E: You were born November 15th, 1915 in Victoria, Texas. This much I know.
C: That’s right. I’ve lived in Texas my entire life. I moved from Victoria to San Antonio, and then when I was nine, I moved to Houston.

E: Tell me how you got into music.
C: I got into music when I was about 12 years old. I saw an article saying if you sell 12 cans of a salve, you’d get a saxophone.

E: A “salve?”
C: Yes, a salve. At that time they had salves that you would put on your skin – you wouldn’t eat it – you’d put it on your skin. And it would heal you if you had a little problem. Anyway, that article interested me. I said, “I know I can sell 12 cans!” So I sent off and got my cans and sold them all in one day. But they sent me a toy saxophone! And I was sooooo disappointed. But after I got over my disappointment, I went on and started playing on it. I learned everything they had on the book that was included. And then I moved on. In two days, I knew that I was hooked and would become a musician.

E: So you’re self-taught.
C: No. I’m partially self-taught, but I went to school for it. I went to Wiley College, Houston College, University of Southern California – I studied for it!

E: You started in Houston. What musicians were you looking up to?
C: In my younger years, I looked up to Jimmy Withersmith – a sax player, Duke Ellington, Count Basie. Basie was a latecomer on the scene, but I really did love him. There were many sidemen that I admired, like Lester Young.

E: The Big Band era.
C: That’s right, I came up in the Big Band era. I played saxophone and clarinet.

E: Buddy Smith told me that you came up with Illinois Jacquet!
C: Yeah. We used to play. Arnette Cobb too. We all lived in Houston, I played…. well, during those days it was different. To advertise, if a company put out - let’s say a new brand of soda water – well, they would advertise it by putting a band on a truck and letting the truck drive around the city. Or they would have us play at the stand where they were selling, and the music would draw people to the stand. Illinois was a drummer at that time! This was around 1939 or 1940.

E: Were there any other local musicians that blew your mind?
C: There was a band called The Birmingham Blues Blowers. This was in Houston. We listened to them quite a bit. They played many proms at the school. I remember peeping through the windows of the gymnasium when I was a little kid to watch them play. I said, “I want to do that!”

E: When did you realize that music was something you wouldn’t be able to give up?
C: As time progressed, I got deeper and deeper into it. And I played in the school band at Jack Yates High School in Houston.

E: Your dad led that band, didn’t he?
C: Yes, but my dad was actually a dentist! He had worked his way through college playing music. He wasn’t a musical director per se; he was a trumpet and flute player. And he was a tremendous vocalist. I had him for about 3 years.

E: I bet you he whupped you into shape!
C: Well, one way or the other! (Laughs) Anyway, the band made a trip down to Dallas and that did the rest of the hooking. I knew then that I would always be involved in music.

E: When did you join your first professional band?
C: Just out of high school. I played almost every joint in Houston, whether they had small bands or whatever. I was all over the place.

E: What was it like, being a black performer at the time of Jim Crow? Segregation, outright racism?
C: I’m going to explain it to you like this. At that time, the people – black and white - who really had the money to hire the players wanted black performers. Because they were the naturals - blacks introduced jazz to the world.

E: So it wasn’t hard for you to get gigs?
C: Man, we had almost all the gigs! I was working all I wanted to. Blacks introduced this music. If people wanted to get real jazz, they had to hire black bands.

E: Now back to the colleges you mentioned. What was the first college you attended?
C: The first was Houston College, and then I went to Wiley in Marshall, Texas. An old established college. They only carried about 400-500 students but they were – and are - a real good school. Then I went to the University of Southern California, and then when I came back to Texas I went to Prairie View.

E: Did you major in music education?
C: I majored in English and Music. I was finishing my masters at Prairie View and I got sick. I got ill – I was just doing too much. I was pushing from all angles. Traveling here and there, clinics, writing, performing at night. Eventually I fell out.

