Sunday, August 23, 2015

Charles Connor's Keep A Knocking Rocks the Juke Joint

As always Summer has been very busy. The Professor is getting ready for another year of school and another bunch of eager fresh faces that will be glazed over zombies within the first six weeks. You can’t imagine the rigorous and physically demanding classes that await freshman theatre students – plus the extra work building sets or costumes, coupled with rehearsals. Thank God, I did all that when I was younger, because let me tell you, with my old and decrepit body, I sure couldn’t do it now.
Anyway, I was back in Jordan’s Branch for a few days going over some last minute notes and I hid out in my office to avoid the calls and emails from my soon-to-be students.
There’s a big difference between Henry and me. Henry is the kind of guy that when he has a job that needs to be done, he hunkers down and gets it done. Then he’ll make sure it was done right and might even try to figure out a faster way to do it next time.
That’s one reason why everybody asks him to do stuff while they take off for the beach.
On the other hand, I will procrastinate over even the smallest job. Things that should take a few minutes can often take several days.
That’s the reason no one asks me to do much of anything.
My office is my Fortress of Solitude. During the day, there’s not much going on at the Juke Joint so I can work on whatever strikes my fancy. This year I’m teaching a new class that explores the use of theatre by the Mayans, a subject that has not been covered to death.
Fortunately the freshmen won’t be in that class. Nope, they get history and literature, the classes that will weed out at least a third of the incoming class.
So instead of going through my notes, I spent the afternoon going through my mail. Mostly it was a great crop of CDs, but there was a longer, thicker package that caught my eye. It was either a box set or a book – and I don’t get too many books at the Juke Joint.
This one said Waldorf Publishing and the book that spilled out was KEEP A KNOCKING by Charles Connor and Ziv Biton.
The Charles Connor? The guy who was the backbone of Little Richard’s band? The guy that James Brown said, “put the funk in rock and roll?”
Oh yeah, the notes can wait. I’m going to spend the next several hours with this book.
If you are not familiar with Charles Connor, this is the man who invented the choo-choo style of rock drumming that drove so much of the early rock and rollers. If you listen to just about any of Little Richard’s up tempo numbers and you’ll discover that it was Connor who was driving that sound.
His story makes for an amazing read. He starts us out in his home town of New Orleans where his parents encourage his artistic goals even when his teachers try to quash them. By the time he is 15, he is playing regularly with one of the all-time greats, Professor Longhair.
Yes, he was the original Professor of the Blues.
Sharpening his skills, Connor was quickly in demand by various bands and as a fill in player. He was still a teenager when he took to the road with Shirley and Lee, a popular r&b group when he was spotted by a young Little Richard who was about to take the world by storm.
The bulk of the book focuses on Connor’s time with Little Richard and we are treated to a backstage pass to the wildness that was the birth of rock and roll. He shows us all the fun – and some of the debauchery that went on during those times. There was plenty of drinking, much of it done by Connor himself; plenty of wild women, and the incident that led Little Richard to walk away from rock and roll at the height of his fame.
There are more great stories about his time with Sam Cooke and James Brown among others, but considering the who’s who that Connor played with over the years, I wish the book would have been longer and more detailed.
Charles Connor was one of those guys who had a chance to watch history unveil itself and he was both a participant and a keen observer. His drumming influenced so many performers over the years and reading his journey from youth to maturity is a rich source of inspiration.

Thank you Charles for sharing your story with all of us and if you’re ever near the Juke Joint, I’ll hope you’ll join us.