Their careers as rock superstars fizzled out before it began, but their fans never forgot the band that took the Northeast by storm in the mid-'60s.
They may have occurred 50-plus years ago, but Fred Cantor remembers them, wistfully, like they were yesterday. Big-name rock concerts, not in Boston or New York but right in his hometown of Westport. In the Staples High School auditorium, no less.
It was the mid-1960s when enterprising students there hatched an idea to stage shows for fundraisers. Appearing over a three-year span were, among others, Cream, the Doors, the Yardbirds (with Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck), Sly & the Family Stone, the Animals, the Young Rascals and, wait for it, the Remains!
For a kid in junior high like Fred, it was heaven, or should have been anyway.
“I missed them all,” he admits. “My parents were pretty strict. Some of the concerts were on school nights so there was no way I was going. Some were on weekends, but unless I got a ride I couldn’t get there.”
The bands booked were not in their formative stages. “They were already big when they played Staples,” says Cantor, 67, a retired attorney degreed from Yale and UConn law. “They had hits; I had their records. I played ‘It’s My Life’ by the Animals non-stop. The Doors had been on The Ed Sullivan Show the Sunday before they came.‘Light My Fire’ was number one on the charts.”
Longtime Westporter Dan Woog, the town’s unofficial cultural historian, and Cantor’s classmate growing up, saw the concerts because he lived within walking distance of the high school. He liked them all but cherished the Remains show because, in addition to digging their music, he felt a connection to band members Barry Tashian and Bill Briggs, Staples graduates several years his senior. “The Remains performance … it was primal,” he recalls. “They got people up out of their seats. They were the essence of rock and roll. To a 13-year-old kid, there couldn’t be anything more that spoke to who you were or thought you were or wanted to be or tried to be.
“I also had a couple of fanboy encounters with Tashian when I was in junior high,” he says. “Once I saw him buy cigarettes at a store. I was in awe — he was a rock star!”
Fast forward to 1998 with the Remains back in town rehearsing for a reunion show that would lead to semi-regular dates in Europe and the U.S. Woog was invited to watch the band practice at a friend’s house, and he brought Cantor. Both agree that seeing the Remains close up and then socializing with them was epic. “For us it was like watching the Beatles back in Abbey Road Studios, figuring out how to play anything from ‘She Loves You’ to ‘Here Comes the Sun,’ ” Woog says.
Cantor was equally delighted, finally seeing the band in person and getting to know them. It gave him an idea. “Theirs was a story that deserved to be told,” he says, “so I conceived a rock musical, developed it and ultimately produced it. There were so many people who never heard of the Remains, and I knew the music would really resonate.”
The play, All Good Things, titled after a Remains song, told of the band’s unusual journey. It debuted in 2004 at the New York International Fringe Festival, copping excellent reviews. The actors playing the Remains were good enough musicians to recreate the songs faithfully. The original members all saw the show, of course. “It was bizarre to see it on stage,” Tashian admits. “Sitting in the audience watching someone play me was unnerving, and a bit surreal.”
Michael Stich, an award-winning soap opera director, saw it with his wife, a close friend of Cantor’s wife. “He was blown away by it, and wanted to do a film adaptation,” Cantor says.
“We couldn’t get enough financing to get a script produced,” Stich says. “I then thought about doing something using the band members themselves.”
On and off over the next few years Cantor and Stich collaborated on an hour-long documentary, America’s Lost Band, filming the Remains playing in L.A., including archival film of them from The Ed Sullivan Show and Hullabaloo, and using Beatles tour footage and photos to tell the tale. Remains fan Peter Wolf of J. Geils Band fame narrated.
It was widely praised at film festivals in 2008, but America’s Lost Band is also America’s lost DVD, since at present it is not publicly available.
“I really don’t know why we were unable to find a distributor for the film,” Stich laments. “Unfortunately the way the business works is that you need to meet the right person at the right time. Luck is a big part of it. To me the story is timeless, so I see no reason why we couldn’t release it on a streaming service now.”
As for Cantor and those missed rock shows at Staples, he made up for it as best he could by writing and producing another documentary, The High School That Rocked!, which premiered in 2017. It was included in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Film Series and was presented at various film festivals nationwide. It’s available on YouTube (tinyurl.com/yfmslw3r).
“When we did a screening of it in Westport my 90-year-old mother came,” Cantor says. “We had a Q&A afterwards. I introduced her to the audience and said, ‘Mom, see all these people who went to the concerts and turned out to be upstanding citizens? Do you maybe feel even a little bit guilty not letting me go?’ She smiled and said ‘Absolutely not!’ ”
Westport has another connection to rock history
The Beatles never played in Connecticut, but there is a unique Nutmeg State connection with one of their songs.
Prudence Farrow, sister of Mia and daughter of actress Maureen O’Sullivan, spent some of her teenage years in Westport in the mid-1960s, living in a rented mansion and attending Staples High School. She and several brothers and sisters were supervised by a cook/caretaker, as their mother was in New York appearing in a Broadway play, while their father, director John Farrow, had recently died.
In a book, Farrow, now 73, recalled enjoying the estate, which included a boathouse, indoor pool, waterfalls, a pond, tennis court and walking paths. She wasn’t into the high school scene, feeling that the students were part of one clique or another. She considered herself a beatnik.
As such, she became interested in yoga and meditation, and in 1968 made her way to India to study with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. The Beatles were there for the same purpose. Farrow took things to the extreme, choosing to meditate in her room almost non-stop.
John Lennon and George Harrison were asked by the Maharishi to try and convince her to spend time relaxing with others under the sun and blue sky. Their efforts failed, but Lennon wrote about it in the song “Dear Prudence” for the legendary White Album.
Only later in life did Farrow acknowledge and appreciate being the song’s inspiration, and titled her 2015 memoir, Dear Prudence: The Story Behind the Song.
She would never return to Connecticut. The Westport home, at 157 Easton Road, has been on the market for a long time, listed at a hefty $9 million.