E: When you finished with school, what kind of job did you get?
C: First I got a job in Carnak, Texas – fifteen miles from Wiley. A dean at the school there had watched me grow while I was in college and he wanted me to be his band director there. I took him up on the offer. I worked there for two years and there I had an unusual experience. The school was newly built – but the architect didn’t realize the capacity it needed to be. There weren’t enough rooms for the classes and the children. So I taught band – but I didn’t have a room. Now, there was an old Chevrolet bus that I would drive to pick up the school kids. I’d bring them to and from school – and then I’d teach band in that same bus.

E: Really!
C: And that was a job too – ‘cause the drummer might hit anyone with that mallet! (Laughs) And the trombone had to be careful with his slide! It was something else. I got a lot of experience there.

E: What kind of a band were you leading – a jazz band?
C: It was a marching band, but we taught them how to play jazz too.

E: Man, everyone I’ve spoken to about you has told me that you were famous for your great marching bands. Melvin Sparks is actually the first one to bring that up to me.
C: Yeah! I know Melvin well, that’s one of my guys! I taught him at Booker T. Washington High School.

E: We’ll get into all these legendary musicians that you brought up through the ranks. My question for you is – were you influenced by the blues? Texas was a blues hotbed.
C: Well, it’s my impression that that jazz and the blues all sprung up at the same time, in different cities. Because when they were doing certain things in New York, we were doing the same things here in Houston. When they played blues in Chicago, we were playing blues here. So maybe it all started in New Orleans and the delta, but it almost simultaneously started here.

E: So basically all of this music reaches you at the same time. You were surrounded by it growing up.
C: Yeah, I sure was. You see, you can’t play jazz if you can’t play the blues. Jazz has blues lines running through it. This was just something that people understood. It was a branch of music – the blues. But there could be sad blues, happy blues, work song blues. Basically jazz came from blues and gospel.

E: What were the first records you put out yourself?
C: Blues records, for a company called Freedom Records. And I guess I put out 12 or 13 records. I wrote the music and recorded the band.

E: So these weren’t released as Conrad Johnson records – you were the producer.
C: Right. I was hired by the studio to write and produce records.

E: Is this how you made your name?
C: No, I made my name later with the high school bands.

E: We’ll get to the stage band stuff later. How about in the 1950s?
C: Well, I was going around Houston. I was playing blues, but Jimmy Lunceford influenced me. I still loved big bands!

E: In the late 1950s, r&b got bigger and took over popular rhythm. How did you feel? You being a cat that was into the jazz swing rhythm?
C: Well, I grew along with it. It wasn’t that far away from jazz. Just a step. Sort of like rap. Rap is a bit further away from jazz, but it is still close. So I got into the r&b thing. I played a lot of r&b gigs with my band.

E: Which band?
C: It was called “Connie’s Combo.”

E: You know it’s interesting – two great funk musicians, Sparks and the organist Leon Spencer, said they met while playing with you in your combo.
C: That’s right.

E: You were playing with musicians of all ages – Sparks and Spencer must have been in high school!
C: Right. Sparks was. I think he finished at the school were I was.

E: And Spencer was attending school across the city at Yates High School – were you went. He said you all met at a session and you introduced him to Sparks. This ends up being a big deal ‘cause when Sparks moves to New York, he ends up taking Spencer along with him and they played on a huge amount of soul jazz sessions for leaders like Jack McDuff and Lou Donaldson.
C: Hey, I knew Lou. Oh yeah…

E: You’re percolating and instructing a lot of musicians that would go on to be great in the funk scene!
C: Well, we had a lot of musicians that left Texas to go to New York and California - and they made it. Just like Sparks and another one of my students, Wilton Felder.

E: And some of your students went on to do incredible things locally. Bubbha Thomas was an early student of yours, and he released some great jazz and funk LPs on two Houston labels, Judnell and his own Lightin’.
C: Right. He was in the band in the early 60s. I instructed him on drums. You know a lot of the guys that played with BB King’s band started with me.

E: When did you start teaching jazz band?
C I started teaching jazz band in high school at Booker T Washington. I taught there for eleven years. I taught Sparks at Booker T.

