Instruments: Harmonica, Guitar, Banjo, Vocals, Songwriter
Date of Birth: June 12, 1938
Place of Birth: Gadsden, Alabama

Jim Connor is perhaps best known as a member of the New Kingston Trio and for penning the now-classic gold record hit song, "Grandma's Feather Bed," which was recorded by John Denver in 1974 and later by the Muppet's Kermit the Frog. Connor was a recording artist for Capitol Records in the 1960s. Then, from 1968 to 1974, as a member of the New Kingston Trio he lent his musical talents to such hit records as "Tom Dooley" and "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?"

Connor's work has also been recorded by such country luminaries as Glen Campbell, Brenda Lee and Three on a String. Connor has performed with a diverse assortment of entertainers, including: Barbra Streisand, Judy Collins, Donald O'Connor, Red Buttons, Steve Martin and Phyllis Diller - to name a few. But Connor hardly needs to rely on the talents of others; he has one platinum record and eight gold records to his credit.

Connor's songs include "Sand Mountain Symphony," an orchestrated suite which includes banjo, yodeling, harmonica and vocal work. Another song, "Way Back Home" was introduced by Grandpa Jones on the "Hee Haw" television show. Connor also has a musical play to his credit entitled "Cornstalk Wine."

In addition to hundreds of live club, festival and theatre appearances throughout the world, Connor has appeared on the Grand Ole Opry, Johnny Carson's "Tonight Show," "Hootenanny," "The Jack Benny Show", and "The Dave Garroway Show."

Source: Alabama Music Hall of Fame

Jim Connor enrolled in seminary after a career as a singer, songwriter, and performer.

Talk about talent, master of divinity student Jim Connor has dedicated years to interpreting messages through music. A composer, singer, and musician who plays more instruments than most of us can count, Jim is famous for writing “Grandma’s Feather Bed,” a tune recorded by John Denver on the platinum album Back Home Again that includes Jim singing backup and playing harmonica.

Since the 1960s Jim has picked a mean banjo and sung folk and country music around the world. He performed as a member of the New Kingston Trio for five years besides performing with Judy Collins and Linda Ronstadt just to name a couple. Close to 400 of his songs have been recorded by such artists as Grandpa Jones, Glen Campbell, and Brenda Lee.

Still a country boy at heart, Jim seems like he could have walked off the stage at the Grand Ole Opry and into the classroom at Union-PSCE. Stories pour forth in native Alabama cadences like honey from the jar. While he clearly excelled in the world of popular music, the tragic toll of the often self-destructive lifestyle weighs heavily on Jim.

“I knew that’s not what I wanted to do as a career because the road is no place for spiritual weaklings. But if you constantly depend on Christ to guide you, maybe you can make it through,” said Jim.

Though successful, Jim didn’t see himself as a studio musician or a member of a band. More and more he sang solos in churches and composed hymns for church choirs, which he often directed. Jim’s career in commercial music was streaked with Christian witness. He held jobs such as composer in residence at Metro Baptist Church in New York or assistant choir director at 22nd Street Baptist Church in Tuscon, AZ.

Source:  (NOTE: this site/page is confirmed closed on 9-26-03)

Musician reunites with stolen banjo The custom instrument turns up on eBay, and is reclaimed



Monday, August 21, 2006

Jim Connor's banjo once was lost, but now is found, thanks to eBay and a sharp-eyed friend.

The Vega Vox Deluxe, made especially for Connor, was stolen 35 years ago during a New Kingston Trio tour, when Connor was a member of the group.

Last year, the banjo turned up on the auction Web site, where a former music student of Connor's spotted its distinctive decoration and stopped the sale.

With the cooperation of the seller, the prayers of the congregation at Browns Presbyterian Church -- where Connor now serves as supply pastor -- and $5,000, the musician and his banjo are making music together again.

This time, the stage is often the pulpit.

It's hard to say just where the banjo was all those years. While it was missing, Connor, perhaps best known for his hit country song "Grandma's Feather Bed," got tired of a musician's life on the road and settled in Goochland County, where he lives now with his wife, Cynthia. He has five children, three grown and two teens.

Since 2001, he has been studying for the ministry, spending the past year as temporary pastor at the church in Cumberland County.

Connor, 68, lost the banjo one night in 1971, when the New Kingston Trio was too exhausted to unpack their van after a performance in New York City. The group left the van parked in the hotel garage with all their instruments and equipment inside. In the morning the van was empty.

Connor particularly liked the Vega banjo. He had designed it, asking the Vega banjo builders for a carved heel and special neck decoration.

He told them exactly what kind of tone-ring he wanted in the banjo's resonator, which is enameled in a geometric design with flowers.

"It was a one-time banjo. The company even called it the 'Jim Connor custom banjo,'" Connor said.

Connor, who joined the New Kingston Trio in 1968, drew his favorite curlicue decoration on the head of the banjo. He'd had it only a year when it was stolen.

Connor, who was born in Alabama and graduated from Harvard University in 1960, stayed with the New Kingston Trio until 1973, then went his own way. He played with John Denver and laughingly wonders if his experiences on the road with Denver led to a career in the ministry.

Hundreds of people moved by Denver's songs wanted to go backstage and ask his advice, Connor said. The fans weren't allowed to see Denver, but they often saw Connor, who said he gave them the best advice he could.

"Some man would say he was having trouble with his wife, wondering if she was having an affair, wanting to know what he should do, and I'd say, 'Go home, be so good to your wife she wouldn't ever want to have an affair,'" he remembered.

