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 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.
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 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. 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 & respects, Levon Helm. Sept. ’09.”