E: You got a job at Kashmere Senior High School and started leading the school’s stage band in 1969. Why did you switch schools?
C: Well, the principal of Booker T. Washington, George Hanes, left and moved to Kashmere, so I went there. I had a free run at the band. George was a musician himself - a jazz drummer. He told me, “Listen, I want everybody to know what you’re doing here. So I’m going to let you take off and do jobs with the stage band, whether it’s school hours or not.” He took a big responsibility ‘cause the teachers didn’t like that. Anyway, that’s when the band got popular.

E: Could you explain the concept of the stage band?
C: Basically, it’s the same concept as a big band, except that the musicians were young kids.

E: Where is Kashmere High School located?
C: In North Houston. It’s predominantly a black school.

E: So most of the musicians were black.
C: Now and then we’d have one white guy, or maybe a Mexican. But it was mainly a black school.

E: Now another thing that everyone tells me is that you always stayed abreast with popular music. When you first came to Kashmere, the biggest music amongst young black kids was soul and funk. James Brown was the king. Were you checking out funk artists, following the movement?
C: Yes. I knew what was popular. I enjoyed the music; to me the music had a lot of power. But it had to be harnessed. That’s what I was trying to do with my band, harness it.

E: So you start your kids on a diet of funk rhythms and big band jazz arrangements. Did your students respect your vision? I mean, you’re about fifty five years old and you’re leading them in covers of “Super Bad!”
C: Oh man, I had the highest respect. When I said, “Do you want to try this?” They’d say, “If you think we can do it, we’ll do it.”

E: You’re credited by every jazz band educator that I’ve spoken to in Houston as being the first to successfully meld the big band feel with the funk rhythms.
C: Yeah, that might be true. When I first got to Kashmere the band was only playing big band music. But I changed it.

E: And your kids responded so well, they being the ones that were surrounded by the funk influence.
C: And I put the two together. The funk was powerful, but it was undisciplined. I wanted to add that missing element.

E: A lot of band directors weren’t teaching their kids, rather they were just walking them through performances. Didn’t you take a more instructional role?
C: Exactly right. The kids didn’t know a thing about jazz. Look man, the history would be transmitted as I taught. It entered as I taught.

E: Well, you are living history.
C: I guess so…

E: Do you think that the crop of students you were drawing from were inherently talented?
C: No, they didn’t have it until we worked with them. And we developed that talent. See, I didn’t lead a band that you had to take a test to join. The students would simply apply to enter the band. I’d let almost all of them in, there were very few that I turned down.

E: So many hours a day did you play with the students?
C: Well, if you include going on jobs and all that? At night I’d be with them for like 4 or 5 hours. And during the regular school day I’d be with them for like 2 or 3 hours.

E: Those kids, and the music, was – matter of fact, it is – your life.
C: That’s true.

E: You dedicated so much to your students. Did they appreciate you for this?
C: Oh yeah, before they came to me they didn’t know anything about the music!

E: What was the catalyst to record the first Kashmere Stage Band LP – “Our Thing” - in 1969? Why go into the studio?
C: OK, you asked me the question, now let me answer. I decided to record my band because I had dreams to record – like any musician. But because I was dealing with children, I said, “I’m going to let them do what I want to do.” And I said that I’d record myself later. I put off my desire for theirs.

E: You funded the initial record with Principal Hanes.
C: Well, we also made the money playing gigs.

E: And you were already a record producer –
C: Yeah, see I had done this in the studio. I was doing this with blues groups. I had about four blues singers. And I was producing them in the studio. I was writing the music, rehearsing the band, and recording them.

E: What was it like going from professional musicians to high school students?
C: Well, it was no problem. I just knew that I had to work a little harder.

E: Do you remember the music from that first LP?
C: Well we did “Misty” for one thing. We covered “Take Five,” but we did it in 4/4. That totally changed the feel.

E: Of course you added in that funk backbeat.
C: Oh yeah, we did quite a bit of funk. You know, over the years, I wrote out at least five funk charts for big band. The students really got into it. We did really complex arrangements, but the kids got it. They played the heck out of them.

E: How much did you have to work to get your kids to play so well? Your high school students were as good as any funk band in the nation!
C: The thing about it is, they had to depend on me for interpretation and concept. But they listened. And they got it! And once they did, it was right on the money. It was there.

