Ever since 1995, a video of Steve Tyler’s Rock & Roll Hall of Fame speech has played on an endless loop in the Cleveland museum.
In 1966 his band — the Chain Reaction — opened for the Yardbirds. And that, Aerosmith’s leader said, inspired him to have a career in music.
That concert — along with others by the Doors, Cream, Rascals, Animals, Remains and Sly and the Family Stone — has become legendary. “The High School That Rocked!” — a documentary by Fred Cantor (Staples ’71, perhaps the only Westport teenager of that era who did not go to one of those concerts ) and Casey Denton (Staples ’14, who obviously was born way after that golden era) — pays homage to them. It was released last year, and earned high praise on the festival circuit.
Now it too has reached the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
On Saturday, February 17, the documentary will be screened — on its own loop — prior to the Tri-C High School Rock Off Final Exams. That’s the championship round of a competition for teenage groups. Prizes include cash, scholarships, and an invitation to play during this year’s Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction week.
It’s all part of the Rock & Roll Hall’s 2018 film series. Other subjects explore rap, Lady Gaga, Nina Simone, Native Americans in popular music history, the music executive who signed Metallica and White Zombie, the Monkees, Prince and Hüsker Dü.
You may not get to Cleveland for the Staples concerts video. You may have missed it at its sold-out showings here in Westport.
But — in the words of Neil Young — “rock and roll can never die.”So click here to download “The High School That Rocked!”
Tell ’em Steve Tyler sent you.
ROCK & ROLL HALL OF FAME BONUS FEATURE: Click below for the Steve Tyler video mentioned above.
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.
The 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)
…also the Yardbirds, Animals, Rascals, and Sly and the Family Stone.
Plus the Byrds, Rhinoceros, Buddy Miles, J. Geils, Peter Frampton and Taj Mahal. And Steve Tallerico, before he became Steve Tyler.
For years, those of us who grew up in Westport in the 1960s and ’70s have regaled friends with tales of those concerts. They looked at us like we smoked one too many bowls.
But they really happened. And now there is proof.
Mark Smollin — a 1970 Staples grad who went on to fame as an artist and designer — was at many of those shows. He’s just produced a massive e-book filled with photos, posters and ticket stubs — plus essays and remembrances by concert-goers and professional musicians — from those amazing days.
Oh, did I mention that tickets were usually just $2 or $3?
The Real Rock & Roll High School: True Tales of Legendary Bands That Performed in Westport CT is a 150-page gem. It opens with an essay by Barry Tashian. Westport’s 1st home-grown rock star — his band, the Remains, opened for the Beatles — provides some context by recalling hunting down 45s at the Melody House on Main Street, listening to jazz concerts at Compo, and going to dances at the Y and Longshore.
Smollin tracked down Ellen Sandhaus, whose brother Dick signed those first legendary shows — while still in high school. (The story of how he and classmate Paul Gambaccini became 17-year-old concert promoters is in the book). Ellen contributed fantastic photos, taken with her Brownie camera.
Smollin used Facebook to find more information. Mary Gai joined Ellen as a writer and editor. Fred Cantor did heavy lifting in the Westport Library newspaper archives. He unearthed proof that — as students who were there have always maintained — the Blues Project, Left Banke and Blues Magoos (twice!) all played at Staples proms.
The buzz grew. People chimed in about bands they claimed played at Staples, but actually were at other local venues. So Smollin added a section on other places like the Nines Club (Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, Strawberry Alarm Clock, Vanilla Fudge, ? and the Mysterians), and the Westport Country Playhouse (the Critters).
Smollin also gives a shout-out to non-rockers who played in Westport. That’s an impressive list too: Louis Armstrong, Pete Seeger, Phil Ochs, Chick Corea, Dave Brubeck, Sammy Davis Jr., Ferrante and Teicher, Odetta.
Ginger Baker, Cream’s drummer, at Staples in 1968. (Photo copyright Jeremy Ross)
Finally — because he himself played in a band (called Smoke; they still do reunions) — Smollin included a list of local groups that may not have lasted long, but were legends in their own (and many others’) minds: Triumvirate. The Wild Sect. The Saints. Strawberry Fun Band. Mandrake Root. Styx. (No, not the more famous “Come Sail Away” band.)
The Real Rock & Roll High School is a trip — down memory lane if you were there (or wished you were), into the rabbit hole of amazing musical history if you were not.
The Staples auditorium — where so many legendary concerts took place — as seen in the 1970 yearbook.
So if you have any interest at all in great bands and solo artists — and others like Edgar Winter, Livingston Taylor and John Lee Hooker, all of whom also played in Westport — check it out.
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