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The Westfield Historical Society is promoting Michael Rosenbloom’s upcoming presentation about The Who, Union Catholic High and When Stars Were in Reach, by creating a flier that replicates the iconic Union Catholic Who poster from 48 years ago. It’s on the home page of the Historical Society and can be accessed by clicking here and should not be missed.

In a twin booking that is truly synergistic, the presentation will be followed by live music by the Boonescuttle5, three members of whom played a not insignificant role in When Stars Were in Reach. Dave Goessling, Kevin Compton and Myke Connell, friends from childhood befriended The Who’s roadies after the Who show at U.C. and helped them load The Who’s equipment onto their tour bus. The three of them formed the basis of one of the side-stories of When Stars Were in Reach that tells about the concert through the eyes of a group of 15 year-olds.

We look forward to seeing you. Remember! You never know whom you’ll see there – musicians, authors and assorted personalities. A splendid time is guaranteed for all!


Who:       Michael Rosenbloom

What:      Presentation – When Stars Were in Reach (The Who, Union Catholic High School)

When:     Sunday, June 7, 2015, afternoon (exact to be determined)

Where:    Westfield Historical Society, 314 Mountain Ave., Westfield, NJ 07090

Why:        Because it’s a cool story.

Q&A and book signing to follow presentation.

Details to follow in the weeks to come.  We look forward to seeing you there.  You never know who else will show up!


Holy Grail from U.C. Concert Era Uncovered!

I recently received an email from a former Union Catholic High School student, Frank Diego which caused me great excitement.  While spending a good four years researching how Union Catholic entered the business of staging rock concerts in the late 1960s, I desperately tried to lay my hand on a copy of a contract between the school and the booking agent for one of its concerts.  On December 23, 2014, my wish came true.

Frank’s story

One day while working as a student-janitor at Union Catholic during the summer of 1976 or 1977, helping a teacher clean out some files, Frank came across a copy of a contract signed by the school and Blanche Zeller booking Sly and the Family Stone to appear at Union Catholic on March 5, 1969.  (Never mind for a moment that the concert never took place.  That’s pretty much irrelevant.)  Sensing he was viewing a potentially meaningful document, Frank kept the contract from being lost forever in the trash bin of history, kind of like a teenager stopping his mother from tossing out a 1957 Topps Mickey Mantle baseball card in front of his eyes.  The contract is at the end of this post for all to see.

Having read When Stars Were in Reach, the reviews and feedback from former U.C. students, Frank must have felt that now was the right time to at last tell his story and reveal the contract.

Excuse me but at the risk of using excessive hyperbole, what we have here is nothing short of a historic document.  Ok.  I get it!  It’s not an original copy of The Gettysburg Address.  But from so many perspectives – a rock music and a 1960s cultural perspective in general and a UCHS-as-a-rock-concert-venue perspective in particular, the document is truly historic.  And it is pretty old, forty-six years old to be exact.  Moreover, selfishly speaking, it is an affirmation of several key facts of When Stars Were in Reach, upon which I previously had no choice but to rely on memories only (no documentation) when writing the book.  More on that later.

First let’s analyze the contract.  The contract itself is beauty personified in bare-boned simplicity.   I admit I’m not in the rock concert business.  That said, I doubt that a contract drafted today, between a booking agency and a venue to stage a famous rock act, would be worded in such generalities and be only one page long.

The contract has some key elements in it.  It confirms the booking agent, the date and location of the show and who signed the contract on behalf of the school.  Lastly, it documents the price of booking a top-tier rock act at the height of its popularity.


A 1960s Rock and Cultural Perspective – Sly and the Family Stone

Years before Sly Stone and his brother Freddie formed Sly and the Family Stone in 1967, Sly was active on the burgeoning rock music scene in the San Francisco bay area as a musician, disc jockey and producer.  Sly and the Family Stone’s first hit was Dance to the Music, released in February of 1968, peaking at #8 nationally and #3 on the WMCA charts in NYC for the week of April 3, 1968.

They released a follow-up single in late 1968 called Everyday People.  The single began to climb the charts nationally and locally in December of 1968, eventually reaching #1 in both places.  Locally on the WMCA charts, it reached # 1 for the week of January 22, 1969 and stayed in the top ten all the way through the week the band was scheduled to play at Union Catholic.

The scheduled date of March 5, 1969 places the band about five months before their landmark performance at The Woodstock Music and Arts Fair in August of 1969, in which they stole the Saturday night proceedings from such venerable bands as The Who and Crosby Stills and Nash.

