Who is Big Tuna? Catch the Truth about Big Tuna and the Fishermen

By Mia Lindenburg
October 17, 2022

Saturday, October 8th, the band Big Tuna and the Fishermen played a gig for St. John Fisher’s family weekend. Made entirely up of St. John Fisher University faculty, the band is full of familiar faces sharing talents many students might not know of.

Here’s the line-up:

Greg Cunningham, professor of Biology: Guitar, keyboard, drums, and vocals.
Emily Dane-Staples, professor of Sport Management: Vocals.
Brad Kraft, professor of Inorganic Chemistry: Keyboard and tambourine.
Daryl Hurd, professor of Biology: Electric ukulele and vocals.
Mike Boller, professor of Biology and Sustainability: Bass guitar and vocals.
Matt Zak, professor of Pharmacy Practice: Drums, guitar, and vocals.

How did Big Tuna and the Fishermen start?

Hurd: “Dr. Cunningham and I had exactly the same idea at exactly the same time.”

Cunningham “When I started, I would sit and sing in my office a lot, as I still do…and Daryl was like, I wonder if this guy can actually do something, and so he came and talked to me”

Hurd: “I had talked to some people … faculty advisor for Teddi … and asked if they want to let me in with a faculty band, and from there, the answer was yes.”

Cunningham: “[This was] 12 years ago. We were originally started as a band that played at Teddi. Daryl, me and Mike … and a complete other ensemble of players. And so, as faculty have come and gone, our lineup has changed.”

Hurd: “We’ve made additions and substitutions, and here we are.”

What’s the story behind the name?

Hurd: “Well, we were gonna be the Fishermen, but that name was taken.”

Cunningham: “And a little too on the nose.”

Hurd: “Then, we were gonna be Big Tuna, but that name was taken. We also kicked around Ivory Tower for about 15 minutes.”

Cunningham: “We didn’t kick around Ivory Tower.”

Hurd: “But that was too …”

Cunningham: “That was horrible.”

Hurd: “Pretentious.”

Zak: “U2 was taken.”

Where can we find BT & TF?

Cunningham: “We do some outside gigs, more so just for fun … block parties, played at golf courses … but any event that Fisher will allow us at, we’re in.”

Is this your first time being in a band?

Cunningham: “I did have a band when I was in college … most of my musical output has been single singer/songwriter stuff. When I was in graduate school, I played a lot of it at bars and restaurants, and on the radio at the radio station where I went to school. So, I have that sort of background, but yeah, this is the most substantial band I’ve had.”

Zak: “I was in a band, but we were just a ‘90s/2000s hard rock cover band, played in Rochester for a couple years … it was a fun outlet, but I wouldn’t even call us a successful Rochester band, we got a few gigs here and there. But playing live, you really can’t beat it, it gives you that little bit of a rush and you see people enjoying, just, music. That’s a great feeling.”

Cunningham: “Music is fun. It’s fun to be a part of. I think, anytime we get together, whether it’s for a show or a practice, we have a lot of fun.”

Daryl Hurd and Matt Zak

When/what do you practice?

Cunningham: “Sometimes every week, and sometimes we go for a month or two without practicing, it depends on what our upcoming schedule is.”

Cunningham: “There’s a lot of songs that we’ve been playing, pretty much for forever, and then there are songs that come and go, songs that we play until they fade out.

Zak: “You’ve got six people here who have a wide variety of interest in music. I would say I’m more the harder rock person, who brought more of the ‘90s rock to the band, and there’s ‘60s and ‘70s and ‘80s in there, so it’s nice to have an eclectic mix to have everybody do. I’d say we have about 40-50 songs depending on the day that we could play if we wanted to, going over 60 years. Even if something might not be one of our favorites, you play it live, and you get into it.”

Hurd: “And we very much like to put our own spin on things … change a song just enough so that we can have fun with who we are.”

Songs straight from the tuna can:

Cunningham: “I’ve written a lot of songs for myself, as a singer/songwriter, and we have one song oddly enough called ‘Fish,’ given our band name, and I wrote it when I was in California … it’s a song about three different species of fish and their behaviors. I wrote it when I was in graduate school and we’ve played it a bunch, and that is the only original song we’ve ever done as a band.”

Although “Fish” wasn’t played at this show, some pieces were noticeably original. The highlight of the evening was the Yankovician parody of Billie Eilish’s “Bad Guy” entitled “Bad Prof.”

Dane-Staples: “The rewrite of ‘Bad Guy,’ ‘Bad Prof,’ is not our own [exactly], but … ”

Cunningham: “It was a fun rewrite, Emily and I worked on our own together and it was a lot of fun. Obviously, we’re here at a university where we all really care about teaching, so it was just sort of fun to imagine ourselves to be professors who don’t give a rat’s ass about that sort of thing.

Mike Boller and Emily Dane-Staples

With the wide range of musical interests for the group, each member shared one of their favorite bands or musicians.

Kraft: “I would say Radiohead is probably my current favorite, been my favorite for a while.”

Hurd: “I’m going REM.”

Cunningham: “Pink Floyd.”

Boller: “Weezer is pretty important to me. But I would actually say Foo Fighters right now. So, my first and second date with my wife was the same Weezer concert. Because, it got rained out the first day so we went back.”

Dane-Staples: “Billy Joel.”

Zak: “I have to say Pink Floyd for some of the older stuff, and then Metallica for some of the newer stuff.”