A Perfect Fitz

Some are saying Kevin "Snit" Fitzpatrick stumbled. The Hollisters' ex-drummer, they say, left the band -- or was asked to leave, depending on which rumor you heard -- just as the combo was about to hit the big time.

Fitzpatrick wants to set the record straight on that issue and some other things. First, he's in good health, despite what was printed in a certain Austin weekly. Second, contrary to the scuttlebutt, he's not bitter about his break from the Hollisters.

A quick recap is in order. Longtime Hollisters guitarist Eric Danheim departed for Seattle just before the release of Sweet Inspiration in February of last year. "After Eric left, the band dynamic changed," says Fitzpatrick. "To me, it didn't seem that interesting anymore. The Hollisters became [Mike Barfield's] band." Barfield, for his part, doesn't disagree that the band dynamic changed after Danheim's departure, though he sees the shift in chemistry in far more general terms.

By June, Fitzpatrick was gone, too. The decision was mutual, he says. Still, people asked, why leave on the verge of nationwide recognition? Why turn up your nose at plum gigs like late-night network TV bookings and a national tour? It wasn't like that, Fitzpatrick says. While Hightone Records envisioned an extensive Sweet Inspiration tour, the money, in fact, wasn't there. (Hightone co-owner Larry Sloven declined comment.) The band was looking at low guarantees and the probability of having to sell stacks of CDs at each gig just to get to the next town.

So the breakthrough tour never happened. Frustrated with that turn of events, and unhappy with the general direction of the band, Fitzpatrick pulled out. "We worked together for five years," he says, "but there was never a big warm fuzzy thing with the band. However, there's no animosity on my part." Barfield feels much the same way. "It's hard for a band to work so long and so hard and have only regional success," he says. "In a way, it's a miracle we stayed together as long as we were able to. Those guys have a special place in my heart, and I hope they know that they can feel free to call me anytime."

"There are a lot of stories about Mike being a hard-ass," Fitzpatrick goes on. "But he's a monster talent." Fitzpatrick remembers the summer evening in 1999 when the two set their animosity aside. That was the terrible night Fitzpatrick's dad passed away. The band was coming home from a Dallas gig when the drummer got the bad news on his cell phone. Barfield, who had just lost his father that past year, knew just the sort of agony Fitzpatrick was going through. He pointed the van to St. Luke's Hospital and waited outside while Fitzpatrick went in to visit his dad for the last time. "From a personal standpoint, Mike showed me a lot of heart by being there for me at that tough time," he says.

After the Hollisters, new offers didn't immediately pour in, even though the monthly bills did. Fitzpatrick was still pounding the skins at the weekly Big Easy blues jam, as he had done for six years (and still does today). He was also playing with harmonica ace Sonny Boy Terry, whom Fitzpatrick helped to complete his studio CD, Breakfast Dance. The drummer briefly considered working for Terry full-time, but he realized he was no longer content to be a sideman. He wanted to front his own group.

To do so, he needed to find a drummer. J.D. DiTullio, an old friend, got the call. DiTullio had played with Bert Wills, Hadden Sayers, Luther and the Healers, and most recently, Sisters Morales. "We're best friends," says Fitzpatrick. "DiTullio and I had been playing together in a side project, Snit's Dog & Pony Show. We started off playing a month of Tuesdays at Rudz, always one of my favorite places to play and hang out. We started doing Sundays at Live Bait in late '99. The gig lasted about ten months."

In January 2000, Fitzpatrick talked to DiTullio and guitarist Adam Burchfield about playing in the Dog & Pony Show full-time. Burchfield, once believed to be Danheim's heir apparent in the Hollisters, was also playing with Terry. Burchfield enlisted, which left Fitzpatrick to recruit pianist Scott Sumner (the Hightailers). Hadden Sayers' bassist Terry Dry went into the studio with Fitzpatrick late last year, but more recently Jessica Buchheit has signed on to handle those chores.

"I went into the studio in November to record with J.D.," says Fitzpatrick. "Maybe it would be nothing but a glorified demo. Should we continue what we were doing? We had a lot of questions." Fatefully, the band got a call from the Continental Club with an offer to play every Tuesday night.

As front man, Fitzpatrick no longer plays drums. He now sings and plays rhythm guitar. Suddenly the side project, the maybe thing, has taken on a full-time identity. "Our litmus test was when we opened for Joe Ely at the Continental Club in January," says Fitzpatrick. "The club was packed. We got a great response. Both Joe and Billy Gibbons said they really liked the band."

"We gave away 60 four-song CD samplers just to drum up interest," he continues. "We had four songs mixed from the recording studio. Obviously, there were a lot of people who had never heard of us." Longtime Hollisters fans may remember that it was an opening gig with Ely back in 1995 at Rockefeller's that launched the Hollisters. Perhaps lightning will strike twice for Fitzpatrick.

Unlike the Hollisters, which favor alt-country, Snit's Dog prefers roots rock with a blues bent. Chuck Berry, whom Fitzpatrick once backed, is the band's "biggest influence," but the leader also name-checks Dave Edmunds and Status Quo as spiritual cousins. But to Fitzpatrick, Berry is still the king. "In my opinion," Fitzpatrick states, "rock and roll comes from Chuck Berry."

The freebie EP has blossomed into the full-length CD Three Chords and a Cloud of Dust. The debut contains a handful of originals, a couple of selections from the aforementioned Brown-Eyed Handsome Man, a Muddy Waters cover and Frankie Miller's "A Woman to Love." (For the uninitiated, Miller is Delbert McClinton's favorite Scottish soul singer.) As is plain, Three Chords mines some great roots-rock material, and Fitzpatrick wouldn't mind being known as a rock and roll interpreter. "I'm not a prolific songwriter," he says. "There's such a wealth of untapped roots-rock music out there that you don't need to be another Bob Dylan."

Fitzpatrick wants people to know that his Dog Show is mostly a one-trick pony: It rocks. "To me, rock and roll will never die. As long as people want to come out and shake their thing and have a good time, this is what it's all about. Nothing profound," he says.

No, Fitzpatrick didn't stumble after all. He's just found a sound more authentic to his own ear.

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Aaron Howard