CHARLES CONNER

CHARLES CONNER

Charles Connor interview

One of the legendary rock and roll show drummers of the 1950’s and 60‘s! Charles Connor spent years touring with some of the greatest entertainers of our time laying down a great backbeat that kept the audiences dancing! His first years of touring was as the original drummer for the Upsetters, the band behind Little Richard during all of his appearances of the 50’s. Charles tells us some great stories of what he experienced being a part of the beginnings of rock and roll!

SE: It’s an honor to talk with you. Man, you provided the beat for some of the greatest entertainers during the beginning of rock and roll!

CC: …yeah I played with Sam Cooke, Little Richard…James Brown …about 25 or thirty black entertainers…in fact I played with Little Richard it was at the international amphitheatre on I think it was January the 26th. I was the guest drummer when Little Richard played there with Chuck Berry. We had a nice time.

SE: Yeah I saw them do that show here in Concord about a year ago.

CC:  Oh.. with Chuck Berry?

SE: Yeah with Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard.

CC:  Yeah, they’ve been…William Morris agency been booking them a lot, you know.

SE: Yeah.

CC: This is Richard’s last year up in show business. He’s retiring.

SE: That’s kinda weird. You’d think that guy would go forever.

CC:  Well he was retired…first retirement was when we played Australia in 1957 and then he retired again and again and again.. So this is it. This …he’s gonna draw his musician’s union pension and social security and motion picture thing…but Richard can’t stand still little more than six months or somethin’ like that.. half a year..

SE: Too much energy.

CC:  Yeah. A lot of energy. And he’s also my brother in law…I was married to one of his sisters for ten years. I was in the family you know. And I see him about once a month or sometime.. like that.

SE: Oh really.

CC: : I’m gonna update it. You know my drumsticks are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Ohio. And I’ve been doing a lot of things.. I’m a motivational speaker.. and I go on jobs that guarantee money…I go around California. I sign like 8 by 10 photos and I sell my CDs. I autograph things and I’ve been signin’ my drum sticks and sellin,  em. Yeah, a guy turned me on about a year ago. So I did about three last year and I did one this year so far. And it’s pretty nice you know.

SE: Are you still playing live shows?

CC:  I only play gigs when I want to play gigs…I don’t play on weekdays that much.

SE: That’s great. You’ve done a lot of time on the road in your life.

CC: The other thing is when you get old you don’t have to travel. I mean I was on the road for 22 years, man. You get tired of…. well I could say all this in the interview. I’m originally from New Orleans, Louisiana. I know you can tell my southern accent. And …I went to Sweden with Little Richard …we did a Scandinavian tour of Denmark and Sweden in 1992. I took off about a month…

we was over there about 25 days you know. I played with him at the Greek theatre about six years ago. Two years ago I played at the House of Blues. I know you know about the House of Blues.

SE: Oh yeah, a good place.

CC: Yeah and like I say, the Universal Amphitheatre on January the 26th  this year.

We did it you know. And I do a little private gigs with him too like wedding receptions  but he gets big money for a wedding reception. He gets $40,000.

SE: I know..

CC:…You know cause the guarantee is like $50,000 when he’s on the road and stuff like that so..

SE: Weddings pay big!

CC: Yeah, really. But anyway he told the guys that they were going to play a lot this year.. and he told the guys to hold on to their money because that’s it this year.. he’s gonna come out of show business.

SE: Ah he’s gotta come back.

CC: Oh yeah, he’ll be back. You know Richard can’t stand still you know.

SE: One question I’ve gotta ask you, I know that Earl Palmer played on Richards records, but on that box set there are a lot of tracks I’ve never heard. Some sound really early. Did you do any sessions with Richard?

CC: Well, I tell you what I did. You know the great Earl Palmer huh?

SE: Right.

CC: Earl Palmer did all those sessions and everything. The reason why was cause those guys had a clique going in New Orleans.. Earl Palmer and..

SE: Lee Allen

CC: …and Lee Allen.  They played behind Fats Domino they played behind Shirley and Lee. They played behind Guitar Slim.

SE: Yeah.

CC: They played behind Smiley Lewis and they had that thing sewed up you know?

SE: Kinda like the Wrecking Crew.

CC: Yeah, really. But the reason why they did that was… that’s all they did and people were complaining saying well that guy sounds like the same guy…you know Lee Allen’s playing solo and all that.. they say he sounds like the same on the Shirley and Lee records.. And that’s why those guys had to break up because they sound alike on different artists’ songs.   They sound too much alike. You know that’s why Earl came out here and stuff like that.  But what I did …I’m really the guy that created the Rock and Roll beat in 1953.

SE: Yeah?

CC: The choo choo train beat.

SE: Yeah, the train beat.

CC: The train beat. The first four and….I think that.. well I don’t think I know.. uh John Bonham copied after me.

SE: Yeah everybody did.

CC: Cause people wasn’t playin’ that Steve.. they were playin’ like shuffles and things and even when Earl Palmer was playin’ on Little Richard records and everything like that.. what happened was they were playin’ like a swing beat.. playin a backbeat and everything.. they were playin’ mostly swing . But I’m the one that came up in 1953 and copied Richards’s style.. Richard said I want you guys to look different. I want you guys to act and dress like a bunch of gay guys. And I want you guys to wear earrings.. get your hair curled.. it wasn’t a demand you know but we did wear earrings and pancake makeup and got the hair curl and all that stuff you know. We wasn’t gay.. Richard was always bi sexual.  But the thing about that…Richard wanted his band to sound different and look different. And I came up with that beat that ..With the eighth note…along with the backbeat.. I came up with that like on Keep A Knockin.. uh we recorded that up in Washington DC when we were playing at the Howard Theatre between breaks.. we had a two-hour break.. and I said, “Lets do somethin’ different on this tune so I came up with that ta ta TA ta, ta ta TA ta, ta ta Ta ta ta ta…Keep A Knockin. but with eighth notes and things like that and that’s the first four-bar intro on any Rock ‘n Roll record.

SE: Yeah.

CC: But now, on a lot of that stuff now.. we’re playin’ on the outtakes. The box set.. you have the box set?

SE: Yeah the specialty box set.

CC: The specialty box set?  I’m playin’ with Little Richard.. I’m sittin up there playin‘.. We’re playing about maybe fifteen or twenty tunes on outtakes. Listen to your box set and Richard was sayin.. You can hear Richard in the studio saying, ”Hey Charles give me a little more bass drum. Gimme a little more soul you know. Kick that bass drum.” I was doin’ more like a second line beat. You know a second line beat in New Orleans. A kind of funeral march beat? But I’m the one that came up with all that stuff. People thought I was crazy man by doing that you know. Ta, ta TA ta…They’d say, ”How can you play like that?” You know, I’d say” I’m following Richard’s piano cause Richard’s piano was like..da da da da da da DA da… I just did it with the drums. And they’d say, “don’t you get tired?” And

I’d say, ”No I don’t get tired.” And one guy in this interview…he said, “How can you remember all that stuff?” And I said, “How can you forget what you helped to create? Rock ‘n Roll.

