50th Anniversary of legendary Western Massachusetts Band, FAT: Rockin' The Iron Horse

(Editor's note; There have been many infamous local bands that should have been famous. I was in several that should have had hits on the radio but just didn't see the stars align. To get these bands together fifty years later for a reunion is quite an undertaking. Here is the story of one of them, whose members separately and together went on to greater heights in the music business, including playing in Steppenwolf.)

In anticipation of their fiftieth anniversary celebration, FAT recently performed at the Iron Horse Music Hall in Northampton, Massachusetts. Playing to a sold-out –standing room only audience, the band went way down deep into their archives… Covering numerous and memorable original songs - including many of those from their 1970 RCA Victor debut album – FAT.

Ripping through that fierce first set, drummer William (Benji) Benjamin, and bassist Guy DeVito had the rhythm section firing on all cylinders. Peter J. Newland was leading the charge on vocals, with guitarists Jim (K) Kaminski and Mark Pappas also sharing the stage.

During the second set, Chet Pasek took over on drums playing tunes from the second FAT album titled: ‘FOOTLOOSE’ and third album ‘Past Due’  - While also featuring special guest performances by Mitch Chakour, and Sam Plotkin.

 Benji and Chet

Benji and Chet

The ‘Horse’ was full of long-time fans listening to a wide array of great FAT songs they had all grown up with. For those in the crowd it was a reunion of sorts. There wasa large contingent of followers who have been with them since 1968 - the very beginning. Even after all these years, the core line-up of FAT remains pretty much the same. Peter, Guy, Jim K and Benji - Names that surely convey musical magic… Bringing us full circle back to our younger days like a virtual time machine.

“As I recall, it was back in the early 80's when the band "Fat" begin to splinter and original members were going their own way due to artistic differences, as many bands often do. I had just returned to Western Massachusetts from Los Angeles and heard that Jim Kaminski was putting a power trio together. That caught my attention being a fan since their inception. The fact that Guy DeVito was involved certainly sweetened the pot for me. Eventually the three of us hooked up and had a pretty good run in the Western mass area. Being with Steppenwolf as well, we ended up touring nationally and at one point, Jim and Guy even ended up traveling with us and opening some of our shows as well. Eventually, I had moved to Nashville and had run into Peter Newland who was in Tennessee doing some songwriting (and as comes as no surprise) doing quite well for himself. Once again, not unlike with Jim and Guy, Peter had put a band together involving me and a few other well-known Nashville musicians. We had a great time playing around some of the local clubs in town.  One night over dinner we started reminiscing about the old days back in Massachusetts and needless to say the conversation of "Fat" came up. I recall mentioning the possibility of a reunion and asking Peter what the odds would be of that ever happening realistically. As I recall he wasn't quite sure of it due to the amount of time that had passed and the artistic differences between the former band members. Having performed with all three around the same time I felt that it was quite possible due to the fact that people change as they get a bit older and suggested that maybe he test the waters and get in touch with the guys and see how he would feel about it after speaking with them. Of course, Peter would have the last say, but I thought it was definitely a possibility. Peter apparently followed up and got back to me and then we started planning for the first reunion. I say we, because he graciously invited me to perform with the band in the drum chair. I was honored by this and it  gave me a chance to go back to Western Massachusetts and see family and friends as well. As I recall, the reunion took place around March 1992. It was quite successful and everybody felt very fulfilled. It was at that time that the guys decided to plan a second one the following year and once again I was invited to perform at that show. At this point the rest is history. Peter eventually moved back to Western Massachusetts and the band was resurrected bringing both original drummer Bill "Benji" Benjamin and Chet Pasek into the mix. Knowing Benji and Chet for many, many years, both are excellent drummers and adding Guy DeVito to the mix, There's no doubt the band has a top notch rhythm section. Once again, being a fan,

I will always be proud of whatever role I played in the group getting back together. I've always considered them one of the true musical treasures coming out of the Pioneer Valley”.  

- Ron Hurst (Steppenwolf)

 

FAT: Starting Point

One fateful day in 1968, vocalist Peter J. Newland met with guitarists Michael Benson and Jim (K) Kaminski at Holyoke (Mass.) Community College. Together with bassist Guy DeVito, and drummer William (Benji) Benjamin…They formed what is now the legendary Western Massachusetts rock group: FAT. Most groups at the time were playing what was available on AM/FM radio. Although there was a wide spectrum of musical styles to choose from, FAT decided to write their own originals.