In the early ’70s, they went on to have another #1 hit with Family Affair and scored several top-ten albums during their career as well.  Eventually in the mid-70s, the band fell apart due to drug problems and personality differences.  But make no mistake.  When the school booked the band, they were in the prime of their career or close to reaching it.

The band changed the face of soul music by adding a funkier more psychedelic sound.  Socially, Sly and the Family Stone were a groundbreaking band too.  They were one of the first bands to have an integrated lineup.


An Affirmation of Key Points of When Stars Were in Reach

As mentioned above, while researching the Who concert at UCHS, I was dying to get my hands on a document such as this which could confirm the price the school paid to book The Who, as well as other details.  Despite managing to actually locate Blanche Zeller herself, I drew blanks.  But this contract does confirm two facts mentioned in the book:

First, the contract is on Blanche Zeller letterhead and signed by Blanche.  With The Who as well, Blanche was purportedly the booking agent as detailed in WSWIR.  But until now there was never any documentary evidence to prove that the school worked with Blanche.  Now we know this is a fact and not hearsay, that indeed the school was booking rock acts through Blanche Zeller.

Second, when booking The Who, former Brother Joseph McMorrow took credit for signing the contract on behalf of the school with The Blanche Zeller Agency.  With nothing else to contradict the story, I went with it.  Sure enough the same individual, Brother Joseph McMorrow signed the Sly and the Family Stone contract on behalf of the school.



If and when Union Catholic decides to devote a display case or more to exhibit the memorabilia documenting the rock n’ roll chapter of its history, this contract should be prominently displayed along with concert posters, tickets, and open yearbook pages showing photos of the famous concerts held at U.C.  The blanks filled in by a typewriter serve to highlight even more the sense that the document hails from a more innocent, bygone era, a sentiment which I tried hard to convey in WSWIR. Sometimes a simple one-page piece of paper succeeds in conveying such a sentiment far better than words ever can.


Unanswered Questions and a Final Point

Two points related to the contract are still unclear:  the fee paid to the band and the reason for the cancellation of the show.  The price to be paid to Blanche Zeller was $5,500.  But notice that the price includes insurance to be paid by the Blanche Zeller Agency.  Blanche said that her fee was 10% of what was paid to the band.  Without knowing how much of the $5,500 made up the insurance it’s impossible to calculate how much the band received. Although we can figure out an upper limit if there was no insurance – $4,950.

As far as the reason for the show’s cancellation, there are three names on the contract:  Blanche Zeller, Joe McMorrow and Jack Tarantin.  Blanche of course was the booking agent. But she is too old to remember such details, being in her mid-90s.  I contacted Jack Tarantin, who according to the contract was the “Chairman of the Committee,” i.e. the concert committee.  Jack was the Student Class President at the time.  As of this writing, Jack has not returned my call.  I was successful in reaching out to Joe McMorrow, a former faculty member at Union Catholic High School, now living in Canada.  Joe is a true gentleman, never turning down a request for information and reliably answering my emails.  Unfortunately, Joe could not shed any light on the question of why the show was canceled.  Joe writes:  “I’m afraid I will not be of much value to you on this question.. I have no memory of Sly and the Family Stone.  All the bands that were discussed for booking were unknown names to me and to most people at that time…”

Meanwhile, Frank Diego, who revealed the contract last week, said that rumor had it that Sly backed out of the contract after hearing that there were only a handful of black students at U.C. at the time.  I welcome anyone’s comments who was in the know.

Finally, notice that towards the bottom of the contract it states that “if any of the above acts or bands shall be unable to appear, the Blanche Zeller Agency agrees to replace them with acts or bands of equal merit.”  On March 25, 1969 Blood Sweat and Tears appeared in place of Sly and the Family Stone as the replacement band of equal merit.  I leave it to you the reader to decide if the two bands were of equal merit at the time, if one can even measure such a thing.  You may be able to guess how I feel, at least in retrospect.sly contract

Mystery Solved in Fanwood!

A packed room of close to 40 Who fans and curious baby boomers crowded the Fanwood Memorial Library to see Michael Rosenbloom’s Power Point presentation of “When Stars Were in Reach,” the book that documents how Union Catholic High School entered the rock concert business in November of 1967 by booking an on-the-rise British rock band – The Who.Michael explained the motivation for the school’s foray into the rock concert endeavor and took the audience step-by-step through the machinations that ultimately led to a historic concert being given by a band that would soon reach legendary status in the U.S.A lively Q&A followed the presentation as Michael was peppered with questions mostly about The Who but also about Union Catholic High School and himself.

