Rapping with the Reverend: Gunhouse Hill's Paul S. Cunningham in conversation
I've known this soulful, creative, talented brother Reverend Paul S Cunningham of Boston’s Gunhouse Hill for a long time now, through the miracle of modern telecommunications on the surveillance panopticon. In recent days I've been locked outta social media for too much facts-based push-back against billionaire techlords’ preferred narratives. Reverend Paul is one of the only people I miss being able to look in on.
Let me tell ya ‘bout him.
Not only do I think Rev. Paul is a Born Star and major, major talent, but he is also a devoted family man, Renaissance dude, and all-round diamond geezer rock ‘n’ roll motherfucker. I love the people who sing from their soul, ignore the big media fads, who never change with the times or sacrifice their deeply held ideals for the sake of fitting in with the followers.
Rev. Paul is a freedom man. An all the time bohemian, biker, rocker, pirate, bluesman, artiste. There's probably less than a dozen dudes left alive like him in USA! USA! I figure there's an audience for him in Australia, home of Rose Tattoo. Corporate media zombified people in Murkkka don't even like wild at heart rock ‘n’ roll on the gypsy highway no more.
They’re all like, suck up society, hierarchy slaves-trying to be Tik Tok famous and sports bar popular on their I-Phonies. They are all into that shit on TV. Kanye West, Dave Grohl, Miley Cyrus and “Amerikkan Idol” and “The Voice”. Only five executives own the entire media in this country, every bit of it, so the illusion of media diversity is a big fuckin' sham. Vanguard, Blackrock, they own it all-control the whole discussion-from controlled opposition Russiagate Rachel Maddow to limited hangout Fratboy Figurehead Tucker Carlson and thus, never, never, never allow real authentic rocknroll, truth telling whistleblowers, dissident journalists, or outsider voices on the airwaves, anymore.
Rev. Paul lives by his own code, outside of society. Catch him at the bonfire, if you get the chance. He is a stellar, shining talent. You won't see him standing in line at the gentrification juicebar hoping to get an obligatory selfie with a replacement member of some sell-out brand. He should obviously be on the road, opening for some big name sleaze rock group, but I don't suspect he's all too adept at all the sadly required, social climbing politics and gladhanding, backslapping, red carpet bullshittery they all do nowadays.
He stands alone, does things his own way, makes real music from the heart, he has sincerity, he means it man, take it or leave it. His talent level is probably pretty threatening to former celebrity marquee names. He is in his prime. He is not here to fuck around with any high school cafeteria ass kisser shit. He's the wolf screamin' lonely in the night. You can't kill rock ‘n’ roll.
J.D. STAYFREE: Who were some of the first rock ‘n’ roll songs and artists you remember being impacted by as a child? Did you have MTV growing up? What was your local record store? Did you take guitar lessons?
REVEREND PAUL S. CUNNINGHAM: When I was very young, Aerosmith and KISS were just awe-inspiring to me. KISS for the in your face spectacle of the thing. Aerosmith because they are just so damn cool, and the amazing song writing!
I was also raised on The Monkees from a VERY young age. I would dare to say that's where my love for Gretsch guitars came from, and Billy Duffy, of course.
I had access to MTV periodically in the beginning, every other week, you know the way it is. By the mid-‘80s, I was absolutely hooked. The later at night had some cool obscure cuts.
I had a few record stores I would ride my bike to after we left the city, neither was very close. Maynard Music had records and instruments, that was a 13-mile bike ride! Minor Chord was the other; it also had records and instruments that was only five miles away!
I did take guitar lessons starting at 7 but it didn't take. Life was a bit turbulent then. I started again in the early 80's though I was more focused on vocals. I took vocal lessons for a time but that was mostly learning the breathing and proper use of the diaphragm.
J.D. STAYFREE: Listening to you now, one might suspect you always had some awareness of say, Alice Cooper and the Rolling Stones? Did you like Bowie? KISS? Van Halen?