E: You know, I should make an important point - I’m asking you about the records, ‘cause that’s the medium by which I was exposed to the music. But your band was really into competitions.
C: That’s right. Competitions and performances.

E: So you’d record the music only ‘cause people in the high school wanted to hear it.
C: Also so I would have a record to show the other kids the music they had to learn. It worked even better than I could have thought, ‘cause by the time the kids got to me they had bought the record and learned their solos! So I just threw the music around and kept on stepping.

E: Did your kids pick up the pace? Were they comfortable in the studio?
C: Of course! We did so many festivals and shows. At the end of the year the kids were at their peak. So I didn’t have to do anything particularly special in the studio, ‘cause I’d already done it preparing them for concerts. I’d say, “We’re going to record. And I want you to do exactly what you did at the stage band festivals.”

E: Was it recorded live or did you track out the music?
C: Oh it was live. Let me tell you what. I told you that the band was a show band. And when we went into the studio to record – well, the kids were used to doing movements while they were playing. I tried to get them to do it without moving, but they said they had to move – it gave them better time, and a better feeling. So I let them do the movements while they played. It amazed me. But they played better. They were dancing! Live, it blew the audiences mind. That’s the history of the band. I set the trend for that whole era. We knew when to dance. If it interfered with the music, we wouldn’t do it. In other words, if there was a man taking a solo – we wouldn’t do any pantomiming behind him. Why? ‘Cause it would take the peoples’ minds off the solo. See, many people trying to do this didn’t understand. So while a person was soloing, the band was dancing around and it took away from the solo.

E: Let’s talk about the sound of the band. Your progression is easily heard. It goes from being more rough-hewn in the early days – like your first version of “Thank You” (the 45) – to being very polished. But still funky! Like the slower version of “Thank You” from the Zero Point LP.
C: That’s right! You’re exactly right! When I was a kid, we would walk twelve to fifteen miles and no one would bother us. So we’d walk to this man’s house that had every record you could think of. And we would sit and listen for hours. That was before I even finished high school. I knew how a band was supposed to sound, having grown up listening to Duke Ellington.

E: Especially in the tuning of the horns. Listening to a lot of stage band records, I can only wish that the band director had been more careful in the way that he tuned up his kids.
C: Right! You know why we were always in tune? The way I started the school year off, I would tune for thirty minutes. If it took forty-five, I’d tune for that long. I would NEVER PLAY out of tune. So, when we got to playing, if anyone got out of tune, the band would stop and look around. This is what developed. The students would pick up on the mistakes! They wouldn’t play out of tune! They’d say, “We have to straighten this out.”

E: You know another thing that differentiates your records from the records of other stage bands is the sound quality. You wouldn’t just record your stage band live at a contest and then release that as an album.
C: Yeah, I went into the studio. See, I made the sound one of the biggest things that we did. Every day – EVERY DAY – we worked that sound the same way. And it was a magic tone. And I figured I’d catch that best by recording in the studio.

E: Now you released these records yourself. Who bought them, just kids in the high school?
C: Oh no man, we sold them wherever we played. All those festivals that you can read about on the back of the albums, we sold them there. Even when we went to Europe, or Tokyo, Japan – we sold albums there. France even!

E: How many copies of the albums were made?
C: Mostly we’d make 500. Sometimes we’d have to go back and get another 500 made. At the most 1000 copies.

E: Talk to me about the funk rhythm section. Almost all of the jazz you played was over funk rhythms.
C: I understood funk rhythms. The thing is, if a student came to me and said he wanted to play funk it was OK. That was the music of the day. But I wouldn’t let him play so loud that the other instruments couldn’t hear. But I also wouldn’t make him play so softly that nobody could hear him. That was the problem with the drummer in a lot of stage bands. When it got to a soft part in the song, the drummer dropped out. And then the band had nothing to go on! I kept that drum’s presence the whole time. And we always kept the hands and the feet even.

E: You mean in the drum kit.
C: THAT’S RIGHT! See, that was the problem with a lot of bands. They didn’t work on it.

