L- R:  Rich Condon, Hal Wright, Jack Hansen, Ken Cantrell, Bill Tootell, Bruce Kirkman
Fat Jack
Bellingham, Washington
1966 - 1968

Members
 

Ken Cantrell ~ Vocals
Rich Condon ~ Drums
Jerry Dawson ~ Drums
Jack Hansen ~ Guitar, Banjo, Mandolin
Bruce Kirkman ~ Bass, 12-String
Kathi McDonald ~ Vocals
Bill Tootell ~ Guitar, Flute, Bass
Harold Wright ~ Guitar
 

Robert Force ~ Publicity
Joe Koester ~ Manager
 

In Memory of

Jack Hansen
d:  23 May 2009
Harold Wright
Kathi McDonald  d:  October 2012

Image courtesy of Roger Stomperud

The 1966 beginnings of the band were Harold Wright and Bill Tootell (who played as much flute as guitar, by the way) as a folk duo. In early 1967, they asked me (Bruce Kirkman) to play bass behind them, as they were doing a song of mine. By this time a manager (Joe Koester) was involved. We then asked Jack Hansen to join (initially as a banjo and mandolin player! The electric guitar came a short time later). Jerry Dawson was a jazz drummer we knew, and we had a few rehearsals with him, but agreed mutually that it wasn't a good mesh of styles.  Enter Rich Condon, who had never played drums before, but within six months was told by Bill Kreutzmann and Phil Wilson (drummer for Paul Butterfield at the time) that he was the best natural tom-toms player they'd ever seen, and could be making a fortune in LA studio work.

The best band in Bellingham at the time was Kathi McDonald & The Unusuals (or just the Unusuals depending on time frame). Kathi was really anxious to do original material, which is what we were all about, and the Unusuals were almost completely a cover band, so she gravitated over to us in time for our first job as electric folk-rock band: opening for the Jefferson Airplane at Carver Gymnasium at Western Washington State College in Bellingham on May 27, 1967.  Our manager was the promoter for this event, and our band name was “The Safety Patrol”. Allen Ginsburg was in town for a poetry reading the night before, and Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters showed up for who knows why the night before as well. What a night!  Ken Kesey and Allen Ginsburg ended up introducing the Jefferson Airplane, who were in absolute peak form.  I saw them five more times after this, and they were never better than this performance.  Our drummer was still too new to playing to do this gig with us, so the Unusuals’ drummer sat in for us.

Shortly after this we fired Kathi because she wouldn't rehearse!!!! We were too dumb to realize that some people don't need to rehearse…they are born ready.  It was the best thing we could have done for her, because she immediately went to San Francisco and got discovered by Ike Turner.  She was replaced by Ken Cantrell.  We had “conquered” Bellingham, so we drifted into Seattle.  Our manager was in the right place at the right time when the band that was to open for The Grateful Dead at Eagles Auditorium couldn't go on after their drummer broke his leg in a wreck. So within one week of blowing into town we're on the stage with the Grateful Dead (fall of 1967).  A lot of Eagles jobs followed, opening for Country Joe & The Fish, Charles Lloyd, John Fahey, Blue Cheer, etc.

It didn't last long. I and two others left in early 1968. The others carried on for a while with a replacement or two, but it came to an end. While the band was together, we owned the 13th House club in Seattle, where bands like San Francisco's Notes From The Underground played. It was an amazing time, and I wouldn't trade it for anything.

Bruce Kirkman, April 2003

Jack Hansen of Fat Jack is currently playing Hawaiian steel guitar with the Stowaways in Paradise (second from left, top photo), ...and teaching swing guitar at the Puget Sound Guitar Workshop.

Joe Weihe, April 2007

Robert Force was deeply involved with developing the band Fat Jack from the beginning.  He was involved with the creation of Fat Jack and lived with, worked with and did publicity for the band until its break up.  He is still in touch with one of the members.

Kevin Mason, May 2009
Robert Force, November 2010

Hal Wright became a chess master before he left the planet.  He died very early on in late or mid 1970's.  He lost his legs in a motorcycle accident and died in the hospital.

Robert Force, November 2010

I was the front man for the band.  Now I am an electromagnetics engineer working for a high performance computing company in Colorado.

Memories of Fat Jack:  The quintessential Fat Jack moment for myself and I think a large part of the audience was Jack and Rich during their duo jam.  Truly hippie electric.

My guess at songs that would have made it if the band had stuck together:

    1st hit: Buckskin Cowboy
    2nd hit: Summer Sandals

There were lots of other good tunes, but I think those two had the most commercial appeal for that time frame.

Bob and I are often amused by the fact that the "assistant manager" was the only one who managed to make something of himself in the music biz.  His rise to prominence in his musical genre several years later was as unexpected as...well... my turning into a math geek.  What a long strange trip it's been.

Ken Cantrell, November 2010


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Update:  4 October 2012
Credits: Peter Blecha, Darryl Riffero, Steve Callihan, Laurie Vitt, Bruce Kirkman, Roger Stomperud (R.I.P.), Joe Weihe, Kevin Mason, Robert Force, Peter Langston, Ken Cantrell
Band # 0064