It takes a passion to create something. For Paul Redmond, founder of the Fat City Band, he had two: harmonica and collecting blues records. As a kid, he took piano lessons, but with harmonica here was something he could carry and practice wherever he went. While serving in the Marine Corp reserves in his late teens and early 20s, he would always have one with his gear to regale his fellow Marines with blues grooves and, of course, an occasional Marine’s hymn while in the field or aboard ship.
Heavily influenced by the wide blues spectrum of his record collection he drew inspiration from such artists as harp players, Big Walter Horton and James Cotton, to Freddy King and Johnny “Guitar” Watson, to the more jump Blues and sometimes humorous stylings of Wynonie Harris and Louis Jordan. Although weaned on James Brown and soul records, blues just hit him a tad more viscerally.
In 1974, Redmond on harp and vocals with fellow Bostonian guitar buddy, Bob Lohmar crossed paths with NYC transplants, Joe (piano) and Dom (Drums) Micarelli to form the nucleus of what was then the Fat City Blues Band. Add in bassist, Paul “P.J.” Justice and Jim Baker on sax, and although Lohmar was replaced by John Sullivan early on this comprised that band in its formative years. The group soon took to the stages of Boston, Cambridge, and beyond. Although truncating the blues band moniker, most of their music and writing remain bluescentric, but with an emphasis on entertaining and a show oriented delivery.
As with any musical enterprise, personnel changes were inevitable. John Litwin became the drummer in 1985. John Sullivan was succeeded by Dave Croce and present day Mark Andersen. A bullpen lineup of sax players rotate in with Tucker Antell, Marcus Sholar, Neil “K” Kruszckowski, Zac Zinger, Dino Govoni, and Greg Cambio. Pianists consisted of Rich Cesarini, Mike Finstein, James Hurley, Mike Valdez, and currently Shane Wood. Bassists were Jonathan Perkins, Mike Janelle, and present day Joe Baglione. In the 2000’s a trombone was added with the duties shared between Clayton DeWalt and Grant Randall. Frontman Redmond is the only continual member since the Big Bang.
The band’s popularity and opportunities increased significantly under the management of Al Dotoli, then a member of the production staff for Frank Sinatra. His impact led to a five-week recording session at Sea Saint Studios in New Orleans under the tutelage of legendary songwriter Allen Toussaint. The recording never made a splash, but the learning experience for the band was incalculable. Over the years many other highlights followed; such as a national live television appearance on the David Brenner Night Life show in NYC, a tour of the LA club scene, the Universal Studios Mardi Gras Festival in Florida, performed as the rally band for the New England Patriots on their first Super Bowl appearance in New Orleans (Pats lost…ouch!) and a number of consecutive years at the Hatch Shell on Boston’s Esplanade that garnered crowd numbers second only to the Pops on the 4th of July. They’ve worked festivals and private events hither and yon from Kentucky to Toronto, Ontario to Hamilton, Bermuda and to the Blues Barge at Boston Harbor Hotel. Other local club and venue appearances ran the gamut from Jonathan Swift’s in Harvard Square and Ed Burke’s, “where civilization ends and wildlife begins” in Mission Hill, Roxbury to B.B. Kings at Foxwoods Casino and Mohegan Sun’s Wolf Den in Connecticut. They’ve shared the bill with numerous music legends such as B.B. King at theaters in the round in Warwick, Rhode Island and Cohasset, Massachusetts. They also opened for Buddy Guy and Junior Wells, the Neville Brothers, and Redmond’s teenage inspiration, James Brown in NYC to Ray Charles at the Hampton Beach Casino in NH. The band also played Senator John Kerry’s presidential election night celebration rally (oops!) in Boston’s Copley Square with the Black Eyed Peas, James Taylor, and Carole King. The band has also opened for a potpourri of other artists from across the music spectrum from Sha Na Na to Clarence Clemons of the Bruce Springsteen band. It should also be noted that during the Dotoli years the band hosted and headlined one of Boston’s premiere New Years Eve celebrations for twenty-three consecutive years–the last eighteen of those at the Park Plaza Hotel ballroom.
While still chasing their first hit record, they have attained a surprising iota of notoriety for a couple of songs they have written of the novelty variety. One, “Ode to Beer” was one of WZLX’s most requested tunes of 2014 on Carter Allen’s Sunday Morning Blues Show. When invited in 2006 to play a Christmas show at the Palace Theater in Manchester, NH the band insisted on writing their own “Christmas carol” that became “Granite State Christmas” which every year hence has been a highly requested holiday song in New Hampshire which prompts download requests from the band’s website fatcityband.com. In 2016 the band was nominated for and won the WMRC awards in the Blues category.
What started as a avocation has morphed into somewhat of a regional institution with its longevity. As of this writing (March 2018), they enter their 44th year of continued existence with a show comprised of a near total original repertoire and their eleventh recording project in the works. With indefatigable spirit and fortitude, the passion still burns.