Sweet Sweet Connie
WARNING: Contents of this post are graphic and may offend some readers.
This post is written by our good friend Art Meripol, one of the greatest rock photographers around. Check out his photo blog here.
It was 1973 when Grand Funk Railroad officially dropped the ‘Railroad’ 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. Its autobiographical title song was sung by drummer Don Brewer. “We’re An American Band,” released before the album, became an instant gold-selling number one with its 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.
In case you ever wondered, Sweet Sweet Connie was real and lived in Little Rock too. 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. Of course, that was 10 and more years since the song and she’d lost a bit of the ‘youthful’ look. Her skin wasn’t aging well and she was starting to look a bit worn and hard from the life.
Still, bands still 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. (I use past tense because I haven’t seen her in almost 20 years).
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 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, often 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 dick in rock and roll.” Seeing is believing too. I mean I haven’t compared but…who knew- Huey Lewis has a…uh…LARGE one. Connie knows!
Connie made her living as a substitute elementary school 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. For a few years she pressed me to shoot some ‘photos’ of her. I really didn’t want to and avoided it.
However, while shooting Edgar Winter and Leon Russell in concert at the Little Rock Convention Center one night, she finally got her way. I was 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. Finally I told her if she’d let me shoot one more song, I’d meet her backstage.
In a convention center “backstage” meant a long concrete block hallway with flourescent 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, even bending over for a shot. Since this was long before digital, I was shooting slide film, not a good formula for ‘artful’ shots. As I was shooting her, her high heel 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 20 feet from us, stood still for a moment, swallowed his adams apple and ran back where he came from, leaving the cart of food. Fortunately, that broke up the photo session.
It’s been 35 years since Connie 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.