SE: Yeah, that’s right.

CC: Just like when I played at Universal Amphitheatre with Richard.. the people in the audience man, we must have had three hundred people stand up when he introduced me you know? And they asked me when I went back stage afterward you know they said,” You didn’t rehearse with those guys?” How can you forget what you helped to create? You just feel it! But ask me any question you want you know…

SE: Ok. Well thanks for coming up with that beat cause god know I stole from ya ….

CC: Everybody…everybody you know.

SE: Matter of fact I remember when I was playing in a Blues band for awhile whenever we came up with the right song I’d just say, “Let’s just put the Little Richard train beat to it. That’s all”

CC: Yeah I call it choo choo train beat. But I have a song called “Beginning of Rock ‘n Roll” and I’m trying to get a video for this.. I’m trying to get a documentary. It’s called “The Beginning of Rock ‘n Roll” ..how Rock ‘’n Roll really began? With Shirley and Lee? “Baby Let The Good Times Roll” Remember that?

SE: Oh yeah. Great record.

CC: Yeah.  Let me tell ya about a story that ain’t never been told. It’s the story of Rock ‘n Roll. It all started from rhythm and blues with a back beat shuffle and some boogie woogie too. Now way back then in 1953 I was playing with a group called Shirley and Lee.. When Little Richard came up to me said, “I’d like you drummin’ and like your beat..would you like to come out on  the road with me?” (sings) The beginning of Rock ’n Roll… and then I’m saying,” Little Richard said, “One thing you gotta do to play in my band.. you gotta make your drums sound like a choo choo train. And everywhere we played the crowd went wild. Everybody fell in love with the choo choo train style.” Ha Ha Ha…..

SE: (laughs)

CC:  I got a song called “The Beginning of Rock ‘n Roll” As a matter of fact after the interview I’ll mail you my CD.

SE: Yeah, I’d love to hear it.

CC: And I’m sayin, ”We put on pancake makeup and we all look gay. We didn’t mind. We all got paid.” That’s the lyrics.

SE: Plus you got more women.

CC: Yeah, yeah. I was telling some musicians today.. You know the band Lincoln Park? Lincoln Park was there last weekend and the guy said, ”Charles, how many women you think you slept with?” I said, “In my life.. playing with Little Richard and other people? Cause the opportunity was there cause in those days they didn’t have no AIDS. All they had was gonorrheas and claps and all that stuff. I never caught any of that stuff quite fortunately.. But the thing about that I said, ”But nowadays, you guys have the same power we had but you can’t take chances cause people tryin’ to sue ya? Got so much security now. And body guards and all that stuff. And the hotel clerk don’t let the women in the room like they used to let em go upstairs and look.

SE: Yeah.

CC: Everything has changed and those days will never come back. So the guy said, “How many women you have actually slept with?” And I said,” Maybe 23 or 2400. I said but that’s nothin’ cause we had some guys in the band that were a little faster than me and they probably…in their lifetime they probably screwed about 3000 women. So that’s you know…but they can’t imagine that! The guy said,” But how did you….” I said, “Because I was out there with Little Richard. Little Richard was hot. He was different and we would make love before we would play the gig at night! Two or three women.. the maid and two or three women in the daytime and then bring a broad back to the hotel…sometimes three and four women a day! (laughs)

SE: Well, I just came up with an R rated answer to that question.

CC: What?

 

SE: I f anybody asks you “How many women did you sleep with you just say, ‘Man there were so many women.. who had time to sleep?”

 

CC:(laughs)  Did you get a chance to listen to those outtakes. ?

 

SE: Yeah. You know some of those outtakes to be honest with you.. are better than the released versions.

 

CC: Yeah, a lot of people say that. Richard says the same thing. A lot of people told me that too. I’m gonna.. I got a copy on cassette but I’m gonna.. all of the best songs maybe about five or six or seven songs. ..the best of the outtakes I’m gonna put that on tape. Cause it’s really good stuff, you know?

 

SE: Yeah. In fact songs like “Ready Teddy” which to me personally I never thought that was much of a song.. but there’s an outtake version on that box set…there’s two of em I believe but there’s one of em that I swear even though the bass player hits a wrong note and somebody else hits a wrong note.. the groove and the feel is so much tighter and better and rockin’ than….

 

CC: And powerful. And what about “Kansas City”?

 

SE: Yeah. There’s two of “Kansas City”. That’s another song that I’ve heard so many times that it doesn’t do anything to me but that one’s outtake is like, “WHOA!”.

 

CC: Yeah. You hear where Richard says, “Hey Charles more bass drum. Put the bass drum…”

 

SE: Yeah.

 

CC: But the thing about that see…the guy.. Earl Palmer and Lee Allen and those guys you see they were actually ashamed to play Rhythm and Blues and Rock ’n Roll.

 

SE: They were kind of what jazz guys?

 

CC: Yeah, strictly jazz. Cause they went to a school of music when they came out of the service and they went to you know music school and all that stuff and…not Lee—but Earl Palmer and a couple of other guys. And the thing about that.. and Earl was actually ashamed to play the back beat because the back beat was supposed to be so simple. You know and they thought they was above that. The only reason why they did that was because they got paid..(laughs)

 

SE: (laughs)

 

CC: Like the Wrecking Crew. Them guys had no interest in what they were doing except probably with some of the orchestras that they’d record behind but, they didn’t care nothing for that music. Cause I’m gonna tell you one thing Steve.. They didn’t think that music would still be around.

 

SE: Yeah. A lot of people didn’t.

 

CC: Yeah. The Rock ‘n Roll was really something else you know.

 

SE: Yeah. I’m glad that box set finally came out when it did.

 

CC: Yeah that gives us some recognition you know.

 

SE: I hope they split it up and make individual ones just of outtakes  so that people who can’t afford the big box set they can just buy the one disc of outtakes.

 

CC: Yeah, cause that box set I think.. I don’t how much it costs.. it’s real expensive.

You see those guys were safe in the studio to record and stuff like that.. I mean they can.. but we was out there on the battlefield. I mean, what ya see is what ya get.

Ya play and you perform and you have to look decent and you have to perform decent and the guy on the bandstand had to have dance steps and stuff like that. I was the only one didn’t have dance steps  cause I was sittin down. But those guys

you had to really do your best. And then we was young musicians. He couldn’t have brought you know the studio band and stuff like that cause those guys were older than us. And so you need a bunch of young good lookin guys.

 

SE: Yeah. On the first disc there’s some slow bluesy numbers that sound like demos that Richard was doin.. was that you guys too?

 

CC: Yeah. That’s us on the demos.

 

SE: That stuff is great too. That sounds like it was recorded with one mic in a room and…

 

CC: Yeah, one mic and a guy up in the control room and all that stuff and I don’t even know if they had a mic on the drum to tell you the truth..

 

SE: They probably didn’t back then.

 

CC: They may have had a mic over the piano and a mic for the vocals..that’s it. Everybody was in a room together playin.

