Tuesday, December 18, 2012
CHRIS KENNER - TIME
Before you all think I'm a Gloomy Gus, I WILL say that that line doesn't matter to me so much anymore, because I'm waaaaaay too busy to be sitting round, waiting to die. But as I get older, I find I'm more concerned about the passage of time. For years my girlfriend (who is wise beyond her years) has been telling me, "you have NO concept of time". For the longest time I thought this meant that she was annoyed that I was always late getting somewhere. But I have finally figured out what she means; time moves, whether you like it or not, and you only have so much of it available to you. More simply put, get yo' ass in gear.
Another thing she may have meant about my lack of the concept of time is that time changes things. For years I lived by a strict set of rules, basically limiting myself to what I thought was "correct", never changing, never growing, because I was JUST PERFECT the way I was. Thank goodness I don't think like that anymore. I have new priorities, new responsibilities, and while that's as big of a pain in the ass as I always thought it would be, the rewards are much greater. I finally see that. Thank you Jessica.
Which is why I pull this old 45 out every December and listen, really listen to it. And that's not easy with Chris Kenner slurring his words like the drunken madman he was. I can't understand half of what he says on this record, but it sure sounds important. One of the few lines I do understand is "time makes the world go 'round / and time never forgets where you're bound / after they put you way down in the ground / it keeps movin' on." Chris follows up these lines by yelling "can I get a witness?" and a chorus answers each time with a huge "OH YEAH!!" It's a thrilling record, even if it is largely incomprehensible. Which is also a pretty good summation of Chris Kenner's career.
Chris Kenner (1929-1976) was one of New Orleans' greatest songwriters. He was also one of New Orleans' greatest drunks, and one pretty much cancelled out the other, unfortunately.
He made his first records, oddly enough, for the Baton label out of New York in 1956, but then got a record deal a little closer to home when he signed with Imperial in 1957. His first 45 for that label, "Sick And Tired", became a big local hit and caught the ear of Fats Domino, who remade the song the next year and had a big national hit with it (after buying a third of the royalties from the perpetually broke Kenner). Unfortunately, Kenner's follow-up, "Will You Be Mine", didn't do as well, and label prez Lew Chudd dropped Kenner from the roster, mainly because of his unreliability; he would regularly miss scheduled recording dates, or show up so drunk that it was hard to get a decent performance out of him.
Kenner knocked around a few more years, making records for local label Ron Records and a single for Lloyd Price's Prigan Records. In late 1960, Kenner wrote and recorded a tune called "I Like It Like That", and released it on a small New Orleans label called Valiant Records in early 1961. The record started to pick up heavy sales in New Orleans, but soon there was trouble; Valiant Records got a cease and desist letter from Valiant Records in California (later home of The Association and The Cascades). So they had to change the name of the label to Instant Records (no idea why) - but the record kept selling. Label owner Joe Banashak made a deal with Atlantic Records to distribute the disk, and it soon became the #2 record in the country, selling over a million copies, and Chris Kenner was on his way - or so it was thought.
Unfortunately, Chris shot himself in the foot again with a weak follow-up ("A Very True Story") which curtailed his chart career. He continued to make interesting records for Instant, however, writing the New Orleans standard "Something You Got" (later remade by Alvin Robinson, The Moody Blues, Chuck Jackson and Maxine Brown, and of course, Fats Domino) and a little tune called "Land Of 1000 Dances" (later remade by basically everybody). "I Like It Like That" was also remade by The Dave Clark Five, and it became a huge hit for them.
Kenner should have been rolling in dough at this point, with huge royalty checks coming in, but his fondness for the bottle neatly took care of that. He sold part of the publishing of "Land Of 1000 Dances" to Fats Domino in late 1962 (thereby ensuring Fats tons of royalties on a song he originally had nothing to do with), and did the same with "Something You Got" in 1964.
Things only got worse. Kenner continued to record sporadically for Instant (when they could get him to show up) until 1968, when he was thrown in jail on a conviction of statutory rape of a minor. He served three years, and after his release in 1971 he continued his downward spiral, basically living on the street. He did manage to record one single for the Hep' Me label in 1973, but soon faded out of sight, passing away a month after his 46th birthday from a heart attack. If only he had listened to the opening lines of this record - "time changes things / it keeps movin' on". But for Chris Kenner, time didn't mean a thing, and he decided not to change his ways, and it ended up destroying him.
Chris Kenner - Time (Instant 3244) - 1962