Fitz's Flick

The young man is seated on a wooden deck in a lawn chair in broad daylight. He is unshaven, bleary-eyed and wearing a grease-stained wife-beater. Next to him on a small table is a fat sack of weed, spilling its green buds. On the other side of him, in another lawn chair, squats a warm keg of Lone Star.

The man glares squinty-eyed at his interrogator. "Now fuck off," he growls. Then he emits an enormous belch, snatches the keg tap and pours a lengthy swig of foamy draft down his gullet.

"Annnnnd cut!" shouts the director, Jeff Horton. "Nice job. Could you just look a little straighter at the camera next time?"

The young man, a Louisiana actor named David Maldonado, nods, wincing. He's already done this five times, and the warm brew is not sitting well in his gut, though it does make it easier to burp on command.

"Okay, quiet on the set! Annnnd, action!"

This sordid little tableau is being enacted on the band house deck behind Fitzgerald's, the mother church of Houston nightclubs that celebrated its 25th anniversary last year. The scene depicts one of the many misadventures Fitz's owner Sara Fitzgerald has been privy to over that quarter-century, one that she is parlaying today into a trailer, and then into a film, and eventually, she hopes, into a sitcom.

"Everybody's been bugging me to write a book, so I decided to make a movie. Kinda the story of the club and my life," she says. Racket is now seated in the band house living room with Fitzgerald and the film's producer, Connie McDonough. From time to time, various production assistants scuttle in and interrupt the interview, as does a constantly ringing cell phone with a Beethoven's Ninth ring tone. In short, it already feels like a movie set, and today they're shooting only the trailer.

"We're calling it The Madness and the Memories of Fitzgerald's --" says McDonough.

"Or My Life Behind Bars -- 25 Years in the Joint," adds Fitzgerald.

So what the hell did Racket just see out there? "I had a customer called Buffalo who was a friend of my husband's -- who was killed a couple of years into this project," Fitzgerald says. "Buffalo still hung out here after that -- he had drinking rights for life. And in that scene you saw he had kind of gone off the deep end. I used to find him in my flower bed on occasion. Another night I had a keg party and he was laying under the keg all night. Actually, that guy you saw is a composite of Buffalo and a bunch of the other crazy people and alcoholics I have known."

Another such is the character of Debco. "She was a floor manager here when I first started out," Fitzgerald remembers. "Her first job was putting little pink tops on top of the toilets and rugs underneath them -- making them real homey. She lived in the Heights and used to be the road manager for Santana. She was just a nut. When I had my first baby, she drove me to the hospital. She had a joint in her mouth and she was driving and saying, 'Just breathe, just breathe!' She was also like the housemother; she would have all these band guys come over to her house for dinner. She liked to cook for 'em. She'd make 'em this huge dinner and then they'd all do a bunch of coke. They'd never eat it. She also owned a vintage clothes shop, and she used to dress them all up in her inventory. She was just a hoot. So I made another composite."

The movie will take place in a sort of perpetual present. Younger actors will be playing Fitzgerald, Buffalo and Debco. Fitzgerald will be using the trailer as bait for investors, and she hopes that the additional money will make for a larger production. "The trailer is kind of a selling piece," she says. "We're gonna also do a short and enter it in film festivals and just see how it feels. If we get enough money we'll do a big, big film, and if we don't get a lot we might just do an independent do-it-yourself thing."

If all goes according to her wildest dreams, she'll have a sitcom with recurring characters on her hands. These would include real-live bands (they've already shot Blue October for the film) as well as composite ne'er-do-wells such as Buffalo and Debco. Fitzgerald is developing the script with a consultant, award-winning local screenwriter Casey Kelly. Fitzgerald is hoping to have whatever it is they come up with done by the fall.

And that's where you can help. Fitzgerald is urging old customers to come by the club and share their favorite memories. If you have a really good story, you could get to tell it on celluloid. "If you came here and met your boyfriend or you hung out with REM when they played downstairs, or you got drunk with Clint Black or something like that," she says. "Everybody's got a little story to tell, and we want to mix them in."  

