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If you've seen one of the thousands of flyers around town the last couple of weeks, you know that "Crazy Tony Is Back!" Some of you have known all along who he was, but others of you had to wonder, "Who the hell is Crazy Tony, and where did he go?"
Well, over the past ten years, Tony Avitia has played in the punk group 30footFALL and co-headed the recently reunited "slip-hop" group I-45. He ran a label -- Broken Note Records -- that issued numerous compilations of local music, such as The Coolest Shit in Texas and several volumes under the No Approval Needed and Noncompliance names, not to mention all the compilation cassettes he peddled for a buck a pop and the single-artist CDs by Bickley and Dinosaur Salad. (That last band had the coolest local bumper sticker ever. Remember that one? "God Listens .to Dinosaur Salad.")
It's safe to say that over the course of the mid- and late 1990s, no single person did more to help the scene than Avitia. The CDs he cut helped document a good chunk of what was going on and carried the banner of Houston music across the country. And I-45's willingness to perform at any venue anywhere did a lot to erode what were once well-nigh unassailable walls between the punk and rap crowds.
"When we would go on tour with I-45, they would ask for ten minutes," says 30footFALL's Rubio. "And punks would dig 'em. Some clubs like the Whiskey A Go Go wouldn't let them play at all, so we learned [I-45's] 'The Bike Song,' and they would come out and do that with us."
The testimonials keep coming: "Between being a musician and running Broken Note and promoting shows, he's probably one of the most important guys on the scene, especially when you factor in the fact that he usually doesn't get much money in return," says Clouseaux singer Thomas Escalante. "If he says something to you, you can count on it. His word is golden."
So that's who Crazy Tony is. Now, where is he "back" from?
Around 1999, I-45 started to take off, and Avitia moved to Southern California, though his bandmates remained in Houston. I-45 was doing about 200 road shows a year back then. Avitia got married, had a daughter, returned to Houston and then got divorced, amid much drama. Broken Note fell by the wayside, a victim of its founder's success with I-45, but eventually that imploded as well. Avitia had to deal with domestic issues and bandmate Billy Kinnamon had a world of trouble of his own. Not only did he face down a skin-cancer scare that cost him a few chunks off his back and a couple of lymph nodes, but he also recently resolved a serious pot bust in South Dakota, one that could have cost him 15 years in prison.
"I was coming back from up north with about 20 pounds of hydro, and I got busted," Kinnamon says. "I tried to fight it for a year and a half, but I lost my suppression hearing and they ended up finding me guilty, but because I was going through my cancer stuff, they didn't want to pay for it, so they ended up giving me just four months in jail and five years' probation. I have to leave June 7, and I should be back by the beginning of October." (Well, that's one way to beat the Houston heat for a summer )
But at last all of that -- Kinnamon's drug bust and cancer scare and what Avitia calls his "babymama drama" -- is settled. And on May 14 and 15, Broken Note Records will celebrate its tenth anniversary and its relaunch with a mother of a two-night, double-stage show at Fitzgerald's. On the first night of the shindig, I-45 will play, and Simpleton, A Taste of Garlic and Dinosaur Salad will all reunite on the stage upstairs, while Ex Porn Stars, Q.U.E. and Farm S.C. will play Fitzdown. The next night finds C'Mon C'Mon, Austin punks Cruel and Unusual, and the Molly Maguires downstairs and 30footFALL, Bickley, Non Stop Bombers and Middlefinger playing up the rickety staircase.
"We actually have fans of these bands flying in from Minnesota, Connecticut, Florida, California, Missouri, Louisiana and every city in Texas," Avitia says. "And not just people who are in the bands, it's people that know the bands and want to be here. It's a once-in-a-lifetime event. This will probably never, ever happen again, all of these bands in one place."
Avitia's guerrilla marketing was in full effect at the recent Westheimer Street Festival. He spent much of the day walking up and down the length of the party carrying a sign that said, "I am Crazy Tony." "We had the bullhorn -- we were making a ruckus wherever we went. I think a lot of people know who I am now," he notes. I-45 fans started turning up at Helios hours before the band's recent gig there. According to Avitia, the show was a hit. "It was awesome," he says. "We turned it out, the crowd loved it, they were screaming the words. It felt like a coming-back-out party."
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