E: Your drummers had it. Like Craig Green.
C: Oh yeah. Craig Green was one of the finest drummers I had. He was the one who played on “Kashmere.”

E: Off of the Kashmere Stage Band Plays Originals LP. Let’s talk about him. On “Kashmere” the work he’s doing with the kick drum is so dynamic. And he never misses a fill. Even when he transitions to the half time breaks! He’s so immaculate. Was he a natural drummer?
C: Oh yeah, he was a natural. He played that song everywhere. On the road, at gigs. I’ve developed drummers that could play that as well as he did. But he was the best at the time.

E: “Kashmere” is a very powerful song. Especially the breakdowns with the horn stabs. It fills the room!
C: That was the way I wrote the number. It was a drum feature, ‘cause I had nothing to feature drums out of all that was going on at the time. So when I wrote “Kashmere,” I had it feature the drums. And the drummer had the two or four measure breaks, Craig was featured, and then the band would come back in.

E: The best thing is, during the breaks he didn’t fall into some esoteric solos, he stayed in the pocket.
C: That was the whole idea. That was the only way to get through the song properly. That’s another mistake that band directors made – they gave the drummer a solo and let him go for it. You don’ t do that! Stay in the pocket!

E: Plays Originals has the distinct Kashmere Stage Band Sound, a sound you achieved first on the Zero Point LP.
C: That’s true, and that was about my third or fourth album.

E: What lead to the change in the sound? Your engineer Joel Johnson?
C: Well, it was maturity. Maturity in my kids. See, I had developed better tones. By using my tuning technique…

E: But the recording was better.
C: That’s true, the studio learned to record us better.

E: Yeah, you had the whole band in there.
C: Yup, about 18 pieces. I didn’t double any instruments. A lot of band directors had seven or eight trumpets. I didn’t do that. I just did five sax, four trumpet and four trombone.

E: Tell me about Gerald Calhoun… He played on Zero Point and on “Kashmere.”
C: Oh he was one of the finest bass players I ever had. Count Basie played at my school and he was sitting on my piano bench. And when he heard Gerald warming up he made this statement to Ebony Magazine, “I went to the band room at Kashmere. And while I was there I heard the bass player warm up on scales and it blew me away.” He was that good, to impress Count Basie. Gerald is playing and singing now.

E: What percentage of your students went on to play music professionally?
C: Well, I wouldn’t be able to state a percent, but I’d estimate about 10%. Not many. A lot of them went on to varying careers. One of my finest trombone players became a member of the mounted police! I’ve been by to see him many times, and every time I say, “Get your horn out!” (Laughs) He was just a natural…

E: How old were Craig and your other students when they recorded with you?
C: They couldn’t have been over 17 at that time. And they didn’t come to the band playing like that. They studied for a while and then they started playing that hard!

E: On to one of your last LPs, Out of Gas But Still Burning. That LP contains the song “Kash Register,” which is Kashmere’s most out and out funk song.
C: I know this.

E: Why did you want to record a song like that? Or was that something that the Cold Fire subset wanted to do? For Cold Fire (of The Kashmere Stage Band) is credited with writing and performing that song.
C: I capitalized on everything that came through that band. I had groups of girls singing, and I had small groups recording outside of the band. With Cold Fire I didn’t stand over them, I put them to work on their own material. And they did a fabulous job. I believed in them, that’s why I released the song as a 45. They recorded it well.

E: After Cold Fire left Kashmere High School, you recorded them for Lightin’.
C: They went to Bubbha Thomas ‘cause they wanted to be recorded. See Bubbha came under me; he was one of my students. Bubbha agreed to it. And they got a great sound, oh yeah! I was proud of their sound!

E: How about Black Rain? They released a 45 called “Spark Plug” that wasn’t on any of the Kashmere Stage Band LPs.
C: Yeah, that was a little bit later on. But that was Kashmere too.

E: When you first started bringing the band to contests, how long did it take before you started sweeping the shows?
C: That is the question! It took about two and a half years before I really got into it. The judges just didn’t want to believe it at first. They would always make us tie or something. So I said, “OK, you want to make ties, we’ll see about that.” So I went and wrote more music, and came to find out later from one of the judges that the music I wrote was the strongest.