 

SE: Yeah I remember, I met Lee Allen once but I didn’t ask him, but I remember reading he said that there was like one mic for Richard’s piano and when he did his solo he had to go lean his sax into the piano.

 

CC: Yeah. Close to the mic yeah. Cause they had like the baby grand piano and you know  you raise the hood up or the top up and the mic was hangin’ right there you know. But they was good studio musicians too…great studio musicians. The best..

 

SE: Yeah. That’s true…Was there ever any live shows recorded that you guys did?

 

CC: Some were. Well you know we played some of the greatest theatres in America.. like the Howard Theatre and the Apollo Theatre. And the Brooklyn Paramount and also the Royal Theatre up in Baltimore, Maryland. And someone videotaped.. I remember someone videotaped us at the Apollo Theatre but I don’t know what happened to that. It wasn’t a guy in the band. It was someone in the audience.  You know they allowed a guy to come back stage and sit at the side of the stage and videotape us and stuff like…I mean there was big lights and it looked like somethin’ from outer space in those days you know?

 

SE: Yeah.

 

CC: But someone has it. It’s around somewhere. Definately somewhere. Because we used to take a lot of videotapes of girls in the rooms and stuff like that. Lee Diamond and Wilbur Smith had a motion picture camera and used to take naked pictures of the girls.. but I don’t know what happened to those pictures . I wish I had it.

 

SE:(laughs) Yeah. They’d be stag movies now.

 

CC: Yeah they’d really be something you know.

 

SE: So you were born in Macon?

 

CC: No I was born in New Orleans.

 

SE: And you went from there to Macon? How old were you then?

 

CC: No. Let me tell you how…I was born in New Orleans, Louisiana on (Dauphine?) St. And I used to tap dance.. I think I told you I tapped danced for the white tourists

when I was five years old. Then my daddy told my mother, “Man this boy got rhythm.” And my mother said, “Yeah, because when I was eight months pregnant he was kickin’ in my stomach any time I been around music.” My mother said,” This baby gonna be a drummer.” She didn’t know whether I was gonna be a girl or a boy cause in those days you had no way to know . But I joined Little Richard’s band in 1953. I was eighteen years old. Around June ‘53. And I was eighteen and Richard at that time he was about twenty. Now  what happened is I was out there in Macon, Georgia playing with  a group called Shirley and Lee. Shirley and Lee and Smiley Lewis.

 

SE: Right.

 

CC: You heard of Smiley Lewis.

 

SE: Oh yeah. “I Hear You Knockin’”

 

CC: Yeah, right. And so those guys on account of the weather or something but alot of dates were cancelled. About twenty dates were cancelled and we were doin’ bad around.. we were waitin’ to do some more dates around the twenty dates…but we were around Nashville Tennessee. And he was tryin.. a guy by the name of Curtis R___he was trying to book some more jobs but we were out of work about 2 or 3 weeks. And what happened was Richard had seen me play up in Nashville, Tennessee in a club called the New Era Club. I think it’s on fourth street. And Richard liked the way me and Lee Diamond played you know. But then after he had sent for Lee Diamond and myself and he asked us if we wanted to join the band and he was staying at a hotel downtown…and he asked us if we wanted to join his band and I said, “Yeah”. Man we were so hungry. I hadn’t eaten in about two or three days.

 

SE: Geez.

 

CC: Hadn’t eaten a decent meal. Baloney sausage and crackers and stuff and peanut butter. But hadn’t had a decent meal in three or four days and I’d lost about 2 or 3 pounds. I got really skinny. And I said,” Yeah, I’d be glad to play with you.” And Wilbur Smith, he played piano and he also played tenor saxophone. And I said, ”Yeah, I’d be glad to play, but I don’t have no drums Richard. My drums are at the pawn shop.” And Richard said, “That’s no problem.“ And I went and gave Richard a big hug. I said, “No problem?“ He said, “Let’s sit down. Let’s talk. You guys hungry?“ Man we were so hungry and everything and Richard ordered us some collard greens and pork chops and macaroni and cheese up to his hotel room cause we hadn’t eaten in a long time. We was hungry you know. And so after that we sat down and talked and he said, “I’d like to go back to Macon, Georgia and create a band called the Upsetters. See I had a band before the Upsetters.. but they wasn’t really professional musicians. And so he got my drums out of the pawn shop…I think my drums only cost like fifteen dollars, but you gotta remember fifteen dollars in those days …

 

SE: Like a hundred dollars…

 

CC: I think the hotel room it was Brown’s Hotel or somethin’ like that… I think was 7 or 10 dollars a week…a week yeah.

 

SE: Wow.

 

CC: Yeah. But he got my drums out of the pawn shop and everything and a taxi cab.. because he didn’t have no car in those days or nothing like that ..he used to travel in  taxi cabs…or no plane.. we used to catch the train to go back to Macon, Georgia. So he got my drums outta the pawn shop and so we went to the train station and we went back to Macon, Georgia. That’s how I met Little Richard. But I met Little Richard.. I didn’t meet him in person but there’s a club called the Tijuana Club in New Orleans and it’s in a bad neighborhood. And matter of fact it’s right around about four blocks from.. what’s the name of that big dome in New Orleans  Super Dome.. and I had seen Richard play up there with a group called.. you may have heard of this group.. called the Temple Toppers.

 

SE: I think I may have read about it in his book.

 

CC: I think it was Duke ..on the Duke label I think. It was the Temple Toppers. I was about sixteen so Richard must have been about eighteen at the time. I said, “I never have seen a man who looked like that. If I only could play drums behind a guy like that.” Because we seen a lot of potential with Richard. We knew he was gonna be a star. Now he wasn’t a star at that time with the Temple Toppers because it was a group with about four or five other guys. But Richard stood out so much you know with that hair and the makeup and he just looked like a star.

 

SE: Yeah.

 

CC: And I had seen him then and I was using my imagination I said, “One of these days I sure would like to play with that guy Little Richard. I’d like to play with that guy one of these days.” I never had played with a gay guy before like that you know. But I know the guy looked like he was gonna be a star. I knew that two years before he accepted me into his band. I hadn’t said anything to him, but when we went back to Macon, Georgia he said…he asked us..he said, “Why did you guys….” He said, “I’m working. Yeah. I’m workin’ for..” And he only had one guitar player.. he had a… guitar player named Thomas Hardwell.. cause Richard used to play with the house band. He would go around and he would play with the house band. So he had his own guitar player and Richard was the piano player and singer. So he had the house band the rhythm…the saxophone player and the piano player.. bass and drum and whatever guitar player you know. He said, “Why did you guys take a chance and come with me. You guys don’t no nothin’ about me.” I said, “Well, we felt you’re gonna be a …(we didn’t use the word superstar) you’re gonna be famous one of these days.” You know you used that kind of language in the fifties. He said, “Well, let’s see” and that’s how I joined Little Richard’s Upsetters band.

 

SE: Was that after he did the blues numbers he did for RCA Camden?

 

CC: That was after yeah. Cause I don’t no nothing about RCA. That was after RCA.

 

SE: So that must have been those other players playing..

