Memphis musician killed while helping co-worker

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) – Memphis musician B.B. Cunningham scored with a classic garage rock song and toured with Jerry Lee Lewis, but he also enjoyed his side job as a security guard because he liked standing up for other people. On Sunday, he died doing just that.

Cunningham co-wrote the 1967 hit “Let It Out (Let It All Hang Out)” for his band the Hombres and toured more recently with Lewis. The 70-year-old keyboardist, bassist and singer’s other job as a uniformed security guard provided a steady paycheck, his son said.

He was shot and killed over the weekend after he came to the aid of another security guard during a shootout at the Memphis apartment complex where they worked, police said Monday.

The gunfire began when a 16-year-old boy and a 22-year-old man fired shots at the other guard, police said. After hearing the shots, Cunningham began chasing the teen and the man into another apartment complex nearby, police said.

After another round of gunfire, Cunningham’s co-worker found the musician and the teen lying in a courtyard with gunshot wounds.

Cunningham and the teen, identified Monday as Henry White, were pronounced dead on the scene.

Police identified the 22-year-old gunman as Dock Britt. He fled the scene but was later was arrested and charged with first-degree murder in Cunningham’s death. Investigators are still trying to determine who shot White.

The shooting shook Memphis musicians, many of whom looked up to the keyboardist who joined Jerry Lee Lewis’ band in 1997. He had had also been working on an album with his son.

Joseph Cunningham, the musician’s son, acknowledges that a regular paycheck was one reason why his father worked as a security guard.

“Most of Jerry Lee’s band, as a matter of fact, have jobs on the side because Jerry doesn’t tour consistently enough for them to make a living at it,” Joseph Cunningham said.

The former Air Force military police officer also had an interest in helping others, doing charity work and looking after those who lived in the apartment complex.

“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.”

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