E: You won so many competitions – 42 out of 46 between 1969 and 1978. I remember Buddy Smith said that one year you placed second and that the audience couldn’t believe it. There was a huge controversy! You went up against- and took out - white bands, black bands.
C: That’s right! And for many years I was the only black band in those contests.

E: You were going up against programs with lots of money –
C: And plenty of teachers! They had private teachers!

E: And you were destroying them. How?
C: It was the feeling of the band. I gave them the music. You see, the kids didn’t know much about music when they came there. The students I was teaching only knew the rock era. But I taught them jazz. And the way that they understood it was uncanny. We won festival after festival. I was just inducted into the Texas Bandmasters Hall of Fame. When I was at the ceremony, I saw band directors that knew me from the years that I led Kashmere. And they said, “Man, when we saw you in those competitions, we knew we were playing for second or third place.” I trained my kids to try to win the contest. Give it all you got and then don’t worry. And it worked. There would be times when the kids came to me and they wanted to fight! And I said, “No, you can’t fight ‘cause you’ll destroy your image.” Man, other kids would tell them some ugly things. Kashmere played well and the kids couldn’t beat them. I had to talk to my kids, man ‘cause these kids WOULD FIGHT!

E: And they were mean looking dudes! On the Zero Point cover? Man!
C: (Laughs) Yeah, you see all of them! Look here, they could fight. But I controlled them. And it ended up that the band directors and the students actually liked them.

E: I find it interesting that other high school bands in Houston didn’t start releasing records until you stopped releasing them. Howard Jones, Buddy Smith and Ronald Thornton all released their LPs in the late 70s.
C: Well I started that and the idea of going out of the country.

E: You toured Europe in 1973. That same year the mayor of Houston declared an official Kashmere Stage Band day. Building off this success, you journeyed to Japan in 1975. How did the Japanese take to these young, black Americans playing this most wonderful mixture of jazz and funk?
C: They were blown away. We played at a college. The college’s group played first. We listened to them and they sounded good. But you know that thing we call “soul?” It just wasn’t there. Then we played! And when we finished playing, the other band took off their beautiful, red jackets and gave them to the Kashmere Stage Band. That was one of the neatest things I’d ever witnessed.

E: So you had everybody shook. Even people that respected you. Every bandleader I’ve spoken to admits how much he looked up to you! But by the end of the 70s, changes in the administration wreaked havoc on stage bands and the music programs.
C: It sure did, it sure did…

E: They basically forced you into retirement!
C: That’s right…

E: This was something I tried to get Buddy to explain, and he was screaming and yelling! What a serious subject… Why would the administration take something that was so positive and shut it down?
C: I was forced into retirement. Now listen to me. That is what I want to save for my book. I don’t want to into that now, I want that to be fresh. I’ll go into detail in my book.

E: Understood. But needless to say, if you could have been leading the band into the 80s, you would have. And by the mid 80s stage bands had fallen off. And you were doing the marching band too.
C: Concert band, marching band, stage band, symphonic band. Strings! Three dance band, three of them! Really, I don’t see how I survived. What is was – I did it to avoid a lot of other things. I don’t want to get into it right now.

E: Fine. The year 2000. The funk movement came and went. Stage bands are nothing like they used to be. Especially for young musicians in the black community, there’s nothing left. Unless there’s people like Bubbha Thomas, who has maintained his Summer Program for nearly twenty years. The kids have to fend for themselves. And America is not set up to let minorities succeed.
C: No, it’s not.

E: Look back on those years that you lead the Kashmere Stage Band. That was hope. When you look back, how do you view it as a whole?
C: Here’s the way I look at it. All of the people - this is true - all of the people who saw that band perform and heard the magnificence in their sound, and their work… Only those people will ever know. The records are just a facsimile. Seeing and hearing that band perform was unexplainable. There was nowhere for that band to go, they’d done everything. Once the kids from Kashmere got to college, they saw that they had already one everything that college bands were doing. So they weren’t interested in going there. They would go to college, but some wouldn’t even play in the college band. And a lot of kids stopped playing music altogether once they left the high school. And I had some fine players! It upset me…

E: But this is offset by Wilton Felder, Melvin Sparks, Bubbha Thomas. They continued on...Positive musicians who have influenced so many.
C: They never gave up. My goal was to help the children understand. I had a chance to witness jazz when it was in its infancy. I had the chance. I wanted to spread that joy to the kids I taught.

