Tag Archives: Bo Diddley

At Staples, The Day The Music Died

On February 3, 1959, Charlie Taylor was a Staples High School sophomore (and a budding songwriter).

Exactly 60 years later, he remembers that day with stunning clarity. Charlie writes:

That Tuesday morning dawned bright, sunny and very cold in Westport. I was 15 years old, standing outside the cafeteria in the smoking area, chatting with friends.

Buddy Holly

Someone ran up and told us they heard a news flash about a plane crash in Clear Lake, Iowa.

American rock stars Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and JP “The Big Bopper” Richardson were killed when their chartered Beechcraft Bonanza plane crashed in a cornfield a few minutes after takeoff from Mason City.

We were speechless.

I think I felt a kindred spirit with Buddy. We were both Texas natives.

The mood at Staples was muted for the rest of the week. We all followed the news broadcasts about the crash, and Buddy’s sad funeral in Lubbock. It was, as Don McLean later sang, truly The Day the Music Died.

Suddenly, we realized we were mortal. Buddy Holly was 22 years old — and Ritchie Valens, just 17.

Charlie Taylor, in the 1959 Staples yearbook.

We collected their records. We danced and made out to their songs.

Music was important to us. Bo Diddley played a number of dance shows in Westport, at venues like the YMCA. My ’61 classmate Mike Borchetta booked him, when Mike was still at Staples.

When I moved from rural Kentucky to Westport, I was washed in the blood of rockabilly and blues from Nashville and Memphis.

Then I got bathed in doo wop on WINS and WABC. My rockabilly roots collided with my new Westport friends’ jazz, folk an doo wop sensibilities.

At Staples we had the CanTeen every Friday or Saturday night. Sturdy and the Stereos, Dick Grass and the Hoppers, Barry Tashian and Mike Friedman’s Schemers, and bands Bobby Lindsey fronted were our weekly entertainment.

When those bands played songs like “Please Dear” or “Mr. John Law,” a dancing, sweaty fever seized us teens. We fogged up the windows of the cafeteria!

Sixty years later, I have to wonder what songs Buddy Holly would have written had he lived.

As fate (or luck) would have it, I met and was mentored by Buddy’s manager, Hi Pockets Duncan, in San Angelo, Texas in 1968. Hi Pockets played a recording of mine on his radio station, then told me to go to Los Angeles to develop my craft.

I moved to LA on August 15, 1970 — driving my black 1959 Chevy.

I still think about that day at Staples, exactly 60 years ago today.

Charlie Taylor has spent the last 3 decades in Tennessee. He’s recorded with, written with and for, jammed with and learned from the likes of Gram Parsons, Minnie Pearl, Chet Atkins, Barbara Mandrell, Rick Nelson and Barry Tashian. 

Four years ago he wrote and recorded this tribute to Buddy Holly. He uploaded it to YouTube on February 3, 2015.

Musical Memories: The Sequel

Wednesday’s “06880” post about Bo Diddley‘s appearances in Westport sent Mike James scrambling for his scrapbook.

Sure enough, there it was: a ticket to one of the rock ‘n’ roll pioneer’s local shows. With an actual autograph from the star. (He apparently called himself “The Man.”)

Bo Diddley ticket - Michael James

St. Anthony’s Hall was on Franklin Street (you can read all about that history here.)

Meanwhile, Michael Friedman — the Staples grad who inspired that “06880” story — e-mailed me a few of the many photos he’s taken over his long musical career.

From Bo Diddley to Janis Joplin, Mick Jagger and Johnny Winter, he’s seen it all.

Janis Joplin (Photo/Michael Friedman)

Janis Joplin (Photo/Michael Friedman)

Edgar Winter and Janis Joplin (Photo/Michael Friedman)

Johnny Winter and Janis Joplin (Photo/Michael Friedman)

The Rolling Stones perform at a Hell's Angels concert in California. No, it wasn't Altamont. (Photo/Michael Friedman)

The Rolling Stones. (Photo/Michael Friedman)

Hello, it's Todd Rundgren. (Photo/Michael Friedman)

Hello, it’s Todd Rundgren. (Photo/Michael Friedman)

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.”