Tag Archives: Lothar and the Hand People

Westport Rocks! The Greatest Stories Ever Told

If you don’t know Westport’s musical history — concerts at Staples High School by the Doors, Cream, Yardbirds, Rascals, Animals and many more; the Remains, perhaps the greatest band in history never to hit the big time; REO Speedwagon’s 157 Riverside Avenue — you must be living under a rock (ho ho).*

But hey hey, my my. Rock and roll can never die.

So mark next Wednesday, March 21 (7 p.m.) on your calendar. Michael Friedman’s Gallery in Bedford Square is the site for one of Westport’s liveliest musical events ever.  

The owner’s stunning photographs of everyone from Janis Joplin and Mick Jagger to the Band and Johnny Winter (another former Westporter) serves as a backdrop for a Moth-style session about rock ‘n’ roll.

Among the storytellers:

Former Paul Butterfield Blues Band organist, and Rock & Roll Hall of Fame member Mark Naftalin.

Mark Naftalin: A keyboardist, recording artist, composer and record producer, he and his fellow Paul Butterfield Blues Band members are in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Crispin Cioe:  A sax player and songwriter, he’s played and recorded with James Brown, the Stones, Solomon Burke, Tom Waits, Ray Charles and the Ohio Players.

Roger Kaufman: A noted local performer with the Old School Revue, Roger worked last year with the Smithsonian Museum to archive, preserve and pay tribute to Steve Cropper, the legendary Stax guitarist who played on classic songs like “Knock on Wood,” “Midnight Hour” and “Dock of the Bay.” Soon, he’ll archive materials with Weston’s own Jose Feliciano.

Rob Fraboni: A producer and audio who worked with Bob Dylan, the Band, Eric Clapton and the Stones — and who as vice president of Island Records oversaw the remastering of the entire Bob Marley catalog. Keith Richards called him “a genius.”

David Bennett Cohen, with Country Joe and the Fish.

David Bennett Cohen: The original keyboardist, and also a guitar player, for Country Joe and the Fish.

Wendy May: She’s spent the last 20 years performing with Charlie Daniels, Kenny Chesney, Mark Chestnut, Willie Nelson, Hank Williams Jr., Marty Haggard and many others.

Dick Wingate: In a long career with labels like Arista, PolyGram, Epic and Columbia Records, he worked closely with Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, Aimee Mann, Peter Tosh and Pink Floy, among others.

Michael Friedman: In addition to photography, he worked as a publicist with the Mamas and the Papas, Bee Gees, Herman’s Hermits and Glen Campbell, and was an artist manager for Dylan, the Band, Janis Joplin, Gordon Lightfoot, Todd Rundgren, Kris Kristofferson and Rita Coolidge.

Rusty Ford: He co-founded Lothar & the Hand People, the psychedelic band that was the first to use a theremin and Moog synthesizer in live performances. He also played bass with the Beach Boys.

Lothar and the Hand People

Also on the bill: Bari Rudin and Caissie St. Onge, comedy writers who have worked with David Letterman, Phil Donohue, “Saturday Night Live,” Rosie O’Donnell and Joan Rivers.

Incredibly, every storyteller is a local resident. This area remains rich in rock history. We don’t have to ship in stars. They’re right here, living as our neighbors and friends.

They’ll each speak for about 8 minutes. Every one though has a lifetime of stories to tell.

* Let’s not forget the Hall & Oates “concert” too.

(Tickets for “Rock & Roll Stories” include food, beer, wine and an auction. It’s part of the Westport Library’s week-long “Flex” series, which features a celebrity lunch with Sam Kass and Jane Green, a conversation with Ruth Reichl, movies, a dance-a-thon, a family day, gala party and much more. Click here for information and tickets.)

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.”