In 1969 they were signed to RCA Victor records releasing their debut album in 1970. Touring with, and opening for numerous well known groups at the time including The Allman Brothers, and The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, while playing such storied venues as Madison Square Garden, Fillmore East, and the Strawberry Fields Festival of 1970.

 FAT: The Band - 1970

line up 1 (1969-74)

- William Benjamin -- drums, percussion, backing vocals

- Michael Benson -- lead guitar 

- Guy DeVito -- bass, backing vocals 

- James Kaminski -- lead guitar, backing vocals

- Peter Newland -- vocals, harp, keyboards, flute

 William (Benji) Benjamin

 With some serious chops…It’s really difficult to fathom that drummer Bill Benjamin is largely self-taught. Obviously, a great listener and dedicated student of the drums; having learned such a wide variety of styles all on his own.

In the early 1960’s Benji carried an old wood cabinet stereo console into his basement…This is where it all began - His life-long pursuit of the drums. Listening and playing along with The Ventures, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix,  and many others throughout the decade… Benji eventually mastered it all.

Bassist Guy DeVito lived nearby and after hearing Benji’s drumming asked him about playing in a band. This soon led to the formation of FAT and their pursuit of a recording contract. Benji always considered himself to be an ensemble drummer, always paying attention to the music and playing only what was absolutely necessary. Stylistically, he played whatever fit properly, whether it be a slow blues jam, a latin groove, or hard straight ahead rock.

Many FAT originals employed time and feel changes within the individual songs like ‘Over The Hill’ -‘Shape I’m In’ –‘Duck Sweat’, ‘Black Sunday’, ‘Country Girl’, and ‘House On the Corner’. Benji might be articulating softly with brushes, and then exploding loudly with sticks on the very next tune. Playing within the inter-weaving of the guitars, thunderous bass, and soaring vocals.

After seven years with FAT –Bill Benjamin wanted to move on and explore different opportunities. Relocating to Boston, Mass. he began playing with the funk band ‘Groove Bus’. This became another rhythmic challenge… Playing in yet another divergent style.

Soon after; Benji’s group evolved into another musical project ‘CA$H’. With New-Wave happening, they were in the right place at the right time…Showcasing at the Cambridge Music Complex for the legendary Clive Davis - executive and founder of Arista Records…Davis was very impressed with the band, and signed them to a recording contract in 1979.

Unfortunately, there was already a group named CA$H - so they simply changed it to ‘The Elevators’. The band then moved to Los Angeles, California and began work on their first album. It was produced by Earle Mankey, and was recorded at Sound City Studios in nearby Van Nuys, using the famous Neve Electronics 8028 Console - later purchased by Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters for his private studio. Benji used this same board to produce all the drum sounds to his personal liking. In 1980, Arista Records released the The Elevators’ album ‘Frontline’. to positive reviews. With Bill Benjamin on drums, bassist Jerry Ellis, Tom Myers, keyboards, and guitarists John Clark and Zonder Kennedy. They released two singles – ‘Stickball Kids’ and ‘Girlfriend’s Girlfriend’. To this day, the album has never been released on CD.

“Three strong, distinctive and prolific songwriters could conceivably cause an unfocused, disjunctive sound, but that isn't the case here. Each of the three can write good, catchy, snappy, and best of all, intelligent material, and each can deliver vocally as well. Frontline is one of the best rock debuts I've ever heard.

- David Sokol, Valley Advocate

The Elevators were getting hot on the west coast, opening up shows for Foreigner and Joe Cocker among others. They also saw heavy promotion in Boston and the Pioneer Valley / Northampton, Mass. area.

Sadly, even after a successful run, the band eventually split up with members going their separate ways. Benji went on to play with other bands, but none of them ever achieved the success he saw with FAT or The Elevators.

“We'd love to sell platinum. We'd love to make hits and have everybody in the world hear us on the radio. The only way you get heard on the radio is when you have a hit”.

-- The Elevators' manager, Pat Irwin

Chet Pasek assumed drum duties for FAT when the band re-united in the mid-nineties with Chet on drums and guitarist Mark Pappas. Chet always plays the second set at each gig focusing on the later material from albums, ‘FOOTLOOSE’ and ‘Past Due’.

