"Float On" singer Larry Cunningham of The Floaters dies
(January 10, 2019) They had one big hit back in 1977, but wow was it a hit. The Floaters came out of the clubs of Detroit and shot right to the top of the pop and R&B charts with their first single, "Float On." And folks still love the ballad four decades later. But we are extremely sad today to inform SoulTrackers of the death of group co-founder and all around good guy, Larry Cunningham, after a long illness. He was 67 years old.
In addition to his work with the Floaters, who continued to perform decades after their last hit, Larry was active singing Gospel songs such as his project from a few years ago, "Feels So Good" featuring Essence of Grace. And he was always known to fans as a big man with an even bigger smile. I had the pleasure of talking with him over the years, and his charm was immediate and lasting.
The Floaters started as a quartet in the early 70s with members Cunningham, Charles Clark, Robert Palmer and Paul Mitchell, and became a very popular club act in Detroit. Wooed by another local group with a small label contract, Palmer left and was replaced by Ralph Mitchell, who was with the group when they were subsequently discovered and signed by ABC Records executive Otis Smith.
The group's self-titled debut album hit the stores with virtually no fanfare, but a young New York disc-jockey threw the single "Float On," with its memorable bass line, on the air during a break and the phone lines lit up. A disc jockey in Cleveland had similar results and soon ABC realized it had a potential hit on its hands. The single ultimately climbed to the top of both the Pop and Soul charts, one of the most unlikely hits of 1977. "Float On" came in various lengths and mixes, the most ponderous of which was an 11 minute version that dominated Side One of the debut album. The lyrics were rather preposterous – as each member of the group gave an inane monologue about his zodiac sign and what he liked in a woman – but the groove was absolutely infectious and carried the day.
The sale of ABC Records in 1978 spelled disaster for the group's second album, Magic, which also featured a tremendously long first single (the title track), but wasn't nearly as compelling as its predecessor and it faded quickly from the charts. New label MCA brought in veteran writer/producer Eugene McDaniels for the group's third album, Float Into The Future, but it died an even quicker death.
Internal group struggles and a battle over the Floaters name led to the departure of Cunningham and Mitchell in 1980, and a local female singer, Shu Ga, was recruited to work with the remaining duo for the forgettable Get Ready for the Floaters and Shu Ga. It again featured an oversized single (the 10+ minute "Get Ready") but nobody seemed to notice.
With legal issues behind them, the group reunited in 1990 and began playing dates with their long-standing Floaters Orchestra. They also started working in multi-group soul shows around the world. During the next decade Clark left the group for a new career in Gospel and Paul Mitchell became a local Detroit producer. Original member Robert Palmer rejoined Cunningham and Ralph Mitchell in the lineup that continued well into the new millennium. In 2005, the trio recorded a limited edition EP, The Way We Were, that included an excellent cover of Charles Wright's "Loveland."
Larry was a longtime friend to all of us at SoulTracks, and we’ll miss him greatly. All prayers for his family and for all those he leaves behind.
By Chris Rizik