REVEREND PAUL S. CUNNINGHAM: I can safely say Alice Cooper has had a massive effect on what I do in music, like my use of big choruses, oh yes and my eye makeup.
The Rolling Stones made great music seem so damn effortless, especially “Exile on Main Street” and “Sticky Fingers”. I have to say Bowie was not really big on my list. I guess I always said forget the Ziggy and give me Iggy. I do recognize his great song writing through the years.
I always loved KISS, Ace was a big influence on me as well as Paul to a slightly lesser extent. I totally loved playing along with KISS songs when I was a kid. It made life tolerable.
Van Halen was just so cool. Let's be clear Dave years, not Sammy years. Don't get me wrong, Sammy is a good singer but Dave is the thing!! Dave is in a place of comfortable confident disinterest about what you think of him. I totally dig that shit!!! When it comes to Eddie, his playing and use of stereo chorus shaped so much of 1980's guitar playing and sound.
J.D. STAYFREE: I love that some of your songs are about carnivals, funhouses, cotton candy, all that stuff, what was the name of that big festival they have in the south end of Boston? Didn't you spend time in the Boston area? Ever go to the Rat, Bunrattys or the Channel? Ever get in trouble as a teenager?
REVEREND PAUL S. CUNNINGHAM: When I was a kid the fair was a big deal, the sounds, the smell. It was like a break from the bullshit of day to day. The St. Paddy's day parade was the biggest event of the year in Southie. It had the same vibe as the fair but just on the stoop. The South Boston Street Festival didn't start till later, conveniently about the time gentrification started. Shocking !
The bar scene in Boston back in my day was great! We had so many choices. The Rat, Avalon, Axis, Bill's, Bunrattys, and Narcissus, but my favorite was The Channel!! Seeing great bands in these small clubs was friggin magic. Bands like Circus of Power, Junkyard, The Black Crowes, Little Caesar, even White Lion.
I was in trouble constantly as a teen into my early 20's. My rap sheet from that era was, well, let's say I knew the back of a cruiser pretty well. I definitely have always had a penchant for trouble.
J.D. STAYFREE: Where did you grow up and what were you like as a kid, did you fit in, did you participate in sports, have any siblings? Wasn't your old man a cop? How did that affect you?
REVEREND PAUL S. CUNNINGHAM: When I was a kid we lived on M Street in Southie. Most of my extended family lived in Southie. We left the city and moved to what was considered the county and later became burbs. I enjoyed having the woods and fields, but I definitely missed the anonymity of the city.
I was a bit odd as a kid. I was quiet and really just wanted to be left alone. I absolutely did not fit in!! I didn't dress like them, act like them or think like them. I was widely hated and misunderstood.
I was the other.
I was forced to play sports for a bit. They wanted me to play because normal kids play sports and they desperately wanted me to appear normal.That was so important to them. So it didn't last long. Hell, I just wanted to play guitar and listen to music.
I have a younger sister, she is three years my junior. The old man that periodically attempted to raise us was a town cop. That was a friggin' nightmare. There is no privacy when they all know you and your business. I inherently dislike the police as a result.
J.D. STAYFREE: When did you start learning how to play guitar? Did you always know you were a rock ‘n’ roll singer? When you were growing up did people say you dressed weird? Were you a partier?
REVEREND PAUL S. CUNNINGHAM: Like I said earlier, playing guitar started early but didn't take the first time. I really was drawn to singing even in my early teens. I can safely say everyone wanted me to dress like a "normal kid". I took a lot of flak for my lack of conformity. I definitely was a partier in the old days and if I was being completely honest some not so old days. It has been a ride.
J.D. STAYFREE: When did you first discover Prince? Tom Waits?
REVEREND PAUL S. CUNNINGHAM: The first Prince song I heard was “Little Red Corvette” and I tell you I was hooked. Tom Waits was a little later and it was “Hang on St Christopher”. I still eat that shit up! Gunhouse Mill actually played it as a cover for a few years. Tom has such a dark beauty to his songwriting and delivery. Good stuff!!