Denver and other musicians recorded Connor's song, "Grandma's Feather Bed."

"Worldwide, it's been on 50 million albums. You wonder why I'm not a millionaire," Connor said. He continues to get small but steady royalty payments from a number of other countries.

"It helped me get out of being on the road and get into church work, which as you know, doesn't pay a lot," Connor said.

He got over the loss of the Vega banjo, but he never forgot it. Then one day last year, his friend and former banjo student Austin Rogers saw the instrument on eBay.

"I said, 'Austin, how could you know it? You weren't even born then,' and he said, 'It's got your doodles on it,'" Connor said.

EBay stopped the sale of the instrument. With the help of the Goochland County Sheriff's Office, Connor contacted New York City police.

The seller, who said that a relative had bought the banjo in a used-furniture store in Harlem, called Connor.

"He said, 'If the instrument is really stolen, I want to cooperate,'" Connor said. Connor proved with pictures and affidavits that the instrument was his.

Connor considered how much he would have to spend for a lawyer and for trips to New York, where the original police report had been filed. He decided to pay the seller for the banjo, although less than the seller had wanted at auction. The two men agreed to meet.

"Church members prayed that things would go well. I think they were eager to hear the banjo. It was like waiting for a baby to be born. I felt exhilarated. I thought, 'Can this be happening? What if the guy doesn't show up,'" Connor said.

Connor and the seller met at a coffee shop in College Park, Md., and Connor traded a cashier's check and cash totaling $5,000 for his banjo. The two men had a good talk.

"I had gotten over the disappointment of having it stolen. I didn't feel like saying anything ugly," Connor said.

The banjo was either well-cared for or never used, Connor said. He's still surprised that he got it back.

"I think I have a kind of spiritual feeling," Connor said, "like 'Thank you, Lord, but it sure took a long time!'"

Jim Connor's instruments from the liner notes of The Lost Masters 1969-1972:

Guitar, Banjo, Vocals, Harmonica, Bones, Jews Harp

Capitol Records #  (S)T 2058 (circa 1964)

Featuring Richard Lockmiller & Jim Connor

Now Richard and Jim, they come from Gadsden, Alabama. They were born there, and made a fuss there when they were kids, and grew up together, and went to school there, and caught pigtaily girls in the haystacks there, and ever since they started singing songs, a whole bunch of people around the world, when asked what's all this jumping around, busting-out folk music, can only answer that's where Gadsden is.

Not that the boys had all that much to say about what they'd been doing for their hush-puppy money. For one thing, Jim Connor has a Grandmother. We all get to have Grandmothers sooner of later, but Jim's, her name is Florence Drucilla Setzer, and she id from Caney Fork River, Tennessee. She sings like you might think she would; she's been doing it for 88 years, and there's talk in Alabama that says she's about ready to change gears. Then there's Richard Lockmiller's dad. He hasn't been singing anywhere near that long, but he hasn't started to le out the clutch, either. Back in the 1930s when the breed of music represented here was finally taking form and finding expression, he picked up his guitar and minstreled through the South for his living. He must've been pretty good, too. The folks at the Grand Old Opry said come on around, we got a job for you. Thing is, he's just met this girl and the way he figured, he had to get tied up with one or the other. He picked the girl and she turned out to be Richard's mother. That's a true story.

So Richard and Jim learned their songs. They learned them in Gadsden, and brought their first  instruments in Gadsden, and got cloth for their neck straps at the Gadsden J.C. Penney's and their mothers did the stitching up., and the boys grew to look just about the way they do on the cover here.

They stopped growing one day and started making more music than the town's Union Grange Hall and High School Auditorium could possibly contain. They moved from old WAAX Radio in Gadsden to Birmingham and WBRC-TV, and people in the colleges wanted to listen some, so they made their music in places  that had never heard anything more jump-up than chamber recitals. But you couldn't hold them. On nearby Sand Mountain they began rising Cain and up there Jim learned to rap and flail a banjo from Arthur Kuykendall. They sat around and listened to the old-timey music of Foncy Maddox. They were out to whoop it up, and they whooped it right into New York, to Gerde's Folk City, and The Bitter End, and the Blue Angel uptown, and Club 47 in Cambridge where the Radcliffe girls and the Harvard boys went poking their heads out the windows to try and figure out all that sound. Then with a bit of steam behind them and not much more than they had on, they lit out for Paris and Amsterdam, and all over England, and finally Hollywood, California, where they put this record together.

There's a story there too. They'd stopped off in Gadsden to pick up Steve Young, an old guitar playing buddy; then headed West just in time to make a wedding on the coast and give the guests a chance to hear what they'd been up to. They'd carried an old wrought iron kettle all the way from Alabama. They gave it to the bride and groom, said so ling and sang their way right into the Capitol recording studio. If the boys sound spirited and full of fun, well there's mighty good reason.

Songs like TRAVELIN' KIND, with more finger-dancing flatpicking than you'll hear in a long time, have a way of celebrating what Richard and Jim are all about. You can nearly hear their hominy-grit roots out there vibrating with the knife guitar as it slides up and down the steel strings on MIDNIGHT SPECIAL and MUDDY WATERS. Even old Dave Jackson on bass, who'd never worked with them before, had big enough ears to know what they were into after the first one or two choruses. He couldn't keep out of the fooling in STAY ALL NIGHT and nobody wanted him to.

That's the idea, too. These fellas want you right smack dab into the middle of their music. They want to keep right on going until people can hear it all the way back in Gadsden. Which by now, they probably do.

-- Dick Fariña













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