Marilyn Chambers’ untimely death earlier this week shined a spotlight on Westport, where she grew up. But Marilyn was not the only famous member of her family.
Long before Marilyn opened the green door, her brother Billy Briggs was on his own way to stardom. As keyboardist for the legendary Remains, Billy appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show” and “Hullabaloo.” He toured with the Beatles — and, with fellow Westporter Barry Tashian and 2 bandmates, camethisclose to being the greatest American rock ‘n’ roll group ever.
The Remains never made it to the top. In the midst of that 1966 Beatles tour, they were already breaking up.
But they remain cult heroes. Jon Landau‘s praise — “They were how you told a stranger about rock ‘n’ roll” — is as true today as it was 42 years ago.
Now, when many people their age are retiring, the Remains are finally getting their due. On the big screen.
Westport native Fred Cantor — a few years younger than the Remains, but (like me) a long time ardent admirer — is the producer and driving force behind “America’s Lost Band.” That new documentary — narrated by the J. Geils Band’s Peter Wolf, another early fan — weaves rare archival footage and flashbacks with the Remains’ current lives. Believe it or not, they’re still playing kick-ass music — including at film festivals across the country, where fans old and new gather to worship at their altar.
“America’s Lost Band” premiered at the Boston Film Festival, to great reviews. Screenings in Chicago and Providence played to wildly enthusiastic audiences. Next week it’s in Nashville and Portland, Oregon; on April 28 it’s one of only 4 films picked for the “Celluloid Heroes: Rock ‘n’ Roll on Film” series at New Orleans’ Ponderosa Stomp Music Festival.
How good were the Remains?
Rock journalist Mark Kemp said if they had stayed together, “we might today be calling them — and not the Stones — the World’s Greatest Rock ‘n’ Roll Band.”
Bruce Springsteen’s guitarist, Little Steven Van Zandt, called the Remains “living history, and one of our most valued American treasures.”
And Rolling Stone magazine described them as “a religious totem of all that was manic and marvelous about mid-’60s pop.”
Billy Briggs and Barry Tashian have not forgotten their Westport roots. They rehearse here often, in their friends Terry and Gail Coen’s basement studio. Their many Westport friends never forgot them either.
Now — thanks to another Westporter’s passion and movie-making skills — the entire country is rediscovering them.
And now for a treat: To hear the Remains, click here. My recommendations (from the scroll-down list that appears on the right side of the linked page): Start with “Hang on Sloopy” and “I’m a Man,” followed by a 3rd live song: “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy.” Next, 2 album cuts: “Diddy Wah Diddy” and “Why Do I Cry.” But whatever you listen to: CRANK IT UP!