The Historical Society That Rocks!

One of the most persistent urban suburban legends in Westport is that the Doors played a concert in the Staples High School auditorium.

Also the Animals, Yardbirds, Sly & the Family Stone and a host of other rock ‘n’ roll legends.

It’s all true.

To find out more, you can click here to read an “06880” story from 2014.

You can click here to download “The Real Rock & Roll High School,” Mark Smollin’s meticulously researched, fantastically illustrated and awe-inducing history of that remarkable era in Westport history.

Or you can go to the Westport Historical Society. “The High School That Rocked!” opens tomorrow (Friday, June 16, 6 p.m. reception). The exhibit runs through September 2.

The Yardbirds’ “For Your Love,” part of the exhibit’s stacks of wax.

The walls are filled with photos, posters, ticket stubs  and press clippings from and about those mid-’60s concerts. A record player sits near the entrance, with a stack of 45s; choose your favorite, and play it. (Kids: Ask your grandparents how!)

A screen plays clips from the “High School That Rocked,” the video that inspired this show. Staples Class of 1971 graduate Fred Cantor produced the documentary, with much younger (Class of 2014) filmmaker Casey Denton.

Cantor also curated this show, with ’70 Staples grad Mary Palmieri Gai.

Ironically, Cantor never saw any of those concerts. He still can’t figure out how he missed them.

Fifty years later, he’s made up for all that. He zeroed in on some of the most recognizable names — the Doors, Cream, Animals, Rascals, Yardbirds, and Westport’s own Remains — but also includes information about proms (the Blues Magoos played for the seniors, the Blues Project and Left Banke for the juniors), and Lester Lanin’s short-lived Nines Club discotheque (with groups like the Youngbloods and ? and the Mysterians).

Miggs Burroughs — who has his own rock ‘n’ roll stories — puts the finishing touches on the Westport Historical Society exhibit. (Photo/Larry Untermeyer)

The exhibit pays homage to Dick Sandhaus and Paul Gambaccini — Staples students who had the vision (and audacity) to bring those bands to Westport — and to Cantor’s classmates Charlie Karp (Buddy Miles’ sideman), Brian Keane and Michael Mugrage, all of whom still rock the music industry.

The Westport Historical Society usually highlights events like the Revolutionary War. This is quite a different show.

Then again, so were the ’60s at Staples.

(Other cultural venues are tying in to the WHS exhibit. The Westport Cinema Initiative screens the “High School That Rocked” video on Saturday, July 15 [4 p.m., Town Hall]. The Westport Library hosts a panel discussion on ’60s music on Monday, August 14. And the Levitt Pavilion may soon announce — well, stayed tuned for that one!)

Ginger Baker, Cream’s drummer, at Staples. The copyrighted photo by Jeremy Ross is part of the “School That Rocked” exhibit.

3 responses to “The Historical Society That Rocks!

  1. Mark Demmerle

    My friends and would drive over from New Canaan for all the concerts. We had the time of our lives. The Cream concert was quite memorable. The entire backline piled high with Marshall 4 x 12’s to the rafters! And the hall jammed to capacity with adoring fans.

  2. Fred Cantor

    Thanks for the shout out. I just want to note that, although not formally announced, the Levitt Pavilion will on Sat night July 15 be hosting a concert by the Reunion Band, featuring Charlie Karp, Brian Keane, and Michael Mugrage. And this band really rocks.

    Also, something I have long been curious about and perhaps one of your readers can answer: an ad on display in the exhibit that I found years ago re the opening of the nines disco states: “proof of age required–age 13 to 20 or college undergraduate.” So how exactly were 13-year-old or 14-year-old kids providing proof of age? (Report cards? Bar mitzvah certificates?) Seriously, I have never seen such a policy elsewhere and was wondering how it was enforced.

    • Peter Gambaccini

      The photo of Ginger Baker reminds me of a comment he made during the Staples show; it’s the only comment I can remember, a half-century later,from any of the bands. Staples audiences were not raucous.They would quietly and analytically listen, not wishing to miss a note of, say, Eric Clapton’s solos. At a song’s end, they would clap, but they were not vocal, especially not in comparison with today’s audiences. I recall Baker, a cantankerous character on his best day, saying “I’ve never seen dead people smoking before.” I’ve since heard that line from other people, of course, and he surely didn’t make it up. But it stuck in my head.