WHITE MOUNTAINS — It was just a “fat chance” 14 years ago when Steve Knutson and Andy Rath, two guys with guitars and harmonicas, decided to team up as a duo and play some blues. They thought it was a fat chance, paradoxically, they would become famous, thus the name of the band.
Fourteen years later, famous on the Mountain, Andy is off on another life excursion, but there are three more musically possessed souls who, along with Steve today, want to express themselves through playing music of the 50s, 60s and 70s. Blues, rock ‘n roll, doo wop, and even country from that era is why Fat Chance is known as a vintage band around the Mountain.
Booked regularly, Steve Knutson — vocals and guitar, Everett Peterson — bass and vocals, Art Gillespie — guitar and MIDI instruments (Musical Instrument Digital Interface), and Jason Miller — drums and vocals, make up the band today. Ranging in age from 46 to 73, there is no generation gap in this group when it comes to playing music.
Steve, who grew up in Wisconsin, was always interested in music. In high school he played music and also played in church. He says, “like Bob Dylan, I started out on the harmonica and guitar.”
When it came time to go to college for Steve it was going to be a commute to the University of Wisconsin, but a buddy stepped in and asked, “What about going to ASU?” Steve asked him where it was and his friend told him it was in suburban Phoenix. He had no clue, but filled out the application, was accepted, and off he went to Arizona.
Finishing with a degree in teaching, Steve not only taught English and remedial reading, but also photography and technology at Alchesay, McNary and in between in Australia, and then back to Blue Ridge where he finished his teaching career.
Now a full-time band member he recalls the years he didn’t play.
“The kids did not like me playing,” said Steve. “They would say, ‘Dad, stop.’ And, after they left, we had always done a little R&B and doo-wop, and we (Steve and Andy) started doing rock ‘n roll and just started with the 50s and 70s stuff. We wanted to stay on the home circuit.”
Steve loves singing lead or three-part harmonies and he also writes an occasional tune for the group as well.
Filling in at a benefit for the Love Kitchen with Steve and Andy, Everett, also a teacher at Blue Ridge and also from Wisconsin, like Steve.
Everett had learned to play on different guitars and drums. His brother, who was four years older, loaned him his Fender Duo-Sonic, an inexpensive student model guitar for amateur musicians, so he could play the lead with two other guys in a band called “The Sound Barriers,” in Galesville, Wisconsin.
“The name was better than we were,” said Everett. “Two guitars and a drummer. We played at school dances and the Lions Variety Show.”
Everett went to St. Olaf College in Minnesota where he sang in the choir. He moved to Arizona and lived with his brother and sister-in-law for a year and got his Masters in Special Education. He then made his way to the Mountain around 1977 and taught at Blue Ridge until he retired.
Everett sang with the White Mountain Chorale, a number of bands on the Mountain and is with the High Country Barbershop Chorus, the Pinetop Lions Club, the Gideons and also plays at the Church of our Savior in Show Low.
Art hails from Holbrook. He started playing in a band with a couple of friends during the Beatles craze. They wore wigs and called themselves “The Night Prowlers.”
“I took up the guitar in the ‘60s,” said Art, “because I was shy and bashful and the girls liked the boys in the band. At that time I wanted to be a rock star.”
That didn’t last long because Art joined the Navy and life took him in another direction. He did play in a band while in service though and they were known as the “Infinite Coalition.”
When Art got out he joined the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office where he worked for 25 years and then joined the FBI’s Terrorism Task Force.
“I went overseas to Bosnia,” said Art. “All my career after the sheriff’s office was in intelligence chasing bad guys like the TV program “24.” Then I retired and moved up here.” No longer chasing bad guys, Art plays with the band, is now raising teenagers and takes care of his invalid mother.
Art had not played in a band for 15 years but when he heard there was an opening with “Fat Chance,” he gave them a call. About an hour before they had a gig, they called asked him to come and play.
“They had a book of about 100 songs, and I knew about 20,” explained Art. “They must’ve liked me; they asked me back.”
Last added to the band is Jason Miller who joined and left and returned. Ironically, when Jason had to leave due to a family illness, another drummer slid in his seat. When Jason returned, the drummer was ready to leave, and Jason took back his seat.
Originally from Tennessee, Jason grew up outside of Tulsa, Oklahoma.
“In the fifth grade we went from music class to a class where a band teacher came in,” said Jason. “Everyone said they wanted to play and I was last and I said I wanted to play the drums. They gave me bells to play, which I did not want to do.”
Jason is from a musical family and he learned to play the piano, the clarinet and the ukulele. His mother and sister sang and he and his dad played the instruments.
He discovered drums and has played them at the White Mountain Assembly of God, the New Living Church and The Church.
Jason’s day job is at Allegra and when he and his wife decided to do the Dave Ramsey thing and get out of debt, he looked for a second job. For an entire summer he filled in with different bands.
Finding a home with Fat Chance opened the door for him to learn three-part harmonies. He had never sang before. “The first time someone said they heard me signing and said they loved it,” said Jason, “I felt like they were giving me permission.” With two kids in college and raising a teenager, and with his mom recently dying, he said, “I am not looking back, I am looking forward.
All four of the members who make up Fat Chance band love playing the music that infected a generation and is still going on. They love the optimism and remember when music was fun and life was optimistic. That is their goal for every venue they play.
If you like Elvis, The Beatles, Chuck Berry, Roy Orbison and Sam Cooke – just to name a few — there’s a fat chance you will love “Fat Chance.” You can find out where they will be next on their Facebook page.