 

CC: Yeah, studio musicians I think. But it wasn’t Lee Allen that was in Texan I think…that was musicians in Texas I believe.

 

SE: I see.

 

CC: Now when I went back to Macon, Georgia with Richard… Richard got some more musicians. He got a guy named Earl Swanson. He played alto saxophone.  And he had Lee Diamond on tenor sax. And Lee Diamond also played piano. And I was on drums. And then Thomas Harwell was on guitar. And you know we played like that around Macon, Georgia and around Nashville, Tennessee and places like that.. the southern states.. for about one year. Now, who was missing? What instrument was missing?

 

SE: The bass.

 

CC: So we was about three or four days in Macon, Georgia and Richard said,” Charles I want you to come to the train station with me.” I said, “For what. I’m fired? You’re  sendin’  me back home?” He said, “No,  I want you hear somethin”

And we stood at the train station for about 45 minutes.. we had to wait for a train to pull off you know? And he said, “Now you see when that train pulled off…cha..cha..cha..cha..cha…” He said, “That’s the way I want you to play drums behind me.” I said, “Now wait a minute now. What are you talkin’ about Richard?” He said, “ You see like I play piano. Like da..da..da..da..da..da..da..da.” You know piano..eighth notes?

 

SE: Yeah.

 

CC: He said, “ I want you to play those kind of drums.” He said,” I don’t know the value of those notes … I said,” They sound like eighth notes or sixteenth notes. “ He said, “Well at the next rehearsal, that’s the way I want you to play drums behind me. Especially on the fast numbers…not on the slow numbers.. but on the fast numbers.” And that’s how I came up with that beat.

 

SE: Man. And everybody stole it.

 

CC: Everybody stole it and everybody.. there are millions and millions and millions of drummers playing that beat today. And what happened was they thought I was crazy because…now you’ve got to remember like I said we didn’t have a bass player. So I have to.. the reason why this sounds so good.. I was playin’ on my —-cymbal and on my snare drum. Da Da Da Da (imitates drum beat)..Now you’re a drummer right?

 

SE: Right.

 

CC: And I was doin’ four/four on my bass drum. Almost like disco. Cause I was trying to make it sound like to fill in for a bass because we didn’t have a bass player!

And I never did care for upright see…I don’t care for upright bass. No way.. You know what I mean?

 

SE: Yeah.

 

CC: I’ve seen a lot of guys playing upright bass and they were fakin’ it.

You hear a little…they didn’t have enough volume.  So, I like the electronic bass. But when I was playing.. and I came up with that beat.. and Richard said,” Play hard on your bass drum.” So I went da..da..DA..da. (imitates drum sound) And my bass drum..Boom,boom,boom, boom…

 

SE: Right.

 

CC: And every now and then I might do some syncopation or a double beat on my bass drum. And that’s how the band felt.. sounded full. It would sound full because.. and people didn’t question us until after six months about  ..and a couple of musicians.. we were playing someplace like Selma, Alabama…American Legion and the guy said,” You guys sound full but is the guitar player playing the bass part?” He said, “ No. That’s the drummer doing that.. He’s playing the bass part.” Of course I’m not playing any chords on it but you can hear that. It sounds like.. disco. And that’s how I came up with that beat. But everybody thought I was crazy at that time. They said, ”Man, what are you doin?” And the reason why they asked me what I was doing was because it was hard to play! They didn’t want to do it. They said,” Why don’t you play something simpler than that?” You know?

 

SE: Yeah.

 

CC: But when I was doing like the choo choo train beat that was exercise for my wrists and everything and I got good at it and I felt more relaxed after a couple of weeks and stuff like that. And there was no space…I was playing everything Richard was on the piano. Da..da..da..da.(again imitates the drum beat)…Even before Tutti Fruiti was made.. he would play.. you remember Roy Brown?

 

SE: Yeah.

 

CC: You know  “Good Rockin’ Tonight”?

 

SE: Oh yeah.

 

CC: He‘s from New Orleans too….“You heard the news.. There’s good rockin‘…”But

I was doing that then. On that kind of beat. (imitates his beat again) And Richard On the piano and that’s why we sounded full man. And of course we had more mic’s on the bandstand than we did in the recording studio because Richard always had a mic you know between his legs as he played piano. And when he stood up he had a mic. And we had a mic for the saxophone player. We used to have about three mics on the bandstand when we played live.

 

SE: Wow.

 

CC: So it sounds pretty good you know. And they had the old PA system in those days.. a public speaking system or whatever it was you know…a little old grey box and…but that’s the way it was in those days because the sound system wasn’t sophisticated. The only time we had a sophisticated sound system.. I mean professional.. like at the Apollo Theatre they actually had a microphone come out the floor! By the drums yeah.. it came out. And then they had about three or four or five mics on the stage. We got a good sound system there. But that’s how all that stuff started out man.

 

SE: Man, I wish somebody had recorded you guys doing it live.

 

CC: Yeah, right. And behind that.. Richard said,” I want the guitar player to play the same thing I’m doin too.” (imitates beat..) Eighth notes with the guitar.. to fill in! Cause we didn’t have a bass player! And when we finally got bass…—Robinson the bass player.. man, that guy.. he wasn’t a hell of a musician, but he had a good ear and he had the electronic bass and he was hittin’ the right notes and everything. The thing about that was with that volume man.. can you imagine.. that sounds like an earthquake! It really sounds good. It was a pleasure to go on the bandstand. But Richard said,” I don’t only want you guys to sound different. I want you guys to look different.” I said, “Uh oh. Here he comes with somethin’ else now.” He said, “I want you guys to dress like gay.” Now gay.. believe it or not the word gay.. the first one I ever heard to use the word gay was Little Richard!

 

SE: Yeah.

 

CC: He must have got it from somewhere. He might of got it from Billy Wright. Billy Wright he had long hair.. but he never did make it. Billy Wright died about two years ago.. from Atlanta, Georgia. That was Richard’s idol and Richard copied after Billy Wright.. the looks of Billy Wright and also after Liberace! You remember Liberace?

 

SE: Oh, yeah.

 

CC: A hairstyle like Liberace. You look at Richard’s hairstyle it looks like ..well of course Richard is a brother.. Liberace is caucasian.. but Richard used to get his hair straightened and all that stuff. But he said, “I want you guys to look different” And I said, “What do you mean different?” He said, “I want you guys to look gay.” “Aw Man..” He said, “You don’t have to do it now. You’re not gonna lose your jobs.” But I went to the beauty shop and I got my hair curled and sometimes.. occasionally wear one earring. Everybody wore pancake makeup and darken on a mustache with a eyebrow pencil and all that stuff. And it made our skin look smooth. We was already young..so we looked three times better than we usually looked. And that pancake makeup under those lights.. Richard was brilliant man. Now this was before Tutti Fruity was made… and he said,”If we look like a bunch of gay guys we can play the white clubs. We won’t be a threat to the white girls so the white guys won’t think we’re trying to mess with their women.”

 

SE: Mm Hmm.

