Staples: The High School That Rocked!

It’s a story so outlandish, folks who were there don’t believe it: In a 2-year period in the mid-1960s, the Doors played a concert at Staples High School.

So did Cream. The Yardbirds. Sly and the Family Stone. The Rascals. The Animals. The Beau Brummels.

Plus over the next few years, the Byrds, Rhinoceros, Buddy Miles, J. Geils,  Peter Frampton and Taj Mahal. And Steve Tallerico, before he became Steve Tyler.

I saw most of those bands. I’ve written about it, on “06880.” So has Mark Smollin, a 1970 Staples grad, in his great book The Real Rock & Roll High School: True Tales of Legendary Bands That Performed in Westport CT.

Still skeptical? Now there’s even more proof: a video documentary, called “The High School That Rocked!”


It’s a labor of love from Fred Cantor, a 1971 Staples alum who missed most of those performances, but is now making up for lost time.

Rock has never died — witness all the young rock lovers born decades after Jim Morrison died — and Cantor enlisted the help of a very recent Staples grad to bring his vision to reality.

Casey Denton (Class of 2014) led a high-level Emerson College camera and sound crew, then edited the final prodcut.

Doors posterThe video includes research Cantor had done for Smollin’s book, and over a dozen interviews with people who were there at the concerts. (Spoiler alert: I’m one of them. Our recollections seem pretty accurate, despite the admonition that if you remember the ’60s, you weren’t there.)

Cantor focused on a 2-year period, when 6 bands now in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame all took the Staples stage. He is convinced no other high school that could make such a claim.

The video also includes Staples grads from that era who made their mark in the music world. One is Paul Gambaccini, perhaps Britain’s most famous music presenter. Another is Charlie Karp, who at 16 years old was influenced by the concerts to leave Staples and join the Buddy Miles Express. A third is Emmy winner Brian Keane.

Cantor is working with the Westport Cinema Initiative, Westport Historical Society and Levitt Pavilion, to bring “The High School That Rocked!” to a wide audience here.

He’s also entering it in festivals (film, not rock). The first is Film Fest 52 at the Bethel Cinema (Wednesday, March 8, 6 pm VIP party meet and greet, 7 pm film, followed by a Q&A and reception). It will also open the SENE Film, Music & Arts Festival in Providence on April 25.

You don’t have to have seen any of the Staples concerts — or even to have been alive then — to love this film.

But if you were there, you’ll appreciate the final credits.

They say the film was produced by “Sally’s Record Dept. Productions.”

Ginger Baker, Cream's drummer, at Staples. (Photo copyright Jeremy Ross)

Ginger Baker, Cream’s drummer, at Staples. (Photo copyright Jeremy Ross)


23 responses to “Staples: The High School That Rocked!

  1. The Blues Magoos , another popular band played at the 1968 Senior Prom. Quite a unique period.

  2. So glad that Staple’s very cool history is being documented. No one, including my husband, ever believed me when I told them The Doors played in Westport; right before “blood on the streets in the town of New Haven”. Can’t wait to see the film. Where can I buy tickets? Bethel Cinema’s website didn’t seem to have them.

    Libby Kole
    Class of ’82

    • Libby, go to the Bethel Cinema home page. Click on the “online ticketing” link, and then scroll down in the date Dropbox to March 8. Click on the 7pm link for FF52 HS ROCKED/NAME IS JOAN. (But if you can get there earlier, a pre-screening reception starts at 6.). Thanks.

      I’d like to add that Casey Denton honed his skills in the fantastic Staples Media Lab (when it was headed by longtime teacher Jim Honeycutt, who himself is a former musician who had a record contract with a major record label back in the day).

  3. Special thanks to Dick Sandhaus who was responsible for making most of these concerts a reality.

  4. What a time it was! How lucky we were to experience these concerts!
    Many, many thanks and Kudos to Mark Smollin, Fred Cantor and Casey Denton for putting together this extraordinary video about an extraordinary time at our, dare I say it again, at our extraordinary
    Staples High School. Thanks too of course to Paul Gambaccini, Brian Keane and Charlie Carp. And thanks for all the years of sharing her wisdom and love of music go to Sally of “Sally’s Record Department”. I cannot wait to see this. At least 2 or 3 times!

  5. His name is MARK SMOLLIN not Michael Smollin. And he is my kick ass drummer in SMOKE (Staples Class of 70 “pet band”) along with Chuck Boisseau, Peter Mogren, Steve Wall and John Leimseider. And of course, yours truly.

  6. May have been a little later, but let’s not forget James Gang, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Delaney & Bonnie, Taj Mahal, Buddy Miles (w/ Charlie) and others. As the Audio Director for the Players in my Junior and Senior years (69′ – ’71), I had keys to the auditorium. Helped the tech crews put-in and take-out, as well as student stage manage. I remember leading a drunk Delaney on stage for their set, and occasionally running spots. Even hung
    mics from the catwalk to record some of the shows (don’t tell anyone). Good times were had by all….

  7. cannot WAIT to see this movie

  8. Valerie Smith-Malin

    We are so excited to see this movie, and love the reference to Sally’s!

  9. Nancy Powers Conklin

    And, the Left Bank, of “Walk Away Renee” fame, played at our Junior Prom in the spring of 1968.

  10. Jean Whitehead

    So much fun to see those shows.

  11. Vanessa Bradford

    My first concert, The Doors at Staples! I think I was in the 8th grade and went with my older sister. I had to promise her that I wouldn’t tell our Mother about Morrison’s tight leather pants, or what he was doing with the mircophone stand. I remember that he kept standing in the shadows for a part of the show, and the audience screaming “Light Your face” as he wouldn’t sing “Light My Fire” which he finally did. Wow, what a first concert experience!

  12. Vivianne Pommier

    i remember those bands, especially Cream when Mr Harrison had to push Ginger Baker on stage because he was so “messed” up.
    The Doors were also epic.
    We were SO lucky

  13. How would someone order a copy of this film?

    • John, thanks for your interest. It is not available for individual purchases at this point. The film was only recently completed; we are first looking to have it screened at some film festivals and then, down the road, hopefully find some form of distribution such as, for example, on cable TV. Thanks again.

      • Thank you. If there are any screenings planned in California, please let me know! -John

  14. Aside from the Bethel showing next Wed, are there any other ways or times to see this movie?

  15. Fred Cantor

    Edward, we’ve only recently begun the film festival process. The one other festival that is set: the film has been chosen to open the SENE Film, Music & Arts Festival–which is held in the metro Providence area–on April 25. Thanks.