"I live in Dickinson south of town, and I tell people I'm working on a film about Fitzgerald's and they go, 'Oh, Fitzgerald's -- I used to love that place when I was younger,' " says McDonough. "People you'd never expect…"

"I've seen pictures of Fitzgerald's memorabilia on walls in Mexico and Italy," adds Fitzgerald. "If you hang around long enough, it becomes a six-degrees-of-separation thing. We've become the Kevin Bacon of Houston clubs."

The story of Fitzgerald's could make a great film. Clubs like Fitz's are often the soon-to-be-huge bands' last experience with anything other than the rarefied rock air of arenas and stadiums, and the rambling converted Polish dance hall on White Oak is no exception. "Stevie Vaughan used to be like our house band here," remembers Fitzgerald, who once claimed to have poured him over 1,000 shots of Crown Royal in his young wild days. "When REM played here, we paid 'em like 100 bucks. Hootie and the Blowfish played here right before they hit it big. I think Clint Black once paid me 50 bucks to play here."

There was also Tommy Womack of the band Government Cheese. While the Nashville-based solo artist's former band didn't crack the big time, Womack's book about the band, The Cheese Chronicles,has become a minor classic of the rock-writing genre. In it, Womack had nothing but praise for Houston in general and Fitzgerald's and its owner in particular.

Fitzgerald remembers the band for another reason. "Oh, God. All these people saw the sign out front and lined up for free cheese," she says. "My mother had to turn them all away: 'No, no, no. Not today.' All these women were out there popping the trunks of their cars waiting for their cheese."

Sounds like a good episode of a sitcom…

Scuttlebutt Caboose

KPFT's underground hip-hop show Damage Control will be having its first anniversary party in KPFT's backyard on Saturday, May 24, from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. Hosted by Damage Control jocks Matt (who does film showtimes and music listings for the Press), Zin and DJ Chill, the show will feature live performances by Paul Wall & Chamillionaire, G.R.i.T. Boys, Short Texas and many more from Houston, Austin and Victoria. Ten bucks gets you in the door and a crack at the Whole Foods spread of food and soft drinks, and the proceeds go to KPFT. (If you want to sip on harder stuff, bring your own.) The station's studio is at 419 Lovett Boulevard, just southeast of the corner of Montrose and Westheimer…Good news from The Buzz: Pam Kelly has taken her locals-heavy Texas Buzz show and added an extra hour of programming. Also, it will now air from a bar. Henceforth, she will be broadcasting live from Sherlock's Pub on West Gray every Sunday from ten to midnight. Two weeks ago Hollister Fracus and Paris Green were her first spotlighted guest bands in the re-energized format, and Kelly interviewed the bands and played two of their songs on the air. Last week came the turn of Tin Henry, and this Sunday Adrian's Circle will guest. Tentatively scheduled are the bands Rae (June 1) and Silverleaf (June 8)…The legendary Pete Mayes will be opening his equally storied Double Bayou Dance Hall near Anahuac for another weekend concert on May 25. Mayes will sing backed by his usual band. The dance hall was recently named the No. 3 blues club in America by E! TV's Web site, though that survey's legitimacy is tarnished somewhat by its selection of Austin's Antone's as the winner. Antone's hasn't been what Racket would call a blues club for at least three years…Southern rockers Moses Guest had an eventful few months. First, longtime drummer James Edwards announced his intentions of leaving the band as soon as a replacement could be found. Next, the band hired a fifth member, multi-instrumentalist (with a concentration in pedal steel) Dan Johnson, whom they hired away from Hank III. Then the band went on its usual winter tour of the Rockies, which culminated in a drunken show at which singer-guitarist Graham Guest injured his knee badly enough to require surgery on his return to Houston, where they also sold out the Continental Club for the first time. Somewhere along the way, Edwards decided not to split after all, Johnson departed, and now the band is in communication with an undisclosed major label and auditioning pedal steel-playing utility musicians again.  

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