 

CC: And we weren’t gonna mess with them no way because that was back in 1953 or ‘54 and that was down south! But that was the strategy that Richard used.

 

SE: That was smart.

 

CC: And wearing loud clothes. .he used to wear loud clothes and everything. And you see what made Richard’s band.. we were  good musicians and we really played with alot of soul and with this heavy drive and everything….but back in ‘53 Richard would draw unusual crowds. Richard was the first one that drew.. he had the gays come up clapping.

 

SE: Really?

 

CC: Yeah. Cause they felt comfortable comin to see Little Richard!

 

SE:(laughs)

 

CC: Now he had that goin for him right? He had the straight people coming to see him and he had the gay people coming to see him. The people that were gay and they came out of the closet. Some of them were friends of his and ..but they just liked Richard because you couldn’t take Richard as a serious blues singer cause Richard was like a comedian like..

 

SE: Yeah.

 

CC: With a lot of energy and everything. But Richard was the first one that I’d ever seen.. and I’ve seen many bands…he was the one that got the gays out of the closet! Now you gotta remember.. all these things are important and people don’t talk about these things.. we had a different sound right? We were all young and good lookin right? And most of the guys in the band were tall, right? We got our hair fixed or our hair curled or if you didn’t want it curled you had it processed. So what happened was.. the guys that did get their hair curled in the band.. we looked gay. Now what do you think that created?

 

SE: I don’t know.

 

CC: That created curiosity. These white girls  were saying, ”What are these guys?” So that created curiosity. They were curious about us. And that’s how even before Richard was famous that’s how we slept with so many women! Cause they was curious!

 

SE:(laughs)

 

CC: And the women were doin things with us and everything like that..oral sex with us and everything like that.. because they know…and communication wasn’t like it is nowadays.. I imagine that some of the people who came to the dance and things had party lines and then people didn’t have many magazines like they have now. But what they’d do with us was to stay in the hotel room with us and we did not discuss it with anybody else..so we didn’t know.. they could have given us the wrong name right?

 

SE: Right.

 

CC: So we didn’t expose them so it was a confidential thing.

 

SE: Man, what a wild life.

 

CC: That’s a hell of a life, huh?

 

SE: Yeah.

 

CC: And the thing about that was.. that’s what made us so different. Now Fats Domino had a hell of a band and I think Fats Domino’s drummer —–Coleman  is one of the greatest drummers that ever lived . I would kiss the ground that that guy walked on..he died about eight or nine or ten years ago…but they didn’t have the nerve that we had. See they were already popular but they didn’t have the guts and the nerve we had because we wanted to make it! And we were a bunch of young ignorant musicians.. silly musicians.. didn’t think our shit stink or anything like that..and we just wanted to make it. They already had made it but they were more sophisticated than us…in a way of speaking.

 

SE: So that’s Fat’s live band cause his studio band was the same as Richard’s right?

 

CC: That’s right. That was Fat’s live band. I’m talkin about —Coleman and Lee —was Fat’s too and —- and all those guys you know. And we knew.. see we took advantage of that see. We said,” Let’s be outrageous.. Let’s just get outrageous.” And the thing about that was we didn’t mind dressing like gays guys because when we went home we would cut ..when we played in New Orleans we would cut our hair so our parents wouldn’t get upset and we put no pancake.. very light pancake. .but that was in Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama.. So we were safe those days. You know?

 

SE: Yeah.

 

CC: But that’s the strategy we used for to create these crowds and things.

 

SE: Way ahead of your time. Then we had Kiss and people like that..

 

CC: When did Kiss come in the sixties.. seventies?

 

SE: Early seventies yeah.

 

CC: We were doing that.. I’ll tell you another thing. During ‘55 that’s when the girls started throwing their panties at us.. on the band stand. Now everybody thinks that started with.. what’s that guys name.. Tom Jones?

 

SE: Tom Jones.

 

CC: Tom Jones. He’s been workin Vegas a lot.  But we started that.

 

SE: You guys started not only Rock ‘n Roll but you started the Rock ‘n Roll wild road trips and life style.

 

CC: We started the groupie stuff. Like we played Atlanta, Georgia and we would have girls following us from around Atlanta, Georgia to Savannah, Georgia to Gainsville, Georgia.  They’d follow on their only —they’d get in  the car and you had to  chip in and get  gas and everything but the thing about that.. we liked that..but the thing about that was you had to sleep with those same girls when you play  another town from Macon, Georgia cause they had followed you. You had to pay em some kind of respect. You know what I mean? So you couldn’t take care of the new girls in the town.. the other girls.. But we started a lot of stuff, man. And these things haven’t been mentioned. Some things have, you know.

 

SE: So when the records were made was there an electric bass used on the records?

 

CC: I think that his last name was Fields. His name is on there on that box set. That was electronic bass cause he was also a television technician. He was a musician who had a trade. He knew how to fix televisions and radios and I think he had a pickup on it..like a little amp on his bass. I’m not sure…I think he had an amp on his bass cause he knew alot about electronics and stuff like that.

 

SE: When did Esquerita come around? Was that after Richard or before him?

 

CC: Esquerita and Richard were friends. They were friends.

 

SE: So he started singing after Little Richard did it?

 

CC: Yeah, he wasn’t as attractive as Little Richard. He wasn’t as good lookin’ as Little Richard. Richard is a pretty man. But Esquerita he …..

 

SE: He wasn’t a very good singer either.

 

CC: He wasn’t a very good singer and he wasn’t all that good lookin’ but Richard was out there and I guess he got confidence by watching Richard. But he wasn’t popular when Richard was out there.. but later on. Cause Richard came outta show business in 1957. And that’s the reason he was doing it. He played around New Orleans and stuff like that but he wasn’t.. he didn’t become a superstar.

 

SE: So Little Richards band was your first big break..

 

CC: Little Richard’s band was my first big break. Little Richard and the Upsetters..

 

SE: And prior to that were you playing drums still with bands around town?

 

CC: Yeah, well you’ve gotta remember Smiley Lewis was popular too and Shirley and Lee. Shirley and Lee were the first black male and female group that I know of. And they came.. you remember Mickey and Sylvia?

 

SE: Oh, yeah.

 

CC: But Shirley and Lee they were before Mickey and Sylvia.

 

SE: Yeah. “Let The Good Times Roll”

 

CC: ”Let the Good Times Roll” Yeah that was the biggest band. The first big professional band that I played with. Because Richard guarenteed us four nights a week and we were makin fifteen dollars a night. So that was 60 dollars a week! Every week…we would play four nights a week around Macon, Georgia or travelin around south Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and stuff like that.

 

SE: And it was just your band only or was it like a package with two or three bands.

 

CC: No cause believe it or not.. Richard.. he wasn’t no superstar then but…just Richard’s band.

 

SE: We’ll if you guys were kickin’ on those songs who would want to follow you?

 

CC: Oh you wouldn’t want to follow Little Richard’s band. No way.

 

SE: Or even play before.

 

CC: No. You wouldn’t want to follow.. the safer thing would be to play before him..if your on the bill …if your contract got you on the bill to play before Little Richard. But don’t follow him man. Cause I mean that’s an earthquake, man. Like a bunch of mountains fallin’ down, you know?