Chet began studying with Joe Sefcik at 12 years of age learning both the Moeller and Gladstone methods. Sefcik had been Joe Morello’s teacher so Chet had to practice really hard for each lesson, or be summarily dismissed. Morello was always giving Sefcik brand new teaching materials to share with his many students. Many of those techniques were later published in Morello’s method books.

Joe Sefcik never tolerated students who didn’t practice… If you weren’t dedicated, Sefcik would simply tell you to leave and come back when you were serious. Chet Pasek’s reputation is second to none, he can play in any style. Chet is well renowned in the Pioneer Valley and has toured New England, New York, the United States and Canada, performing with Michael Gregory, Ray Mason, Peter Newland, FAT, Vast Ed Vadas, Ed Mari, Larry Chesky, and in Broadway plays with Stella Parton, Jennifer Flowers and Ronee Blakely.

 Peter J. Newland

Lead vocalist Peter J. Newland has performed with FAT since 1969, and its various incarnations ever since. FAT released albums on RCA and their own Dream Merchant label and were signed to Atlantic Records by Ahmet Ertegun in 1980. Peter wrote all of the FAT songs, collaborating on some with guitar players Jim Kaminski, Michael Benson and Christopher Newland. In 1985 Peter moved to Nashville, Tennesee and worked as a staff writer for Paul Overstreet and Fitzgerald/Hartley. He had songs cut by Hank Williams Junior, Colin Raye, Tracey Lawrence and others. He moved back to the Springfield, Mass. area in 2002. Peter performs regularly with his band RadioXile,  featuring FAT guitarist Mark Pappas. Peter and Mark have also been playing together as a duo for over twenty years.

 Guy DeVito

Bassist Guy DeVito is also a record producer who has performed with a myriad of artists, including Felix Pappalardi, John Kay and Steppenwolf, Matt ‘Guitar’ Murphy, Stevie Wonder, Steve Cropper, Jeff Pevar, The Shaboo All-Stars and Little Jimmy and the Bad Boys. Guy was musical director at The Agouti Nightclub on the Caribbean island of Montserrat, Guy and guitarist Christopher Newland formed the Agouti Bros Band which melded American Rock and Roll with Calypso and Soca. DeVito's eclectic record production credits include the worldwide hit “Hot, Hot, Hot.” Salamander Crossing's debut Bluegrass album and Robert Emmett Fitzgerald's collection of Celtic songs called ‘The Minstrelsy’, as well as Joel Zoss' Reggae feeling ‘Bob Marley International’ and represent a wide scope of his musical influences and interests.

 Jim (K) Kaminski

Guitarist, songwriter, vocalist and founding member of FAT - James Jim (K) Kaminski is a blues-rock veteran with a lifetime of experience. He has made the rounds with Stevie Wonder and Gregg Allman…Sharing stages with Jimmie Vaughn and The Fabulous Thunderbirds, touring with Muddy Waters, and working with John Kay and Steppenwolf.

Jim K says: “Music is about feeling something - My goal is to move people, to stir up some kind of emotional response”.

“Produced by Eddie Jason, 1970's "Fat" is a fantastic and completely overlooked near-classic. At least to my ears this Massachusetts-based quintet seemed to have everything required for major stardom - a great singer in Peter Newland, killer chops including a pair of impressive lead guitarists in Michael Benson and James Kaminski, and a rock steady rhythm section in drummer William Benjamin and bassist Guy DeVito. That line up coupled with more than their share of first-rate material that was simultaneously tuneful and lyrically interesting made for a great LP”.

FAT

RCA Victor

LSP-4368

 

FAT single

'Shape I'm In' b/w 'Over the Hill'

(RCA catalog number 47-9913).

 

FAT single

Still Water' b/w 'Jump Town Girl

RCA Victor catalog number 74-0408).

 

FAT

Dream Merchant Records

OU-812

 

FAT: Past Due

Produced by Felix Pappalardi

 

THE ELEVATORS

ARISTA 202 122 - LP - 1980

 

Jim K & Co.

No Holding Back

Meltdown Records

B001DM3JNY

 

Peter J. Newland

Nomad

Dream Merchant Records

 

https://www.facebook.com/MArockbandfat/posts/1220261747984388

 

http://www.guydevito.com

 

~ Many thanks to Steppenwolf drummer Ron Hurst for the great quote about FAT.