Bo Did Westport

Westport’s musical history is well noted.

Mark Smollin wrote a book about all the 1960s bands that played at Staples: the Doors, Cream, Yardbirds, Animals and many, many more.

Linda Eastman — before she was McCartney — photographed Jeff Beck in the high school choral room.

A video of Steve Tallerico — before he was Steve Tyler — plays in an endless loop at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. In it, he talks about the incredible influence this town had on his musical career.

But before the Byrds, Peter Frampton and Sly and the Family Stone played here — and all the rest — there was a different kind of teenage music. And Westport was at the center of it then, too.

Michael Friedman today, in his Weston home.

Michael Friedman today, in his Weston home.

Michael Friedman was there. Now 72, he’s had several intriguing careers. He’s been an antiques dealer, and a restaurant owner.

He produced “Hello, It’s Me,” and managed Todd Rundgren and Kris Kristofferson — as well as (with Albert Grossman) the careers of Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, The Band, Odetta, and Peter Paul & Mary. He did publicity for the Dave Clark 5 and Herman’s Hermits.

But even before that — when he was a student at Long Lots Junior High, and a member of Staples High’s Class of 1961 — Friedman was part of Westport’s thriving music scene.

In 1958 — as a “self-taught, left-handed, not-so-great drummer” — he joined saxophonist Rick Del Vecchio and guitarist/singer Mike Youngman in a group called the Schemers. Friedman calls them “Westport’s 1st garage band.”

They were young. But the 4th member was even younger. Barry Tashian brought great guitar chops — and an amazing voice, and plenty of showmanship — to the foursome.

Bo Diddley was heard in Westport.

Bo Diddley was heard in Westport.

The Schemers covered songs by hot artists like Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley. They knew Diddley especially well: He played in Westport “a number of times,” Friedman says. They were dance shows, at places like the YMCA.

Once, Diddley’s drummer was too drunk to perform. Friedman took his spot.

Another act that came to Westport was Harvey and the Moonglows (“Sincerely”). Once again, the drummer drank too much. Once again, Friedman stepped in.

Only one local band was bigger than the Schemers. Bridgeport’s Dick Grass and the Hoppers — featuring 350-pound lead singer Bobby Lindsay — had a regional hit with “Mr. John Law.”

A few years later, Tashian went on to far great fame. With fellow Westporter Bill Briggs — and 2 Boston University classmates — the Remains took Boston by storm. They toured with the Beatles, appeared on “Ed Sullivan” and “Hullabaloo,” and were (in the words of Jon Landau) “how you told a stranger about rock ‘n’ roll.”

Unfortunately, the Remains broke up. But that’s another story.

Westporters and Remains Barry Tashian (left) and Bill Briggs flank Staples music director John Ohanian in 1966.

Westporters Barry Tashian (left) and Bill Briggs of the Remains flank Staples music director John Ohanian in 1966.

Tashian was not the only Friedman-era Stapleite to go on to musical fame. Mike Borchetta brought musical acts to Westport while still in high school. One was Dave Baby Cortez (“The Happy Organ”).

Borchetta later became a noted music promoter — first in Los Angeles, then Nashville. He went on to start his own label — and discovered a 16-year-old Taylor Swift.

Don Law was another Staples musical mover and shaker. His father — also named Don — was “Mr. Nashville.” He produced Johnny Horton’s “Battle of New Orleans,”Marty Robbins’ “El Paso” and Jimmy Dean’s “Big Bad John,” as well as many Johnny Cash records.

His son — Friedman’s friend — was a Boston-based promoter. The Boston Globe says Law “virtually controlled the live music scene throughout New England for almost four decades.”

And who can forget Rusty Ford, who went on to play bass with the psychedelic, theremin-heavy, influential but now forgotten Lothar and the Hand People? Ford and his wife Karen have lived in Westport since 1992.

Lothar and the Hand People. i'm not sure which one is Rusty Ford.

Lothar and the Hand People. Rusty Ford is 2nd from left in this photo by Richard Avedon.

Friedman’s own career took a couple of detours. He sold Americana and folk art, and owned the Ash Creek Saloons in Fairfield and Norwalk, along with Darien’s Goose restaurant.

But music was always his first love.

“I’ve had a fun life,” he says, sitting in his Weston home. He’s surrounded by memorabilia, like an acetate from the Beatles’ recording of “Help!”, a 1948 snare drum head signed by Levon Helm, and a photo he took of Janis Joplin just before she performed for a few thousand Hell’s Angels.

Yet of everything he’s done — including dating Linda Eastman — “the Barry and Bo Diddley years were the best. There’s nothing better than playing in a rock ‘n’ roll band.”

Michael Friedman knew Levon Helm when he was in the Hawks -- the band that preceded The Band. The drum head says: "Michael. You & me brother. They wouldn't believe us if we told it. Love & respect, Levon. Sept. '09."

Michael Friedman knew Levon Helm when he was in the Hawks — the band that preceded The Band. The drum head says: “Michael. You & me brother. They wouldn’t believe us if we told it. Love & respects, Levon Helm. Sept. ’09.”