 

SE: (laughs)

 

CC: You know, another secret thing…I’m lettin’ the cat out of the bag…but the thing about that was we were instructed.. and he didn’t say it verbally but he said like so we would understand it..we were not supposed to be ever outdone. OK?

 

SE: I couldn’t have happened anyway.

 

CC: Yeah. We’re not supposed to be outdone. I mean ..if you see a band do something.. we’re not supposed to be outdone. Charles stand up and play backwards if you have to. Lee Diamond get on the piano and play the saxophone. Richard would hold a chain in his mouth.. or tear his shirt off. Richard would call people on the bandstand and dance. You just couldn’t be outdone. That was our strategy.

 

SE: What was the vibe with you guys when someone like Elvis hit and started doin even Richard’s songs? What was the feeling when that was going on?

 

CC: I love Elvis Presley. And Richard loves Elvis too because you got to remember Elvis Presley.. if it wasn’t for Elvis Presley Richard’s songs wouldn’t have been heard on a lot of stations. So Elvis Presley helped him out. And also.. I talked to him about six months ago…Pat Boone. Pat Boone. They made Richard popular by covering his tunes.

 

SE: I couldn’t believe Pat Boone’s version of those songs.

 

CC: Tutti Fruiti? No soul you gotta remember you’ve got to give these artists credit for singing that type of music cause the white folks put them down saying, ”Your singing that racial music and that nigger music…” You’ve gotta give these guys some credit too.

 

SE: I feel the same way. Whenever I hear some kids saying, “Elvis Presley, he ripped off these people and their songs.” I say, “No, no, no. He didn’t rip anything off. If anything he helped promote it.

 

CC: He helped promote it that’s right. Because alot of records.. you couldn’t hear alot of records on white stations…I used to see people.. when Tutti Fruiti came out.. I’d see people go in the record shop and they’d buy Tutti Fruiti.. white kids.. they’d tell the clerk to put it in a bag cause they were ashamed to bring it out and let people see what was here. But that kind of music is contagious man.

 

SE: Oh yeah.

 

CC: It’s contagious! It was something different… and that music really did… like I say, all due respects to Marin Luther King Jr. That music really brought the races together, you know?

 

SE: That’s right. A lot of places we played in… they had nights for the white people downstairs and the second night for colored people downstairs, and they had white people up in the balcony. They couldn’t come down there mixin’… remember, this was in the fifties. And what happened… because that music sounded so good to them… and I know that with Richard playin’, and with me playin’ that choo choo train beat, I know that it was contagious and addictive! That beat was addictive! And what happened was that… that music sounded so good.. man, them white kids would jump downstairs from the balcony and start dancing with the black kids.

 

SE: Yeah,  racisim played a big part in the South at that time.

 

CC: It played a big part, yeah. We communicated real well like that,

 

SE: Even Elvis got banned in his own home town because they thought he was a black singer.

 

CC: Yeah, they thought he was a black singer before they saw him on television. The guy… he had a lot of soul man. He grew up in the South around so called colored people and all that stuff. He wasn’t no phony either, Elvis was for real! Elvis called Richard one time… and we were staying in Memphis Tennessee on Beale street at Mitchell’s Hotel which was a black hotel and had a club downstairs. And Elvis told Richard “We know who the real rock and roll king is, we know you’re the real king of rock and roll.” and Richard said “yes honey, I’m the king and the queen of rock and roll!” (Laughs)

 

SE: (Laughs)

 

CC: And Elvis would just bust out laughin’. Now if that were in the 70’s, Elvis and Richard would’ve played a package deal together.

 

SE: That would’ve been something.

 

CC: That would’ve been something, huh?

 

SE: You guy’s did some road trips with other bands though, right?

 

CC: Oh yeah, we played a package deal with other bands after that…let me tell ya, white bands… we went to Australia and played the whole country! Sidney, Melbourne, the whole country. We played with Gene Vincent and the blue caps, we played with the female Elvis,…

 

SE: Janis Martin?

 

CC The female Elvis Presley, I don’t even know if she was from the United States, she might have been from Australia. When we played at the Brooklyn Paramount, we played with Buddy Holly.

 

SE: That’s someone you don’t hear people talking about playing shows with him because he didn’t live long enough to do many tours.

 

CC: He didn’t live long enough, no. We played on the bill with Buddy Holly and Larry Williams. After we played ten days… or I don’t know how many day’s we played at the Brooklyn Paramount… now, we were supposed to be off for two weeks, ten days.  Larry said “I know you want to go home…” cause Larry’s from Louisiana too… he said “I know you want to go home and see your people, but I’ve got four dates in Louisiana, Baton Rouge and… a couple of other little towns, would you play those dates for me? just name your price! Just be reasonable.” So I charged him reasonably. But guess who was on piano?

 

SE: Who’s that?

 

CC: Joe Jones,  (singing) “you talk too much you worry me to death…”

 

SE: Oh yeah!

 

CC: He was on piano, now Larry played piano too, but Larry had organized his band and had Joe Jones on piano. That was is 1956 or 57. That was the great days man And after Little Richard came out of show business in 1957, Sam Cooke was coming out of the gospel field, and Sam Cooke took over the band after that.

 

SE: So right after Richard first retired from music, you then went on to play with Sam Cooke?

 

CC: That’s when I was with the Upsetters and we went to play with Sam Cooke, yeah. Then the army grabbed me right after that. I remember playing in San Francisco at the real Fillmore Auditorium upstairs. I know the black guy who used to own it, his name was Charles Sullivan.. he looked half white… and he was so big… he was a big promoter all around Northern California, Washington, Oregon, and some parts of Canada.

 

SE: And that was before Bill Graham got it huh?

 

CC: Yeah, when did Bill Graham have it?

 

SE: Mid to late 60’s.

 

CC: I know Charles Sullivan had in 1954-1957. Yeah, he had it then. Liquor store downstairs, shows upstairs at the Fillmore Auditorium. Man we used to play that place… we’d bring girls in the back, back there and take care of business at intermission.

 

SE: I’ve always heard that in the 1950’s, that on the road Richard used to keep all the money made in his socks, or in a suitcase.

 

CC: Well, he used to send money home to his mother by western union. But he’d get so much money because we’d get paid once a week… we would get paid on Thursday and Monday. When work started we were makin’ $150.00 a week. So we made good money. Yeah, he used to keep money… he and Henry Nash, the road manager, that was the first black professional road manager I’d ever seen in my life… he used to keep the money in the trunk of his car, in a brief case. But in those day’s… you know, people wouldn’t hold you up and rob you and stuff like that. And Henry Nash had that brief case full of money! Thousands of dollars, and in those days we didn’t get paid with a check, we got paid cash! That’s why we didn’t pay social security with a lot of that money. Richard would have about $10,000.00 up in that brief case, yeah, and Henry Nash had a pistol, but he never had a need to use a pistol… he had no alarm on his car… I’ve seen times when Richard would go into the hotel lobby and the car would be there and sit by it’s self and nobody would break into the trunk or nothin’ like that. All the musicians… all of us man, the entourage would be about  eighteen or  twenty of us, all men… ain’t nobody gonna mess with you.