E: How’d you get your musical start?
C: I started very young, my father played tenor sax.

E: Was he in a group?
C: Yes - Big Tiny and The Thunderbirds. I used to go to the rehearsals, I would just bang on the drums a lot. I picked it up then. I was playing by the time I got to elementary school.

E: When was this?
C: Well, I was born in 1954. When I went to Kashmere High School, I had just turned 18. I was zoned to another high school in my junior year. I had met “Prof” when I was in junior high. Kashmere was playing in a jazz festival and my junior high band was playing there. They had this guitar player that was just outstanding - Johnny Reason. Johnny was talking to me, he said, “You really ought to come to Kashmere.” So in my senior year, I decided “This is my last chance to go.” My parents didn’t know I was going to go. I would take my little sister to the school they thought I was going to, and I had enrolled myself in Kashmere. So I would drop her off and drive to Kashmere and go to school. I got away with that for a couple months and then the registrar discovered that I was living outside of Kashmere’s zone. They sent me back to my home school. But when my father saw how important it was for me to attend Kashmere, he went and rented an apartment in the Kashmere zone and lived with me. He and I moved out of our house into an apartment, for a couple months, so we could meet the residency requirements!

E: By this time, you’d been drumming for quite some time.
C: I had been drumming for at least 6 or 7 years. That was my first love. The only reason I wanted to go to Kashmere was for the stage band. It was Conrad’s leadership and the musicians in the band. I was going to a school that had a real strong junior high jazz band. We would be at festivals and I’d come across the Kashmere band. As I talked to guys in the band , (I noticed) they were always excited about music, focused on what they wanted to do. It was a joy to be around young musicians, my age, that were that into the music. That’s why I had to got to Kashmere– to get into that environment.

E: And Conrad was a great educator.
C: “Prof” was very enthusiastic, and serious about what he wanted. His expectations matched what I wanted to do. He said, “Children can do whatever you give them to do.” His expectations were high. I liked to play music that I thought professionals were playing.

E: What year was it when you came to Kashmere?
C: I got there in 1972. There was a lot of talk of me getting there before I arrived. They had a favorite son - there was a guy there that everybody said was THE drummer. One day I was driving a motorcycle with a friend of mine down one of the streets in the community and he was in the garage playing his drum set. My friend talked me into going over to where he was. We went over to his house and we got to talking and I told him who I was. Everyone (present) was like, “Oh yeah, this is the guy that everybody’s talking about coming to Kashmere! Well go on and play!” So I played a little bit and everybody went back to the school saying, “This guy that’ s coming is gonna cut everybody’s head!” So by the time I got there, there was already a word that I was coming - that I was gonna take over. That wasn’t my intention, I just wanted to come be in the band. But when I got there, after I started playing, it pretty much became me being the top player over there.

E: What records did you record with the band?
C: Well, I was on Kashmere 73, and then Plays Originals. “Prof” had a professional band, a singing group called the Royal Temps, so we would go into the studio recording different things with different groups. And I kinda didn’t keep up with that. I was just glad to be doing it. I don’t know which songs I was on.
I think I was on “Scorpio.”

E: “Scorpio” – the Kashmere version is stunning! How did the band get so good at playing funk? Was it because it was the hippest music out at the time?
C: We listened to a lot of musicians, that’s one thing “Prof” would always do. He would bring in a lot of professional guys from the area and have them play. We would go out and listen to bands play all the time. We had a group - the Nut, Bolt and Screw company. We’d do gigs, or get together and jam a lot, listen a lot. Gerald Calhoun (bassist on “Kashmere”) and I used to practice all the time. It could just be the two of us. We’d get so into it - we’d just fall out on our instruments going crazy, doing what we tried to do. My theory, when I was developing, was to be able to play anything I heard. I listened to funk music - a lot of James Brown, I grew up on that. I listened to a lot of Harvey Mason, he’s my mentor more of less. I listened to Bernard Purdie, Billy Cobham. Danny Seraphin with Chicago. Dave Garibaldi. I wanted to emulate that style, but back then we were all about trying to get a lot of syncopation. I was trying to push the limits of what I came up with and be able to keep time.