As predicted, individuals of stature were in the audience. Pat DiNizio of The Smithereens was there, and asked some very good questions after the presentation.  Also present was Susan Dyckman, Director of Development of Union Catholic High School.  Author Maryanne Christiano-Mistretta, who wrote her own book about rock music – “On the Guest List: Adventures of a Music Journalist,” was in attendance as well with her husband.

Judging by the facial expressions of the audience, the Facebook comments afterwards and by the applause at the end of the presentation, the audience left satisfied. And why not? The mystery of why a Catholic High School in New Jersey decided to enter the rock music business in the height of Rock’s golden era was at last solved.

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Fanwood Memorial Library Appearance and Book Signing – October 21st

What could possibly have possessed a Catholic High School in Scotch Plains to enter the rock concert business in 1967, the height of rock’s golden era? Find out a week from today, October 21, 2014 at 7 PM as author Michael Rosenbloom will be giving a presentation at the Fanwood Memorial Library, 5 Forest Road, Fanwood, NJ 07023 at 7 PM. You heard the rumors about Union Catholic High School going back to the ’60s.  Isn’t it time you finally learned the inside story?
Some new slides have been added which are sure to be of interest to the audience.  Besides who knows who will show up?  Don’t miss it!  Three cheers for The Fanwood Memorial Library’s promo on its web page. Check out The Who paraphernalia on the promo banner. If the appearance is anything like the one at the Cranford Library, a fun time will be had by all.

“It transports the reader back in time to a specific moment when rock music was young and exciting, the world was changing, and possibilities seemed endless.”

So writes Drew Athans in his book review of “When Stars Were in Reach” on his blog The Rock and Roll Chemist.

Drew Athans is a blogger who writes about a variety of subjects, including music.  His blog averages about 4,000 – 7,000 hits per month and is growing daily.  Mr. Athans has written two books about the rock band Blur.

Some of the books Mr. Athans has reviewed are:

  • Man On the Run: Paul McCartney in the 1970s by Tom Doyle
  • The Beatles: BBC Archives by Kevin Howlett
  • Jim Morrison: Friends Gathered Together by Frank Lisciandro
  • The Beatles: All These Years, Vol 1: Tune In by Mark Lewisohn
  • George Harrison: Behind That Locked Door by Graeme Thomson
  • The Beatles: Solo by Mat Snow
  • The Beatles in 100 Objects by Brian Southall
  • Autobiography by Morrissey
  • Jimmy Page: Magus, Musician, Man by George Case
  • The Beatles Day by Day by Terry Burrows
  • God Save the Kinks by Rob Jovanovic
  • Raisin’ Cain: The Wild and Raucous Story of Johnny Winter by Mary Lou Sullivan
  • The Beatle Who Vanished by Jim Berkenstadt
  • Northern Songs; The Beatles Songwriting Empire by Brian Southall
  • Fab Gear: The Beatles and Fashion by Paolo Hewitt
  • Perfect Circle: The Story of REM by Tony Fletcher
  • Paul McCartney Recording Sessions by Luca Perasi
  • Americana by Ray Davies
  • A Light That Never Goes Out: The Enduring Saga of the Smiths by Tony Fletcher
  • A Rock n’ Roll Autobiography by Bobby Whitlock
  • The John Lennon Letters edited by Hunter Davies
  • Starting at Zero: His Own Story by Jimi Hendrix
  • One Way Out: The Inside Story of the Allman Brothers Band by Alan Paul
  • Beatles Memorabilia: The Julian Lennon Collection
  • The Beatles at Shea Stadium by Dave Schwensen

…and now “When Stars Were in Reach.”  When Stars Were in Reach is proud to be in such illustrious company.  We welcome you to read Mr. Athans’ review and explore The Rock and Roll Chemist blog here

Presentation/Book Signing at Fanwood Memorial Library – October 21st

We are pleased to announce that Michael Rosenbloom will be appearing at the Fanwood Memorial Library, 5 Forest Road in Fanwood, New Jersey on Tuesday, October 21, 2014 at 7:00 P.M.  He will attempt to solve the mystery of what possessed a staid Catholic High School in Scotch Plains New Jersey to enter the rock concert business in the fall of 1967, literally the height of rock n’ roll’s most unforgettable era.

Through a unique, interactive PowerPoint presentation, he will also discuss the writing of When Stars Were in Reach and where The Who were in the arc of their eventual legendary career, when they decided to bring their raucous and destructive live act to a high school gymnasium in Fanwood’s backyard?

