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After 32 Years Playing The Blues, Root Doctor Launches Farewell Tour

Freddie Cunningham and Root Doctor photo
Scott Pohl
Root Doctor kicked off a farewell tour last Friday at McClintock Park in Laingsburg. Singer Freddie Cunningham is retiring after more than three decades fronting the band.

One of Michigan’s most popular and durable blues bands is doing one last round of shows this year. Root Doctor has been fronted by Freddie Cunningham for 32 years.

WKAR’s Scott Pohl took in a recent Root Doctor concert and has more on the group’s final fling. 

Freddie Cunningham photo
Credit Scott Pohl / WKAR/MSU
Singer Freddie Cunningham of Root Doctor works the crowd at Laingsburg's McClintock Park.

Freddie Cunningham, a WKAR-TV retiree, is 77 years old. He’s announced that 2021 will be his last year singing with Root Doctor.

The band got its start in the late 1980s with an offer to assemble a group, and a get ready quick deal to perform at the former Tango’s in downtown Lansing. Cunningham says the club gave them two weeks to prepare. “So we practiced every day for two weeks," Cunningham explains, "and we finally got it together. I can remember the day, it was June the 29th, 1989. We played a set, and they said ‘whoa, you’ve gotta play another set!’ and I said ‘we only know one set!’”

Cunningham says they played the same set again, in reverse order, and it went well enough that they were kept on.

The band’s lineup has had frequent changes, but there’s been one other constant. Bassist James Lee Williams says being together so long is a surprise. “We never would have thought that in the beginning, you know? Fred and I have seen people come and go," states Williams,  "but him and I been able to maintain and keep the soul going in the band, yeah.”

Anita McDaniel, president of the Capital Area Blues Society, tells me that she gets the decision to call it quits. "It is sad, because they’ve been such a fixture for so many years," McDaniel says, "but I completely understand where Freddie’s coming from. He’s been doing this a long time. Constant touring, late nights, tearing up, packing up, that’s hard. It’s hard for anybody. Yeah, I get it.”

Root Doctor poster by artist Dennis Preston
Credit Dennis Preston
Artist Dennis Preston designed this Root Doctor farewell tour poster for the band.

Cunningham describes himself as shy and self-effacing, and adds that singing “looses something” in him. So, why stop now? “I can’t do it as well as I used to," he concludes, "so as far as keep on doing it until I can’t? Well, you know, I would rather stop while I can a little bit. That’s where I am, quit while you’re ahead kind of a thing. I want to quit while people still want to hear me.”

If last Friday's crowd in Laingsburg is any indication, people do still want to hear Freddie Cunningham. The rest of the Root Doctor schedule includes the Michigan Princess Blues Cruise in Lansing on Saturday July 17th. There’s a series of park gigs and festivals, and their last scheduled show is a Halloween Blues Cruise on the Michigan Princess on October 29th.

After that, Freddie Cunningham will still be around, so you might see him sitting in with others from time to time.

Scott Pohl is a general assignment news reporter and produces news features and interviews. He is also an alternate local host on NPR's "Morning Edition."
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