 

SE: Different times then.

 

CC: Different times.

 

SE: After awhile of touring, did Richard just come to you guy’s and say he was hanging it up for awhile or retire or something?

 

CC: Well, he had been talkin’ about coming out of show business. The same thing he’s talkin’ about now. Richard thinks that God almighty just gives you seventy years to live. But Richard was talkin’ about comin’ out of show business… we were supposed to go to England. We were booked man…  for about nine months before we came from Australia. But no… what happened… when we was gone to Australia in 1957… you know, sputnik that Russian satalite… and no one had ever seen anything like that before, launch a satalite into the atmosphere or whatever…we were on a four engine plane because there wasn’t any jet planes then, and one of the engines caught on fire over the pacific ocean. And I was sittin’ right by the window and I told Richard “Man, look!” At first I thought it was the sun shinin’, I was drinkin in those day’s you know, and when I‘d drink, I was drunk. I said “The sun don’t shine at night!” (laughs)  And we’d just passed over the international dateline, you know, you loose a day and all that stuff. I told Richard “man, look!” and Richard got excited and said “I know I’m comin’ outa show business now!” Then the pilot got on the P.A. system and said “Don’t worry”… So, when we got off the plane in Australia and Richard kissed the ground and he said “Once we get back to the Ubited States I’m going to dedicate my life to God! I‘m gonna pay you guy‘s for the tour here, and I‘m gonna give you guy‘s about three weeks or a month advance!” And he did that when we came back. But when we were in Australia we were going from one town to another town on a ferry boat. And Richard was taking his rings of and everything you know? His watch and all his jewelry, And in those days he had about $7.000.00 worth of jewlery… but I guess that was a lot of money in those days…  and he threw away his rings and everything into the river and I said “HEY MAN WHAT ARE YOU DOIN THROWIN YOUR RINGS AND EVERYTHING… GIVE IT TO ME!” (Laughs) He said “I’m gonna become a minister” and I said “I ain’t gonna become no preacher, give it to me!” You know what I mean? And Grady the saxaphone player and me are watching… and he threw those rings in the river man!

 

SE: Unbelieveable.

 

C.C.: He threw em in the river, you know? And that’s when we knew, when we got to the other side of the river and that night right after the gig… we all said “yeah, he’s really coming out of show business now!” Now we all were down and our spirits were low. And I’m sayin’ “okay, what are we gonna do?  we aren’t gonna have all the girls, we won’t be makin’ this kind of money, man what’s gonna happen? this is  the end of the world!” So what happened… he came back and he paid us off and everything, and you know… we had good money and everything… and I said “man, how am I gonna tell my parents that Little Richard’s out of show business?” I didn’t even want to call home. Now Charles Sullivan… the guy that owned the Fillmore Auditorium… about two days after we got home… because like I say, he was a booking agent too… so he told Henry Nash the road manager “I wanna talk to these guys, call all the guys” and we met at the Hotel California nightclub, we had drinks and everything. And he said “I know it’s a terrible thing that Richard come out of show business but… are you guys willing to stick together?” and we said “of course!” And Charles Sullivan kept the band together I think for about a month while he was booking gigs for Sam Cooke. And he was paying us something like $75.00 a week. That’s what he was paying to hold the band together, and $75.00 a week wasn’t bad. Because before Richard came out of show business we were making something like $200.00 a week. But, that’s $75.00 a week. So he said “what you do is get yourself an apartment..” and that’s what an apartment was a month, $60.00 a month for a two bedroom apartment.

 

SE: That ain’t bad!

 

CC: In those days you know, and so he kept us together. He said “there’s one thing I want you guys to agree on, you don’t have to sign no contracts but I want you guys to agree not to jam with other bands, just play amongst yourselves… as a matter of fact don’t even play among yourselves, just practice individualy, but don’t play with no other bands and don’t go to nightclubs and don’t jam with other bands.” So, that’s what we did! And we stuck together about a month, and then he started booking us and everything like that. Then he started paying us $150.00 a week.

 

SE: Could you guys still use the name “The Upsetters”?

 

CC: Oh yeah! Little Richard formed The Upsetters Orchestra they would call us, and some places would use The Upsetters band, and that’s when we started playing with Sam Cooke.

 

SE: I suppose that life on the road with Sam Cooke was a bit more mellow, huh?

 

CC: Life on the road with Sam Cooke… it was too mellow because Sam only knew two songs, I don’t know what was on the B side but the song that made Sam Cooke was (singing) “darling you-oo oo oo send me” Now, I’m used to playing “Long Tall Sally” “Tutti Fruiti” “Rip It Up” and…

 

SE: (Laughing)

 

CC: “Keep A Knockin” and what happened was…  I’m playin’ with brushes! You don’t play “You Send Me” with no sticks, and I’m playing with brushes, just sweepin’ my snare drum… you can’t hardly hear me, you know?

 

SE:(Laughs)

 

CC: And that was a big difference. And the only embarasing thing about that was… we were playing the same places we had played with Richard, right? And the people were saying that Sam was a good looking guy and he had a hell of a voice, but nobody knew he was going to be great like he was. But they were saying “WHERE’S LITTLE RICHARD? WE WANT LITTLE RICHARD!” I thought “man, I hope they don’t start no riot here asking for Little Richard” you jbow what I mean?

 

SE: Right

 

CC: Now that was embarrasing, you know? And so a couple of gigs after that… well, the first five or six gigs they would ask for Little Richard, which was kind of embarassing . So we played with Sam Cooke and everything, then after that we played the Fillmore auditorium, and the day after that the army… I guess the MP was lookin’ for me… and they said that they gave me twenty-four hours to come home. So I flew home and they shipped my butt off to the army the same day! At about 7:00 I found myself as a soldier boy. And what I did… I failed all the tests… they ask “did you ever use drugs?” “yes” “alcohol?” “yes” “are you bisexual?” “yes” “are you…?” anything, cause I didn’t wanna go into the army man! You know? Imagine, the army… I only sat in there for about a month and a half because I failed everything, you know?

 

SE: (Laughs)

 

CC: I didn’t know how to hold a rifle, I was waking up late and everything, I was the last guy to come out of the barracks, one guy had hit me. I thought that if you do everything wrong you may get out, cause I went there with alcohol on my breath for the examination. And what happened was… now they’re gonna pay us $74.00 a month! Now, you’re makin’ $150.00 a week, how do you get adjusted?… So, I didn’t get no honorable, or dishonorable discharge, I didn’t get any benefits, but I got my discharge because I couldn’t adjust to military life. And when I was four or five years old I fell down anyway… and on my record my back is okay but on my school record when I was seven or eight years old… because sometimes I would get out of class by B.S.’n I’d saying “my back hurt man” So I had a record that my back was, you know…  and one thing they can’t tell about is your back or your head. So, that’s how I got out of the service.

 

SE: That’s good, otherwise you would’ve wound up in Korea or somewhere.

 

CC: Have you ever been in the service?

 

SE: No.

 

CC: A guy said to me “okay Connor, you think you’re smart.” and I said “no, I don’t think I’m smart” he said “okay, you’re gonna work!” My sargent had me diggin’…  at first he said “you’re gonna take the tests over again and you pass and I could straighten you out! the military life is good!” He’s tellin’ me that the military life is good, right?

 

SE: Yeah.

 

CC: And like I told you, I ain’t for no military life, I didn’t tell him like that, I gave him respect. He’d say “okay Connor, you’re not just going to stay in your barracks while you’re being processed out, you’re gonna have to play at the NCO club at least three night a week!” And I was playing at the NCO club three nights a week.

 

SE: That ain’t bad.

 

CC: Yeah. Look, I was in the service the same time as Elvis Presley. Elvis and me were the same age and Someone else said “man, wouldn’t that be something if you were in the army and got a chance to play with Elvis Presley? you all could organize a band with Elvis?” I said “that’d be nice” you know. But I wasn’t thinkin’ about Elvis, I wanted to get the hell outa there!

 

SE: That’s right!(Laughs)

 

CC: I wanted to get out of the army with all due respect to Elvis Presley and everybody else!

 

SE: He might’ve gotten you taking the drugs he took while he was in the army.

 

CC: I never was into any drugs, but I just lied, I told them I do everything. When we was in Macon Georgia and they sent for Richard, and Richard went down there to the selective service headquarters up in Atlanta Georgia. I think Richard went down there in lipstick, and earings, and I think he had panty hose on, high heel shoes, and they looked at Richard and said “noooo, I don’t think we can use you” (laughs) He was the brave one of the family, he would take care of his eleven brothers and sisters, so, the army didn’t want to pay all those dependants. That’s how Richard got out of the army

 

SE: After the army you went back to playing music again, who did you hook up with?

 

CC: I played with Clarence Frogman Henry for about six months in New Orleans, and then The Upsetters sent for me but at that time they had Little Willie John singing with them. And then after that tour I played a couple of dates with Jackie Wilson in New Orleans at the Dew Drop In… You ever heard of the Dew Drop In?

 

SE: Oh yes.

 

CC: And then another band went on the road called Choker Campbell and his Big Band, they were backing up the original Coasters… a lot of people I played behind you know.

 

SE: Also The Ink Spots?

 

CC: I played  behind The Ink Spots… that was Club Safari… when I was playin’ with Clarence Frogman Henry’s band.

 

SE: That must’ve been another drastic change with the brush thing because The Ink Spots ….

 

CC: Yeah, (singing) “if I didn’t care…” you’re playin’ brushes, nothing exciting. But they had their own piano player there. But, you can expect that because That’s The Ink Spots! You know, that wasn’t no rock and roll, but you’ve gotta remember that after The Ink Spots Clarence Frogman Henry would do his show… but after The Ink Spots, we’d take a break and then we’re playing rock and roll and rhythm and blues again. So that was the good thing. I played that same club, the Club Safari when I was with Clarence Frogman Henry’s band and also with Roy Hamilton. Everything he had was a written arrangement… Ebb Tide, and all that stuff, that was a lot of brushes on that too, but I had to rent a small kettle drum because he had written arrangements on  (singind) “and you’ll never walk alone” you remember that song?

 

SE: Yeah, that was his big hit.

 

CC: he had rolls on that kettle drum, so I had to rent a kettle drum for that. The club pays for that so that we can get that sound effect. But it was really something!

 

SE: Were you doing studio work? or were you doing road shows?

 

CC: Road stuff, and local stuff. I never liked being in the studio too much because… studio work is okay, you know… I just did a soundtrack for a movie… we don’t know which movie… I mean, the guy may introduce this song to Steven Speilberg. We were in the studio with two other musicians for about two days…. and it’s boring!

 

SE: (Laughs)

 

CC: You know, it’s boring man. If you do a television movie or something like that and it takes two days to shoot one hour, you know… I’m not really into that. If the money’s right, I’ll have a little paitence  and I’ll do it. But I mostly perform… I play in the French Quarter a lot too. There’s a lot of good music, good jobs in the French Quarter

 

SE: Did you ever hook up with Richard again during one of his. comebacks?

CC: Yeah, I played with Richard in 1972 yeah. That’s when I married his sister 72 or 73, I married Peggy Penniman. The last time I played with Richard was January 26th at the Universal Amphitheatre with Chuck Berry on the bill, I was the guest drummer. And two years before that I played the Greek Theatre, and then I played a lot of private wedding receptions where he didn’t want to be bothered because his band is scattered in Tennessee, Alabama, and different places. So he just used me in the rhythm section and stuff like that. And I played The House Of Blues with him about five years ago… Yeah, I play a lot you know, I just don’t travel anymore. Oh, in 1992 I went with him to Sweeden and Denmark, that was the Scandinavian tour.

 

SE: In the 60’s you played for a good amount of people.

 

CC: In the 60’s, yeah I was plain’ around New Orleans with Clarence Frogman Henry, Joe Jones,  Guitar Slim, Champion Jack Dupree, in the early 50’s, Chris Kenner,  another guy called Guitar Red, I did more gig’s with Larry Williams.

 

SE: Larry Williams produced a great Little Richard Live album in 1967 on Okeh Records .

 

CC: I’m not on that one.

 

SE: In the 60’s and 70’s Richard had many different bands, but he never really sounded that happy to have them.

 

CC: No, because the greatest band that Richard ever had, and the biggest Richard had ever been was when he had The Upsetters. Of course he makes more money now because it’s a different time, but he did a lot of stuff with Quincy Jones, he did a lot of spiritual stuff with Quincy Jones too. But the bands that he had was never like The Upsetters, man we were the end! There will never be another band like that! With dance steps and all that stuff, and wild… you know, we had everything going for us… and was ambitious.

 

SE: By the way, that was a great photo of you and Ringo on your website.

 

CC: That’s right, that was in 1993 at Levon Helms book signing on Sunset Boulevard. And Ringo said “MAN! CHARLES CONNOR! MAN! LITTLE RICHARD’S BAND!” And he kissed my shoes.

 

SE: (Laughing)

 

CC: He’s got more money than I’ll ever have! I like Ringo, I mean, you’ve just got to like Ringo! He’s got a great personality, That’s why I took the picture with him there, I took the picture with James Brown up in West Los Angeles. I met Frank Sinatra when we went to Sweeden and Richard introduced us, he’s a very good guy, that guy shakes your hand and you feel energy man! They tell me that if he likes you… and Richard introduced me as his original drummer. And if the guy likes you, I mean he’s got a hard handshake… he’s a little bitty man but he’s very strong, and he’s got so much energy,… great guy! And the way he looks at you is like he’s been knowin’ you for a long time.

 

SE: I want to thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me.

 

CC: It’s my pleasure man, God bless you man, thank you.

 

Be sure to read up and keep up to date on Charles Connor at

www.legendarydrummer.tv