J.D. STAYFREE: What were some of the landmark records that really affected you as a teenager influences wise?
REVEREND PAUL S. CUNNINGHAM: Oh yes, this one is easy, yet long winded. The records that were the most influential in my teens. I'll start with Motley Crue – “Shout at the Devil” and “Too Fast for Love” were friggin’ brilliant. “Rock City Angels”: “Young Man's Blues” is just perfect in tone and beauty.Faster Pussycat, Circus of Power, Junkyard and Dogs D'amour; the debut albums really helped shape my musical style. Finally Guns n' Roses – “Appetite for Destruction” was a revelation. It had the angst and sleaze that was just what the Doctor ordered! It was brilliant in its mix of mayhem and genuine bluesy grit.
J.D. STAYFREE: Memories of the sleaze metal era? Hanoi Rocks, Motley Crue, Guns N Roses all that kinda stuff? Were you putting bands of your own together back then? Most memorable shows and records that stand out or still hold up from those years? Did you watch “Headbanger's Ball”? “120 Minutes”? What magazines did you read?
REVEREND PAUL S. CUNNINGHAM: I remember the sleaze days. I recall many nights hanging by the fire just smoking, drinking and listening to Circus of Power, Hanoi Rocks, G n' R, Dogs D'amour, Faster Pussycat, Junkyard or The Cult absorbing all the beautiful madness! Early Crue was such a high for me! You really don't feel music like that anymore. Some of the best bands from those days are little known outside of certain circles, and that is a shame.
Back in my teens I started putting outfits together, at first I was the guitarist, then I started singing. We played some Mass clubs like The 490 and Sir Morgan's Cove. It was a good time.
Back when “Headbanger's Ball” was on we tried to watch it every week. The Guns show at the Ritz on “Headbanger's Ball” was a game-changer and totally transcendental ! I watched “120 minutes”, though not as religiously as HBB but it turned me on to some great bands. Definitely bands I would not have heard about otherwise.
Back in those days I did read music mags everything from Circus, RIP, Creem, Hit Parader and Metal Edge. I'm sure there were more but those come to mind right away. It was just cool. The sound of turning pages brings me back every time.
J.D. STAYFREE: Please discuss your early bands, music evolution, who did you first find to collaborate with?
REVEREND PAUL S. CUNNINGHAM: The first real solid band had a few different names: Alley Cat and Painted Horse were the names. We were pretty damn solid. I do remember thinking we were better than many of the bigger bands in the area, but that could have been ego. The guys in that band were Sean, Manny, Al and Jeff. Sean, Jeff and I have done projects here and there through the years. Sean and I still talk all the time, he's a great guitar player and a good friend.
J.D. STAYFREE: What is the significance of the name Gunhouse HIll? How many full lengths did you record with that group? Did you do the lion's share of the song-writing? Are those albums still available for purchase now?
REVEREND PAUL S. CUNNINGHAM: The Gunhouse Hill thing started much later. The name came from a Revolutionary era road up here in the wilds of Maine. I would drive by that sign, hell, I put up those signs. I always said if I put together another band I would name it Gunhouse Hill!
So I did.
In Gunhouse HIll I did most of the song-writing. I was open to input sometimes, I will admit I had a vision and that was the direction we went. I was definitely more open to input when it came to structure and organization. We recorded three EP-length records with the great Johnathan Wyman. The first two are still on all the streaming sites and the third will be back up soon.
I am in the process of recording a solo record. Two of the tracks will feature Scott and John from Gunhouse Hill. One is a song from our last record but now it will be acoustic. The second one was going to be the last song we did together but shit happens. The rest of the songs are a mixed of very recent and a few years old. The record will be acoustic, recorded in my home studio.
Other than that I've been writing, playing, building guitars here and there. I also have a small shop in our home where I make and sell witchboards, spirit Boards and other dark, rustic items.