Tag Archives: John Lennon

Remembering Greg Katz

Gregory Katz — a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, noted raconteur, lover of music and baseball and cigars, and longtime (though sometimes part-time) Westporter — died yesterday in London.

He was 67 years old. He had been ill with cancer for several months, and contracted COVID-19.

Greg Katz, in the Staples High School 1971 yearbook.

He made his first headlines not as a writer, but as an athlete. In 1970 Katz — a Staples High School junior, an excellent catcher and the proud possessor of a head of shoulder length, curly hair — petitioned the Staples Governing Board to remove dress code restrictions on athletes. He called them “arbitrary standards of appearance,” which exacerbated social divisions at the school.

After an intense debate, the measure passed 11-6. Katz was free to try out for the team coached by  Brian Kelley, an ex-Marine who still looked the part.

After the University of Vermont, traveling throughout Latin America and writing for the Provincetown Advocate, Katz was in New York City in December 1980.

John Lennon was shot inside the Dakota. Katz’s parents — who owned a home across from what is now Joey’s By the Shore (Elvira’s), where Katz grew up — also had an apartment there.

Katz was the only journalist who could enter the building. He interviewed, among others, the doorman who was witnessed the murder. His story ran in Rolling Stone magazine — the famous edition with Annie Liebovitz’s photo of a naked Lennon and Yoko Ono on the cover.

After writing for USA Today and serving as Latin America bureau chief for the Dallas Morning News (and earning a share of the 1994 Pulitzer for international reporting, with a 14-part series on violence against women around the world) as well as Europe and Middle East bureau chief for the Houston Chronicle, he joined the Associated Press in London. In 2013 he was named acting bureau chief. He also appeared frequently on the BBC’s “Dateline London.”

He wrote about popes, politics, refugees and Queen Elizabeth. But he returned to Westport every summer, spending many weeks in a house he and his wife Bea Sennewald owned on Saugatuck Shores, with their daughter Sophia.

Katz loved those summers. He learned to sail at Longshore, and owned a kayak that he often paddled to Cockenoe.

Greg Katz (Photo/Bill Armstrong)

He went to as many baseball games as he could, too. (Of course, he loved covering the Yankees-Red Sox game in London last year.)

He and Bea hosted friends from everywhere, including some of the most noted journalists on the planet. He spent many happy hours on his deck, watching the water and nature.

Neighbor Bill Armstrong said, “His one great fear was that he’d be enjoying his Westport summer — but would get the dreaded call that Her Majesty The Queen had passed away. Greg would then have to rush back to London and spend weeks covering the state funeral and the coronation of Charles.”

Several times a summer, I joined him for breakfast at the Sherwood Diner. He asked about Westport; in turn, he’d chat about his work, covering the latest crisis in the Mideast or Parliament. He was not dropping names; he was describing his life, and what he loved (and hated) about it.

Greg Katz (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

The AP’s story on his death quotes Anne-Marie O’Connor, a London-based journalist and author, who covered Haiti and Cuba with Katz in the 1990s. She said, “in addition to being a wonderfully curious reporter, Greg could be riotously funny, and his sense of humor elevated the esprit de corps of his colleagues on the road.”

Ian Phillips, AP’s international news director, described him as a “suave, waistcoat-wearing, straw boater-wearing, gravelly-voice gent … an American abroad but my God how he assimilated! … He managed to capture so much about British society in his writing — the nuance, the singularity, the humor, the tradition.”

He was “a bon vivant” with an encyclopedic knowledge of jazz and baseball, added Richard Boudreaux, of the Wall Street Journal. “He could recite the starting lineup of just about any Yankees team going back to the late 1950s, when he was only a kid.”

Greg never lost that “kid” spirit. He had it on the Staples baseball team, and at Woodstock. He had it wherever he wrote, around the globe.

And of course right here by the water, in his home town of Westport.

(For the AP obituary of Greg Katz, click here. For an “06880” story on Greg Katz’s coverage of Brexit, click here.)

