In search of “Progressive Rock” in the mid-70s at Brighton High School with the University of Rochester’s John Covach

In search of  “Progressive Rock” in the mid-70s at Brighton High School with the University of Rochester’s John Covach


J.Miller, a Prog Rocker born and bred, CROSSROADS, 1975 [Courtesy: Brighton Memorial Library]

YessongsOn February 6th, Rochesterians were treated to Progressive Rock in the 1970s:
A Far Out, Groovy Celebration, one in a series of events sponsored by the UR’s Institute for Popular Music


Strong Auditorium, 2/6/16

IMG_1746In Strong Auditorium, a large, multi generational (more or less) audience enjoyed a performance by Going for the One along with faculty and students of the Music Department.

The far out celebration both transported us back to the days of Yes, Genesis, Jethro Tull, Emerson, Lake, and Palmer and made Progressive Rock feel as lively and compelling as ever.



The show was about more than nostalgia.  While the audience was tilted towards the 70s generation, there were plenty of interested UR students (some of whom were Prog progeny no doubt) and others who knew music was groovier back in the day.


John jamming. Once a Prog Rocker, always a Prog Rocker

But who were the Prog Rockers of the 70s? To learn more, I turned to The UR’s John Cavach, director of the Institute, performer, and major Prog Rocker back in the day — and still. 

Our plan was that I would conduct some field work research of Brighton High School Yearbooks from 1973 – 1977, looking for students would arguably could fit the profile of a teenage Prog Rocker. While the heyday of Prog Rock was before my time, I knew which types of Brighton students were candidates.

First providing a brief definition of Progressive Rock, John evaluated my findings.

Ultimately, I name J.Miller as a prime PR suspect. (pictured above). John imagines how “J.” might have expressed his Prog Rockerness.

As John defines the genre:

Progressive rock is a style that blends rock with classical music.  It is often musically and lyrically ambitious, most often showcasing instrumental virtuosity.  It aspires to be pop’s high art.

Any group that self-describes as UNIQUE could be Prog Rockers. And the t-shirt is giveaway. CROSSROADS, 1977

John thinks the unique group could be prog rock. The motorcyclists probably not:

I agree that the guys standing by the motorcycle are probably not prog rock fans.  Maybe Who, Led Zeppelin, or Lynyrd Skynyrd.  When I was in high school during the mid 1970s, prog rock fans often thought they were a little more sophisticated than their friends who listened to bands like Led Zeppelin or the Allman Brothers.  Prog rockers weren’t hipsters, but they did imagine that they were somehow more refined.  The other kids didn’t appreciate this much.


This one is problematic. PR’s or WHO fans? CROSSROADS, 1977

And on J.Miller, John writes:

Makes sense that J. was in the Dance Band. Most prog rock musicians practiced a lot, since virtuosity was a key element to the style.  He might also have read books by Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha  especially, or others writing that endorsed a countercultural point of view.  Prog rockers tended to listen to a lot of music as well, sometimes crossing over into classical and jazz.


All the marking of a tribe of PRs. Dance Band, CROSSROADS, 1975


More psychedelic than Prog Rock, 1975 is by far the weirdest yearbook cover in the Brighton Memorial Library’s collection


Alvah is thrilled with the Institute concerts in his auditorium. He hasn’t had some much fun since Rocky Horror Picture Show was there in the 80s


Brighton High School remembers its New Wave/retro punk/Art punk past: The De Grads

Jilted Rochester embraces David Bowie at the Visual Studies Workshop. Even if he is still pissed.

About The Author

Welcome to Talker of the Town! My name is David Kramer. I have a Ph.D in English and teach at Keuka College. I am a former and still active Fellow at the Nazareth College Center for Public History and a Storyteller in Residence at the SmallMatters Institute. Over the years, I have taught at Monroe Community College, the Rochester Institute of Technology and St. John Fisher College. I have published numerous Guest Essays, Letters, Book Reviews and Opinion pieces in The New York Times, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the Buffalo News, the Rochester Patriot, the Providence Journal, the Providence Business News, the Brown Alumni Magazine, the New London Day, the Boston Herald, the Messenger Post Newspapers, the Wedge, the Empty Closet, the CITY, Lake Affect Magazine and Brighton Connections. My poetry appears in The Criterion: An International Journal in English and Rundenalia and my academic writing in War, Literature and the Arts and Twentieth Century Literary Criticism. Starting in February 2013, I wrote for three Democratic and Chronicle  blogs, "Make City Schools Better," "Unite Rochester," and the "Editorial Board." When my tenure at the D & C  ended, I wanted to continue conversations first begun there. And start new ones.  So we created this new space, Talker of the Town, where all are invited to join. I don’t like to say these posts are “mine.” Very few of them are the sole product of my sometimes overheated imagination. Instead, I call them partnerships and collaborations. Or as they say in education, “peer group work.” Talker of the Town might better be Talkers of the Town. The blog won’t thrive without your leads, text, pictures, ideas, facebook shares, tweets, comments and criticisms.


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