Jim Connor first came in to my consciousness because I was a John Denver fan when I was in high school. I was a young guitarist with a growing interest in songwriting. I studiously read the composers’ names in parentheses beside song titles on 45rpm singles and 33&1/3 rpm albums. So when John Denver’s Back Home Again album was released in 1974, my senior year, I bought it and on the yellow/orange RCA Records label beside the title of one of my favorites, Grandma’s Feather Bed, was this: (Jim Connor).
Not many months later, I saw John Denver in concert and there was Jim Connor on stage singing Grandma’s Feather Bed with him in front of thousands of people. I learned the song myself and added it to my growing repertoire of singer/songwriter tunes that helped me earn $25 a night at Abbey’s Irish Rose in Oxford, Mississippi when I was a college student. It was a favorite stage bit to tell my small but loyal audiences, “John Denver really didn’t write this one,” and be able to answer the inevitable response, “Who did?”
Meeting in Mobile
Fast forward to 1988. I had moved to Nashville to pursue music after my seven year career in broadcast journalism ended in Mobile, Alabama. During my time in radio news, I had continued to play music and finally decided to follow my dream to Music City. Once I got here, however, I realized that I could only make the kind of money I made singing in Mobile…in Mobile. I headed south down I-65 often to play the Lumber Yard Café, private parties, yacht clubs and beach bars so I could afford to live in Nashville playing writers nights and making contacts. On one of those trips back to Mobile, a friend of mine said, “Why don’t you come over and meet someone I think you would like to know. His name is Jim Connor.”
Needless to say, I jumped at the chance and Jim couldn’t have been more gracious. He gave me some songwriting and show business advice and I learned that in addition to writing Grandma’s Feather Bed, he had been a full-fledged member of the Kingston Trio. He also played that great harmonica part on Linda Ronstadt’s recording of the Neil Young song Love is A Rose, among other accomplishments. Jim was living in North Alabama then, where he had grown up. It was within a few hours of Nashville. We swapped addresses and stayed in touch.
Sharing the stage
My visits to Mobile became less frequent in the following years and I began performing more in Nashville. I remember taking a deep breath about 1991 and calling Jim one day to see if he would like to join me on stage at the Bluebird Café. To my delight, he said yes and he and his wife Cindy made a trip of it. I was honored when he asked me to sing Grandma’s Feather Bed with him. We did another show at Douglas Corner Cafe a few months later. Both were magic nights.
Friendships and song lines
As time went by, Jim and his family moved to Virginia for an extended time and although we communicated rarely, we still stayed in touch. Then, several weeks ago through Facebook, I found out that Jim would be performing at a farm owned by Tess Hinson’s family in Hohenwald, Tennessee. Here was my chance to re-connect with an old friend and when I did, it was as if we had seen each other the day before. Cindy was there, too, and Jim graciously asked me to accompany him on Grandma’s Feather Bed on stage. It was good to hear his songs and stories, catch up and “sing a ballad or two,” with him.
It is my belief that friendships and favorite songs come back into your life now and then sometimes by surprise. In seeing Jim Connor again, both arrived for me at the same time and in tune.
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Text and photos copyright by Les Kerr