The presentation includes video and audio clips of The Who and is expected to last approximately forty five minutes.  It will include audience participation and will be followed by a question and answer session.  At the end of his presentation, Michael will be available to sell and sign copies of his book.

Fanwood borders on Scotch Plains, the home of Union Catholic High School.  We look forward to seeing you at the Fanwood Memorial Library on October 21, 2014.

Cranford Community Center/Public Library – Full House

About 60 people packed the Cranford Community Center (CCC) on Monday evening July 14th,  braving story weather in the process, to take part in an interactive Power Point presentation by Michael Rosenbloom about the early history of The Who, Union Catholic High School and the writing of When Stars Were in Reach (WSWIR).

In the audience were two members of The Decoys (Jim McClurken and Mike Testa) and Mike Connell, one of the then 15-year-old kids who helped The Who’s roadies load their equipment after the Union Catholic Who concert.  Also present were two former Union Catholic faculty members who were on the U.C. staff at the time of The Who concert in 1967.  Because of the CCC’s close proximity to Union Catholic High School and because of the above individuals in the audience, there was a lively give and take between the audience and Michael Rosenbloom, as many audience members provided their own unique perspective of the historic events that transpired on November 29, 1967 when The Who played at UCHS.

Included in the Power Point presentation were video and audio clips of The Who.  After the presentation there was a spirited Q&A with Michael.  Finally copies of WSWIR were sold with Michael signing them upon request.  The presentation was filmed by Bill McMeekan, a local Scotch Plains television producer who intends to air it locally on Scotch Plains TV.

The “reviews” the morning after were all glowing.  Paul Reitz wrote on WSWIR’s Facebook page:  “I really enjoyed your presentation last night at the CCC. It shed a clear light on a subject that, for some of us, were mere second and third-hand stories.”

Gary Gurman wrote: “As a fan of The Who for many years, it was a great experience to hear about our area’s historical connection to the band.  Your careful research and knowledge made for a very entertaining and pleasant evening.”

The long line to purchase signed copies of When Stars Were in Reach after the presentation

The long line to purchase signed copies of When Stars Were in Reach after the presentation

Michael Rosenbloom giving his Power Point presentation.

Michael Rosenbloom giving his Power Point presentation.

Much thanks goes to John Malar the Director of the Cranford Public Library who stumbled on WSWR on the internet when searching for interesting activities to schedule.

This was an evening that will not be soon forgotten.

Presentation Scheduled for Cranford Library – July 14th

We are pleased to announce that author Michael Rosenbloom will be appearing at the Cranford Public Library, 224 Walnut Ave. in Cranford, New Jersey on Monday, July 14, 2014 at 7:30 P.M.  Michael will be presenting a unique, interactive PowerPoint presentation that focuses on the early history of The Who, Union Catholic High School, and the writing of When Stars Were in Reach, which is essentially the story of the intersection of the two.  The presentation includes video and audio clips of The Who and is expected to last approximately forty five minutes.  It will include some audience participation, and will be followed by a question and answer session.  At the end of his presentation, Michael will be available to sell and sign copies of his book.

Cranford is a stone’s throw from the very spot where the events of November 29, 1967 took place – Union Catholic High School.  We look forward to seeing you at the Cranford Public Library on July 14, 2014.

Presentation at Congregation Ohav Shalom, Merrick, NY

ohav shalom 030114On Saturday night, March 1, 2014, author Michael Rosenbloom gave a Power Point presentation in front of about 80 people at Congregation Ohav Shalom in Merrick, Long Island.  Michael was the opening act for “Northern Lights” a rock band which entertained the crowd for several hours following Mike’s presentation.  Mike made sure to remind the band and the crowd that Jimi Hendrix once opened for The Monkees in July of 1967 and so Mike’s position on the bill was not a reliable indicator of the future.  Speaking of Jimi Hendrix, Northern Lights played an outstanding rendition of Hendrix’s “Stoned Free.”

The Power Point presentation consisted of about 60 slides discussing The Who’s early career, Union Catholic High School’s foray into the rock concert business in 1967 and the writing of “When Stars Were in Reach,” a book essentially about the intersection of The Who and Union Catholic High School in November 1967.  Some slides included music and some video with music.

Following the presentation, Mike sold and signed copies of “When Stars Were in Reach.”  From the smiles of the attendees, it appears that they were pleasantly surprised to learn about this unusual Catholic high school in Scotch Plains, New Jersey and how a group of resolute high school seniors convinced their administration to book an on-the-rise British rock group named The Who a full year and a half before they hit it big in the U.S.