E: A perfect example of that drive is “Kashmere” – your showcase piece.
C: I was given that song and given two bar breaks. The idea was never to leave the pocket. I think it was a Barry White song, “I’m Going To Love You…” I took that idea and used it in “Kashmere,” ‘cause it sounded like it would work there. When “Prof” first brought the song, he told me he had something he was writing that he wanted me to play on. But he didn’t tell me what to do with it. So when I heard it, I just thought that that beat would go with it.

E: It just felt right?
C: It’s the type of feel I thought “Kashmere” should have. One thing about “Prof,” he allowed you to be creative. To express the ideas you thought would work, as long as it didn’t conflict with anything he thought should happen That’s where I got the idea for that beat. And “Kashmere” required it to be up a notch.

E: It must have been tough, at that elevated tempo, to keep that energy up.
C: That was the whole idea- in the pocket, stay in the pocket. Keep the groove steady. Don’t let the tempo fluctuate, but keep the energy up and give a little interesting turn around here and there.

E: Do you remember any live performances with the Kashmere Stage Band?
C: We played that song live for a jazz festival at Sam Houston State University. I think Roy Haynes really was knocked out by what I was doing - he came down and talked to me about it. When I went to school at NTSU, Ron Fink in the drum dept was asking me about that song. When I did a jury I was showing them how I played the beats I was playing. I didn’t have much input in my jury, ‘cause I was breaking down the things I was doing, so they could pick it up. So they could do it, so I said, “Something is wrong here! I’m up here to learn what they have to offer and I’m explaining what I do.”

E: How long did you attend NTSU? And are you featured on any of the NTSU Lab Band albums?
C: I went to NTSU for two years. I didn’t record though.

E: Did you think that over 25 years later that funk fans would be so into Kashmere’s albums? Or your drumming?
C: No, not really. Because we were all excited, we had gone to the studio, had a chance to hear ourselves play back, but no one else really seemed like they were interested - beyond our families. Over the years we’ve talked about it, to the point where we’ve probably got on some people’s nerves! Some said it wasn’t important to anyone but us. But I’ve always thought that somebody should (put “Kashmere” song out). In Houston especially - we have so many outstanding jazz band programs, some of which have recorded. There should be a radio show or something to show the work that’s gone on, and continues to go on in the schools there. We get to see football, and all the high school sports, but we get no exposure on the music end. I think that’ s something that would be good for the schools and people in general.

E: Man, what was it about Houston and the wonderful musicians that have sprung up from there?
C: There’s always been a lot of competition, and at that time there was a camaraderie among the young musicians that showed a love for the music and each person’s ability to play. At least until they stole my car.

E: What?!
C: They stole my car at Kashmere. I had my drums in there, and I said to myself, “This sounds like a conspiracy.” I made some enemies once I started playing over there. Enemies in the band. I felt it was a retaliation for people saying I was the best drummer over there. One day someone said to me, “Hey your car iss going down the street.” I was glad in a way, ‘cause I was able to get a new drum set after that happened. I found my original drums in a pawn shop, later.

E: You mentioned that you attended NTSU after your short stint at Kashmere. What happened since?
C: After graduation, I came back and finished at the University of Houston with an undergraduate degree in music, and a graduate degree in music education. Now, I’m band director at Johnston Middle School, a performing and visual arts magnet school. My school is a feeder school for the High School For The Performing Arts.

E: So you’re bestowing the same knowledge that “Prof” passed along to you.
C: I had good experiences at a young age, and I’ve passed on as much as I can to the children I’ve had. I’ve had quite a few pursue music, there are some playing professionally.