MGs bassist Donald "Duck" Dunn.

"Music was his life. He was given a God-given talent," Joseph Cunningham told in a phone interview from Olive Branch, Miss. "He not only played, but he helped young musicians ... He was loved and well-respected."

Born Blake Baker Cunningham Jr., B.B. Cunningham became friends in high school with Steve Cropper and Dunn, both founding members of Booker T. and the MGs.

As a teenager, Cunningham helped run the family's record label. In 1954, Sun Studio producer Sam Phillips asked Cunningham to add some percussion to a session by a young Elvis Presley.

Cunningham led the band the Six O'Clock Boys and was a member of the touring version of Ronnie and the Daytonas, known for the song "G.T.O."

The touring group then became the Hombres, which scored a No. 12 hit on Billboard's Hot 100 chart in 1967 with the raw, edgy "Let It Out (Let It All Hang Out)." The cult classic has been covered by John Mellencamp and used in the 2005 film "Elizabethtown."

Cunningham later work at the famed Sounds of Memphis Studio and, in 1971, moved to Los Angeles, where he served as chief engineer at Independent Recorders. There, he worked with Billy Joel, Elton John, and Lou Rawls.

Cunningham returned to Memphis a few years later and launched his own studio. His solo album, "Hangin' In," was released in 2003.

Eldorado Del Rey, a musician who also works at Sun Studio in Memphis, said Cunningham would visit Sun Studio often to say hello and have a cup of coffee.

"He was awesome, I loved him," said Del Rey. "He was kind of meditative, but then he would tell you a really funny story."