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Puttin' Down the Fitz

Where's that Hoffa guy when you need him? Though bad labor practices are not involved in this case (unless you count the ability this club has to produce some of the nastiest, self-loathing-therefore-I-loathe-all beer wenches around), Fitzgerald's is the target of a, ahem, "boy"-cott. Members, associates and hangers-on of Good Guy Records in Houston are up in arms, so to speak, over the club's purportedly disrespectful attitude toward local, mostly underage bands and their fans. In a series of e-mails, folks of the Good Guy collective have taken turns recounting horror stories at Fitz's: One writer says Fitz's gypped him and his band out of $100; another, a Fitz's employee, says a co-worker, who does the same job as he, gets paid more than he does (oh, the humanity!); another says Fitz's sound guy is purely a dick; and yet another, Joshua Mares of Pinche Flojo Records, says Fitz's does nothing to promote local shows except advertise in that rag of all rags, the Houston Press, which "hardly EVER writes anything about the local scene, the demographics for the HOUSTON PRESS are not the all-ages kids, and the size ads cluttered with tiny print that Fitz places there don't help either"; boycott Fitz's, says Good Guy Records; the list goes onŠ

"These [boycotting] bands say they have nothing to lose," says Mares. "Fitz's don't want them to play there, anyway."

Local punkers think Sara Fitzgerald wants to give 'em the steel-toed boot.
Phillippe Diederich
Local punkers think Sara Fitzgerald wants to give 'em the steel-toed boot.

In response to some of the accusations, Sara Fitzgerald, club owner, says the kid claiming he and his band got beat for $100 never signed a contract in the first place; the disgruntled employee is a drifter who works whenever and has always been happy to get paid whatever; the sound guy's used to working with "professionals;" and if "these kids" would put more time and effort into promoting their bands than trying to attack the club, they'd meet their patronage quotas.

"It's like we let these kids have the house for a party one too many nights," says Fitzgerald, "and they're pissed there's no beer in the fridge."

On the contrary, Mares says: "It's never never been that bad over there before."

Mares says he started noticing a change in attitude toward him and his bands about six or eight months ago. At that point he began asking other punk-ska community heads if they were experiencing similar pain. Most, according to Mares, said they had. He began e-mailing friends, relatives, groupies, asking them the same question. This is how the e-maelstrom began. Fitzgerald got ahold of some of the e-mails and their writers only last week.

"None of them ever called me on the phone," she says, "and there's some Š there's some pretty evil stuff they're saying about me there. 'Sara's gettin' rich off us.' 'You little shit, those are the worst nights of the week.' I'm not rich. If these kids knew anything about how to run a business and what overhead is, they'd understand. Most of them have never even paid rent before.

"The example I use for them is that we're like a house, and The Oven is like Motel 6. What's gonna cost more? Renting the house? Or going over to Motel 6? They just don't get it."

For its part, Fitz's does. Led for the past 20 or so years by entrepreneur-on-wheels Fitzgerald, the club has managed to survive decades of waves on a turbulent industry by solely going with the flow. It's a real story of needle-sharp business acumen in play. And just like the screams of pain that accompany any corporate downsizing, the uproar over the club's new mentality is a natural reaction. It's almost as if Fitzgerald's is the General Electric of Houston clubs and Good Guy Records and its peers are General Electric's lowly-paid-but-paid-okay-enough assistants to the assistants. When the shit hits the fan, these workers of luxury (not necessity) are typically the first to go. But like any worthwhile person or thing, these workers pick themselves up and either retrain themselves or find another place to work. In this case, Good Guy Records and its cronies need to find a new place to perform. Even if it's in a neighbor's garage. Or Oven.

Fitz's: New Club, Attitude

Hmmmm, about six or eight months ago, Mares says he started noticing how mean and nasty Fitz's employees and captain were toward him and his bands. Curious, but could that have been at the time Fitzgerald started making plans to turn the bottom half of the two-venue-size building on White Oak intoŠ a swing club?

"A couple weeks ago I did a cost analysis and realized those similar 'baby bands' are more work than a huge act," says Fitzgerald. "I talked to Greg Pitzer, who used to run the Urban Art Bar, in town, and he wanted to move the Orchid Lounge here. He and Chris [Harkness, Orchid booking agent] approached me, and it's been a business deal. I'll pay them a percentage thing."

So Fitz's bottom half, affectionately called Fitz Down, is going to become a neighborhood-type, lounge-type thing. Already the dance floor's being set in place and Pitzer's busy rolling the paintbrush. That's the story. But how did it happen? Pitzer says movers and shakers at the Orchid, located in Rice Village, started tinkering with the format. From swing and rockabilly, says Pitzer, these heads wanted to make the slow transition to urban dance or "something like that." Pitzer and Harkness weren't happy. They left. The two-year-old club closed officially last week.

"The rumor is it's going back to being a brew pub," which was what it was before it became the Orchid, says Pitzer.

Pitzer — a native of Pittsburgh, still-rabid Steeler fan and overall good guy — says he and Fitzgerald have been friends "for years." He also says: "There's stability [at Fitz's]. And that's usually lacking here. But Sara's persevered. And the location ain't going anywhere."

Fitzgerald's will benefit, in Fitzgerald's opinion, by being both a good-size venue for touring and big local acts (Fitz Up) and by being a place people ("18 and up," says Fitzgerald) can walk in off the street Tuesday through Saturday and find either good music or good atmosphere or both (Fitz Down/Orchid Lounge). She expects no cover charges on weekdays, and to be open to the public after a July 22 grand opening invitation-only party.

Gone Dumb

So the rock-metal-punk band Gone Blind ends up in the "Best Funk/R&B" category for this year's 1999 Houston Press Music Awards. A tragedy, but no biggie. That the band ended up miscategorized is testament to three things: a) ignorance here at Music Awards Headquarters; b) a couple voters' ideas of a prank; c) science; and d) all of the above. See, the votes are tallied the way all votes are tallied. The bands are not estimated for their non-vote-getting appeal or talent. They are all at the mercy of empiricismŠ ("okay, here's one for Gone Blind, chalk it up there"). No voters, local industry peeps, who didn't know the band's sound would have voted for them anyway, so call the mistake a little blessing. At the showcase, when Gone Blind takes the stage at TOC BAR at 9 p.m. (right after their reggae brothers, Irie Time, vacate the floor), the band members should remind themselves to remind the listening public to vote for them in any category. A little faith in your faithful servants at Music Awards Headquarters to get the names spelled right, and Gone Blind might be on the business end of one of those coveted Music Awards come August. For the showcase, though, I'm sure Gone Blind's fans would appreciate a cover of "Play That Funky Music (White Boy)." Whadda you say?!

E-mail Anthony Mariani at anthony_mariani@ houstonpress.com.

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