Greg Katz

Na Na Hey Hey — It’s Chris Robison!

Like many teenagers in 1964, Chris Robison watched the Beatles on “Ed Sullivan.” Like many too, he says that appearance transformed his life.

For most, that transformation meant listening to a new kind of music or growing hair. Some picked up guitars, and tried to strum.

Chris embarked on a lifetime of music.

Chris Robison, back in the day.

He hitchhiked to Burlington to see the Searchers and Zombies. (Rod Argent is still his hero.) In Boston he watched Van Morrison, Jeff Beck and Ronnie Wood.

He started a band. In Provincetown they opened for the garage group The Barbarians — of “Are You a Boy or Are You a Girl?” fame.

Eventually Chris recorded with John Lennon, Keith Richards, Papa John Phillips and Gene Simmons. (Not all at the same time, obviously.)

Steam -- at least, one version of it, with Chris Robison.

While living in the East Village, he got an offer to join Steam. There was no real band of that name — just a bunch of studio musicians who’d recorded a song called “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye.” When it rocketed to #1 in 1969, a group was formed to tour under that name. They burned themselves out, so Chris was asked to join Steam’s 2nd incarnation.

They played 28 states on grueling 3-week tours of 1-night stands, TV shows and festivals, sharing the bill with Bob Seger and MC5, among others. “Steam” played all original material; the only obligation was to start and end each set with “na na na na, na na na na, hey hey, goodbye!” (“Now you see how the 1st lineup evaporated,” Chris says.)

Chris’ next gig was Elephant’s Memory, the politically active band best known for backing John Lennon and Yoko Ono. They opened for Aerosmith, Rare Earth and Billy Preston too, and once played a Circle Line tourist boat gig — hosted by the Hell’s Angels — with Bo Diddley and Jerry Garcia.

Then it was on to the New York Dolls — a key influence on later punk, new wave and glam metal groups like the Ramones, Blondie and Talking Heads — and a tour of Japan with Jeff Beck and Felix Pappalardi. A crowd of 55,000 jammed Tokyo Baseball Stadium to hear them play.

Later Chris formed his own band, Stumblebunny, which toured the UK and Germany with the Hollies.

But — even if they never stop playing music — rock stars eventually grow up, get married, have kids and move to the suburbs. (Hey there, Keith Richards!)

Chris Robison a few years ago, with his sons Dex and Tiger.

In 1990 Chris came to Westport, in large part for the schools. He added teaching — piano, keyboard, folk and electric and bass guitar, bass guitar, even songwriting — to his resume. (He’d studied composition, music theory and classical guitar at the New England Conservatory.) He’s the founder and director of Half Mile Studios, here in Westport.

“I’m a natural teacher,” he says. “When my kids had playdates, I’d show everyone the difference between black and white keys on the piano.

“It may sound corny, but I like making a difference in someone’s life.”

He’s seen plenty of bad teachers. Some are “too pedantic or strict.” Others are disengaged — “it’s like, ‘I’m just doing this while I’m not on tour.'” Chris truly loves to teach.

He’s been a role model to many. “Your free-spirited attitude, calming presence and thoughtful perspective on life has helped create a special connection,” is a typical comment on his website. “You have helped create a bit of who (our children) are and are becoming to be — just by being you.”

Chris Robison, from his "lost rocker" days.

But — just as Chris’ old stagemate Bob Seger sang — plenty of people “still like that old time rock and roll.”

Documentary filmmakers Paul Rachman and Steven Blush — makers of “American Hardcore” — are in post-production with “Lost Rockers.” It “peeks under the dusty rug of music history and tells the stories of great forgotten musicians.”

Of course, I wouldn’t mention “Lost Rockers” unless Chris is in it.

And he’s put his old band Stumblebunny back together.

“It’s all fun,” he says. “Playing, teaching, working with kids — I love it.”

Just take those old records off the shelf…

…and just don’t play Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye.