Tuesday, June 10, 2008
Genesis of a Groupie-Sweet Sweet Connie
In 1973 Grand Funk Railroad officially dropped the 'Railroad' from their name and became Grand Funk. Their November album release that year "We're An American Band" was produced by Todd Rundgren and signaled a new. more commercial direction for the band. It's autobiographical title song was sung by drummer Don Brewer. Released before the album, that song became an instant, gold number one hit with it's matter-of-fact detailing of life on the road for Grand Funk.
The song's classic opening of "Out on the road for 40 days...last night in Little Rock put me in a haze. Sweet Sweet Connie doing her act. She had the whole show and that's a natural fact" made everyone who wasn't in a band wish they were just for the groupies.
If you ever wondered, Sweet Sweet Connie is real and lives in Little Rock, name checked in the song. During the 1980's while photographing concerts in Little Rock, I got to know Connie since I saw her at almost every show I went to. In the 10 and more years since the song and she'd lost a bit of her 'youthful' look. Her skin wasn't aging well and she was starting to look a bit worn and hard from the life. Still, bands then occasionally sent a jet to pick her up for a distant show. I liked Connie and would have a hard time saying anything negative about her. Yet, her lifestyle was so far from conventional, it was hard not to think negative about her sometimes. Connie was petite, dark, enthusiastic and had a quick smile.
After she became comfortable with me being at the same shows all the time, she started to open up some to me. Show after show, she promised to bring me her photo albums to show off. Finally, back stage at a Eddie Money show, she brought them. Small, square and thick with polaroids, they were a visual biography of her life as a groupie. She thumbed through them, sharing with me without shame. In fact she was proud of them and the life they portrayed and the stars she'd had. Many photos were simple group shots of her, arm and arm with the rock stars she so worshiped. Many were also of her in the act of providing her mouth and body for the stars, some with faces, many just a bit 'tighter'. At one point as we flipped through she said, "oh, I know one you HAVE to see. It's the biggest 'male part' (not the word she used) in Rock and Roll" Seeing is believing too. I mean, I haven't compared or anything but...who knew, Huey Lewis has a...uh...LARGE one. Connie knows!
Connie made her living as a substitute elementary teacher which allowed her to have time off when she needed it. She carefully kept the two worlds apart. But she also enjoyed 'partying', often to excess. Over the years she pressed me to shoot some 'photos' of her. I really didn't want to and avoided it politely. While shooting Edgar Winter and Leon Russell in concert at the Little Rock Convention Center one night, she finally got her way. I was standing directly below Edgar Winter photographing him as he played Frankenstein on his keyboard. Connie was drunk and draped on me, yanking on my clothes, trying to get me to agree to photograph her. In order to get to shoot, I agreed that if she'd let me shoot one more song, I'd meet her back stage. After i finished up, I headed "backstage". In a convention center that meant a long concrete block hallway with florescent tubes for lighting. As soon as I put on my flash in that dark hallway, she started by pulling down her top or pulling up her skirt. Since this was long before digital, I was shooting slide film, not a good formula for 'artful' shots. But there was nothing 'artful' about it. As I was shooting her, heel in the air above her head, a door opened down the hall. A gangly looking high school kid came down the hall with a cart full of food for the dressing rooms. He got about twenty feet from us, stood still and wide-eyed for a moment, swallowed his adams apple and ran back where he came from, leaving the cart of food. Fortunately, that broke up the shoot.
It's been 35 years since she became immortalized in song and I hope wherever she is, she's doing well and is happy. I am a true music fan and I know at heart, nobody was a bigger fan than Connie.