As Fitzgerald's embarks on a new chapter in its epic history - Saturday's show with Caveman Electric, Peekaboo Theory and others is the last one before shutting down and reopening under new management September 23 - it seems fitting to reminisce about the past. The phrase 'If these walls could talk' seems downright scary for an establishment which has probably held every type of music and motley crew of crowds possible. Although with all the graffiti on them, Fitz's walls almost do talk.
For Rocks Off, our first recollection of the name Fitzgerald's comes from our father, who used to renovate houses in the Heights in his early college days. As he set down the hammer on hot summer nights, retreating to the porch, he could hear strains of such greats as Stevie Ray Vaughn cutting through the blanket of humidity.
As the years passed, the sweat from Texas heat continued, bands made names for themselves, and moshing became a standard. Gathering by the amount of posts on Fitzgerald's on the Hands Up Houston message board, there seemed to be some common themes.
- Bathrooms have always been scary, including the men's bathroom that, due to the oddly placed stalls, overlooked the street scenery and traffic on White Oak.
- The building surviving moshing and jumping all these years, including crowd members' limbs and feet coming through the ceiling into the manager's office on the first floor during shows. It's a miracle the building hasn't ever collapsed into itself.
- Band fights, arguments over how to split money between the night's acts, and many visits from the cops. Many brawls occurred, and tear gas was used on one particular incident.
- Teenage nights of bliss: first concert memories, crawling up on stage to scream out lyrics with the band, underage drinking, bad clothing trends and lots of stage diving.
Although Rocks Off couldn't get Fitz's actual walls to talk for an interview (we tried), three local music figures chimed in with their favorite memories of the Heights landmark:
Chris Johnson, KUHF's afternoon classical-music host:
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My roommate in college was Jason Bird who was the sax player for Los Skarnales. Although there is much from those days that I do not remember, I'm pretty sure the first time I went to Fitz's was to see them. It was '97 or '98 and would have involved much pre-show drinking in the parking lot.
I'll never forget what Felipe (their lead singer) said to me. I was a nervously shy person at the time, especially around new people. He asked me if I wanted a beer and, being embarrassed that I was penniless and beerless, I responded, 'Ah man, I don't have any money.' He tossed me a Corona from the cooler in the back of the truck we were next to and said, 'I didn't ask you if you had any money bro. I asked you if you wanted a beer! Vato!'
Later that night I was outside on the upstairs patio and there where so many people there that I seriously thought we might all crash down on the people by the front door. I was also there when they turned the downstairs area into a Tiki Room. That was crazy.
The DJ's name was Lucky and he would spin all swing/ska/surf and there were lots of women's bras hanging all over the walls... including my friend Elsa's oversized brassiere. She was proud...felt like she had made her mark on the place.
My favorite other shows where Latch Key Kids and DJ Spooky. Spooky did this song he called '5 Minutes of Bass' where he played around with feedback with his upright bass. It was pretty mind-expanding!
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Kam Franklin, Vocalist:
'My favorite memory of Fitzgerald's would definitely have to be the first time I saw the ska/punk band Fishbone. I was maybe 17 or 18, not old enough to drink (not that it stopped me), and found myself talking with the band's lead singer Angelo [Moore]. He was so nice and full of stories, greenery and booze.
He asked me about what I did and I told him I was a local singer for a ska band (Heptic Skeptic). He was so happy about ska staying alive in the new generation, and gave me the typical "Put in work/stay on the grind" speech that a lot of older musicians give to their younger counterparts. My good friend Mike James and I sat there locked into every word that came out of his mouth as though we were the snakes and he was the charmer. He was a little off his rocker, but he put on a hell of a show.
After having a few drinks, the band started loading up to go on their tour bus. Angelo gave me his number so that my friends could get in for free the next time they came to town. He also mentioned my band possibly opening the next time they came through as well. Being a teenager and a self proclaimed "rude girl," this left me feeling like I had my own personal celebrity on speed dial.
I told all my friends and felt like a rock star in my own right at the time, simply because I knew him. The only bad thing that followed was me getting a call at 4 a.m. a week or so later from some woman screaming at me to stay away from her man. I was terrified and tried to assure her it was just "business," but homegirl was not having it.
To use a quote Angelo gave me that night we met, 'If you're gonna start crazy, you might as well end crazy.' And crazy is definitely what describes that whole situation.
Dan Workman, Sugarhill Studios:
Fitz's heyday was when they were doing the national touring shows that were too big for Rockefeller's, but not big enough for the [Sam Houston] Coliseum. I saw Stanley Clarke there. He said that playing in a huge old wood-framed Polish dance hall was magical, and that all the cool cats on the road wanted to play Fitz in Houston. I know his shit sounded tight there!
I'll never forget the show. There were tables set up on the floor like they do for some of the Verizon shows now. Clarke jumped from the stage to a table and walked from tabletop to tabletop while rocking out. He also asked for all the bass players in the audience to raise their hands, and then asked them if they wanted to come onstage and jam. That was one cool show.
When [owner] Sara Fitzgerald was more involved in booking in the early 1980s, there were some excellent shows there that were more in the blues/folk/rock genre(s). She put out a newspaper once a month. When she stepped back, the emocore and hard-rock bookings picked up. I once saw the members of Insane Clown Posse grilling in the parking lot by their tour bus.
Yes. The place has lacked focus and leadership for many years, and the stories of owner/agent neglect and fuckery are manifold. But that is a magical place. Hopefully Omar will pull the sword from the stone and make it awesome again.