23 responses to “Bo Did Westport

  1. Jill Turner Odice

    Another wonderful story ! Thanks Dan!

  2. Great Story Dan. My husband Rusty Ford is the second from the left in the Lothar photo taken by Richard Avendon in 1967. We have lived in Westport Since 1992 and are good friends with Michael Friedman. Cheers

  3. Great story, Dan.

  4. Terry brannigan

    Where can we meet this guy! Where do like minded people gather to talk and enjoy awesome music?

    Good Lord that is a great list of my favorite artists (other than my kids in our basement… We actually set them up one Sunday in the garage but the neighbors complained!)

    My wife and I spent Thursday at FTC listening to New Riders with friends. Can we get Michael to get back to bringing acts to Westport! All the productions in town feel so over managed. The Levit and Playhouse are awesome but a long way from raw. Imagine a mini Woodstock at the Baron’s.

  5. Diana Powers

    Hey Dan – If you were Bobby Lindsay, reading Bo Did Westport, how would you feel about the way the writer described you? I’m astonished that you felt it appropriate to do that. Respectfully, Diana Powers

  6. Michael Friedman

    Dan, one correction. I didn’t help Scott Borchetta get his own label.
    I only knew him as a little boy in Los Angeles before his dad Mike moved to Nashville. Nice article, thanks. MF

  7. Jack Goldenberg

    What a great story and a great blog. So cool to think of those bands playing at Staples.

  8. Great stuff. I knew some of Michael’s background (from Barry) but did not know the whole story. Fascinating.

  9. Dan another correction also required. Author/Editor of “The Real Rock and Roll High School” is my SMOKE drummer, MARK SMOLLIN. Not Michael Smollin” as written. Other than that? Fun piece.

  10. Pam Barkentin

    Great write up, Dan. I am proud to have been a teenager here and to have known Mike, Barry, and others who were movin’ and shakin’ the Westport rock scene back then. It was memorable fun to dance right up against the stage where Bo Diddley played. Mike is still one of the coolest guys around.

  11. Virginia R. Clark

    What memories! Yes, Bo Diddley came to Westport a number of times. It was a show you could dance to as Pam said, right up by the stage. They played in Saugatuck at the “old” VFW hall if I remember correctly. It was “The Scene” literally. I have his autograph on a show ticket somewhere up in my attic. Does anyone remember the “Fandango” dances at Longshore Club? The time was 1957-1960. I think they had some memorable music times there also. I remember Barry Tashian and his band, Dee his brother was in my class Staples 1960.
    Thanks for the memories….Dan et al…
    Ginny Hamil Clark, Staples 1960


  12. I thought I was the only one with a copy of Mr. John Law. Nice to see that others exist. The late Bobby Lindsey was an amazing singer who also performed with another local band “The Orchids” that featured twins that were great sax players..


    cool – I played with Barry some years later

  14. : Hey Dan-There were several other early Westport rockers that perhaps should be mentioned. One in particular is Mike Haydn. He was the first guy I ever saw play an electric guitar (at a talent show at Greens Farms Elementary). He played “Bo Diddley”. It knocked me out and I knew right then I had to do that too. Mike had a terrible accident i at the end of elementary school and was gravely injured. But by seventh grade he was back and. having had to re-learn how to play guitar all over again, was better than ever.An inspiration to many of us at the time. He had a great record collection and became a mentor to me. We played in bands together at dances at Long Lots and Staples and even a few night clubs (a strip club in Norwalk no less!) Later Mike was in the movie “Jaws” (he played “The guitar player on the beach”) and lives out on The Vineyard now still playing and performing. Another one of “The Originals”. There was also a guy named Monk Angell (spelling?) who was a friend of Barry’s and used to play at the Y dances. He played electric guitar solo and did an incredible Bo Diddley.

  15. Michael Friedman sure had an intimate back stage view of the great music decades that we lived in! When Bo Diddley played at St Anthony’s Hall in Saugatuck I was there, at age 12. I doubt if anything ever affected me like Bo did that night. We’re all very lucky that music exists! Thanks to all the commenters. And thanks to Michael and Dan!

  16. Fred Cantor

    I wanted to add that, for “06880” readers in the Boston area, Barry Tashian and Bill Briggs will be performing with The Remains on Friday May 13 in Somerville:

  17. Speaking of Bobby Lindsay and the Orchids, another member of that band was the legendary guitarist Linc Chamberland, who was also a teacher and mentor to a number of Westport guitarists.

  18. Thanks, Dan – what a great story and great memories, and it’s all true. I lived much of it, including one summer when Bo Diddley played outdoors at Longshore and I spent part of the night hanging around with Jerome Green (“Bring it to Jerome”), who played maracas in the band. Years before Mr. John Law became a hit I sang in a church choir in Fairfield with Bobby Lindsay, and my mother gave him voice and piano lessons. He was a terrific singer, and was also funnier than hell. And I’ll never forget the night at the Y when Friedman (in a blue blazer and chinos) played drums with Harvey and the Moonglows. Unbelievable!