By Johnny Griffith
Most musicians have a side gig, it’s just a fact of life. It’s challenging to support yourself, much less a family, on playing music just in this area. There are plenty of people who try it, and a few who succeed, but most of the time those who are successful find they eventually have to travel outside of the area to make ends meet. Aside from those few who are out burning up the roads to make the next gig, the rest of us either have careers, and in reality, the music is the side gig, or we pick up odd jobs to get us to the next show to make sure we pay the rent or car note.
Occasionally you find a person whose side gig is an extension of their creativity, and the two forms of expression really build off each other, serving as not only a source of income, but inspiration as well.
Forney native Chris Cunningham has found this balance between music, design, and family using it to be better at all three things. When he’s not playing a gig around the area with his new band, running around with his family, or tracking down fish at his favorite lake, Chris is running his design and engraving business, keeping his creativity engaged. Chris graciously took some time out of his busy schedule to let us get to know him better.
Johnny: Since a lot of our readers probably haven’t had a chance to get to know you, tell us who is Chris Cunningham?
Chris: I am originally from Forney and still live here today. I’ve been married for almost seven years with two awesome kids. I married into them, but five minutes around all of us, there is no denying they’ve spent way too much time around me! I guess, while not playing music, I could be described as a typical outdoorsmen. I hunt occasionally, fish entirely too much, and the rest of the time I enjoy metal detecting. Nerdy, I know, but fun nonetheless.
Johnny: When do you remember being first interested in music?
Chris: Growing up both of my parents were singers. Both had spent years in the church choir, and my dad was always a tenor in a quartette. But my interest in music came after their separation. I spent a lot of time by myself and taught myself how to play and write songs. Most of my songs are on the darker side because that’s where they originated for me. I’m not a puppies and unicorns kind of guy.
Johnny: What role did your family play in your early musical development?
Chris: I remember my mom always driving me, before I could drive, to some random place to meet up with another band and hit the road. She’s never one time told me I couldn’t, and that to me is the biggest role anyone could play with something like music.
Johnny: Who were some of your early musical influences?
Chris: Very much Cody Canada. The way he writes is so smooth, and I feel like a lot of his songs are written in the same manner as mine: never written down, just freestyled and put together.
Johnny: When did you realize you had a knack for writing originals?
Chris: I just remember realizing I was extremely good at putting words together. It wasn’t that I ever intended to make a song, songs just came out. And they still do. I will go weeks and months without words coming to me, and out of the blue steps, here comes a shiny new song. And it ain’t good until you can make yourself cry.
Johnny: How would you describe your music?
Chris: I’d have to say primarily Red Dirt country, but it can definitely lean rockish when I’m with a band.
Johnny: Where do you draw inspiration from for your original music?
Chris: Real world situations. None of my songs are fictional. They are all real.
Johnny: Do you remember when and where your first gig was?
Chris: Now that I think about it, yes. Probably the Crandall Cotton Gin. It was a restaurant, and they decided to start serving as a live music venue. Now it’s no longer there, and the building was demolished after a fire, which is a travesty, because their chicken fried steak could give people a reason to live.
Johnny: Music isn’t the only artistic endeavor in your life; you also have your own design/engraving business. What drew you to that expression?
Chris: I worked for a company out of Dallas doing the type of thing I do now. At first it was just a job, but once I started learning to use the laser I got really good at doing small things, until I met a guy they hired to do laser work as well named Richard. Richard has had a bigger influence in my life than he will probably ever realize. He helped me realize my potential to do the kind of work I do, and it really expanded my mind as far as what I was capable of doing. When I decided to go out on my own, he was always there to help, and I can’t thank him enough. If any readers would care to see my nonmusical work, go to facebook.com/c3lasered.
Johnny: Do the two ever intermingle? Does your music inspire your design work or vice versa?
Chris: Yes! A lot of lyrics come to me when I’m working and just singing random things at the top of my lungs. The guitar is never too far away. (That sounds like a song right there!)
Johnny: How many shows do you manage to play in a typical month?
Chris: Being married and helping take care of the family I help with, I usually squeeze about two or three good shows in. Booking is tough these days, but I always will play if I am wanted.
Johnny: Do you travel much or generally just play local?
Chris: There is not much of a music scene in and around Forney. Myself and several others do what we can to change that, but most shows that I would deem memorable occur in Tyler, Longview, Cedar Creek, etc.
Johnny: What has been the most interesting memory from your musical journey?
Chris: I think the better question is who, and that answer is Colton Mathis. I swear on everything he is Stevie Ray Vaughn reincarnated. No one can touch the amount of artistic ability he has in him. Nobody.
Johnny: What upcoming shows do you have on the calendar?
Chris: The next show I have is on Saturday, November 4th in Canton at Random Finds inside the First Monday grounds. It is a really good time and always features other musicians who also play in the area. We rotate out and play for about an hour each. I like to call it “fools on stools!”
Johnny: What are you listening to when you’re not playing or writing your own stuff?
Chris: Lately I’ve really been stuck on Cody Jinks and Cody Johnson. The way they both write really intrigues me, and Cody Jinks writes some songs that hit home hard. It’s hard being a writer listening to music sometimes especially when you can’t hear emotion from the person singing because they don’t feel it because they didn’t write it.
Check out Chris Cunningham’s Facebook page for more info on upcoming gigs at facebook.com/chris.cunningham.982.