In a new documentary short called “The High School That Rocked,” graduates from Staples High School delve into how a couple of students were able to bring some of the biggest names in rock ‘n’ roll to a small high school in Westport, Connecticut. Between the years of 1966-1968, six Rock and Roll Hall of Fame-inducted bands performed in a school auditorium including The Doors, The Animals and The Yardbirds.
“I saw this story as a distinctive chapter in rock history,” documentary writer and producer Fred Cantor told Amplify. “I had never heard of another high school that had been able to attract in such a short time period so many iconic bands with hits on the charts–in other words, legendary groups that were at or near the peak of their fame.”
“The High School That Rocked,” directed by Staples graduate Christopher Casey Denton, has been making the film festival circuit and received the Jury Award for Best Regional Documentary at the SENE Film, Music & Arts Festival in Rhode Island.
The documentary short details how student Dick Sandhaus ran for junior class president in 1965 on the promise that he would make junior prom free. In order to keep good on that promise, Sandhaus teamed up with another student, Paul Gambaccini, to put together a rock concert to raise funds for the prom. The two began combing through their Billboard magazines for artists and their record labels.
“This all happened thanks to the efforts of two precocious students,” Cantor said, adding “but it also happened thanks to the fact that rock concerts, by and large, had not become the enormous business that they would in the late 1960s and early 1970s.”
After being laughed out of the room by record executives and managers, Sandhaus and Gambaccini were able to book The Beau Brummels with funding from Westport’s Board of Education. The students hobbled together gear from friends to complete the stage equipment and the school’s auditorium transformed into a rock’n’roll hotspot. The students went crazy for the show that shook the stage and Sandhaus and Gambaccini proved they could put on a hell of a show.
They followed the success of the Beau Brummels show with a rock sensation, The Animals, and a local band called The Remains. The latter featured two musicians from Westport who went on to work with artists like Emmylou Harris and Kenny Rogers.