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Local favorite the Fanatics to open for the Fixx at Largo Cultural Center

The Fanatics in 2011 are Art Whitney, front, Chris Beach, back from left, Rick Amorose and Dwain Morris. Beach, a dentist by day, stepped in for original member Kirk Sink.

PIPER CASTILLO | Times

The Fanatics in 2011 are Art Whitney, front, Chris Beach, back from left, Rick Amorose and Dwain Morris. Beach, a dentist by day, stepped in for original member Kirk Sink.

LARGO

Before picking up the drumsticks, Art Whitney wanted to finish texting on his phone.

Rick Amorose, Dwain Morris and Chris Beach, all with guitars strapped around their necks, stood patiently nearby.

"We know you have a problem. We know you can't stop texting even while drumming,'' joked Amorose, 52. "We are always having to wait for you.''

The verbal dig spurred the 51-year-old drummer to set down the phone and grab his sticks.

As soon as he let loose a loud drum roll, the three guitarists sprang into action. Each took a turn delivering fast, choppy guitar riffs.

The Fanatics, a much-loved band from Tampa Bay, circa 1980, is alive and well. Except for their gray hair and 21st century high-tech gadgets, time seems to have stood still for these musicians. On Friday night, you can see for yourself.

During an evening devoted to retro-1980s New Wave music, the Fanatics, with three out of four of the original members, will appear as the opening band at a Largo Cultural Center concert Friday. The headliner is the British band the Fixx, known for such hits as One Thing Leads To Another, Are We Ourselves? and Saved By Zero.

Tickets are selling briskly, said Donna Seaman, box office supervisor at the cultural center.

"There's been many ticket buyers on the phone who tell me they're excited not just to see the Fixx, but because they're old fans of the Fanatics,'' she said.

Back when Elvis Costello, David Byrne and Blondie were tops on both the record charts and in fashion, you could catch the Fanatics at music venues like the Courtroom Lounge in Clearwater and the Cuban Club in Tampa.

Their popularity grew to the point that when national touring groups such as the Thompson Twins, Modern English and the Stray Cats came to the area, the Fanatics were chosen as the opening act.

The seed for the band was first planted about the time Whitney and Amorose graduated from Clearwater High in 1977.

"First we were into listening to rock, but then when punk started hitting the scenes, Art and I totally loved it," Amorose said. "I'm not a trained musician, and I don't even know how to read notes, but I went and bought a bass from Thoroughbred Music in Tampa, and then Art said, 'Shoot, then I'm going to buy drums.' ''

When Whitney, who now runs a woodworking business, thinks back on the early days, he acknowledges that the genre of music they chose "didn't require a sophisticated talent,'' he said. "We loved it, and all we wanted to do was play in public. We had no fear."

And play they did. First, the pair began playing with a band called the Driveways with Darren Rademaker. "We'd play songs like the Talking Heads' Psycho Killer and the B-52s' Planet Claire. People would come up and dance, and that would inspire us and give us confidence to improve,'' said Amorose.

Soon they met Morris and Kirk Sink. "Their song-writing ability helped us grow exponentially,'' Amorose recalled.

Laura Taylor, the development director at WMNF-88.5, recently had the Fanatics on her weekly show, Surface Noise, a show devoted to punk, New Wave and grunge music.

She believes that the Fanatics' success was a mixture of a little luck and "their magnetism on stage,'' she said.

"But also I think it had to do with how they drew upon aesthetics and history when developing their style. Rather than copying other bands like others did, they were almagamist,'' Taylor said.

However, in 1987, the group disbanded. It was time to get on with adulthood, Amorose said. "We started having families,'' he said.

But the guys kept up with each other. "Art and I always saw each other, and then one day about five years ago, I bumped into Dwain at the State Theatre in St. Petersburg,'' Amorose said. "We talked about getting the band back together.''

Amorose, Whitney and Morris agreed to start meeting regularly to jam inside a tiny studio in downtown Clearwater. Although Sink remains close to the others, he chose not to rejoin the group. Instead, Chris Beach, a dentist by day, signed up after he saw a Craigslist posting by the band.

"When I saw the ad, they listed a lot of bands that I liked. It's been fun doing this, because they also have original music and I love to play original stuff,'' said Beach, 32.

In the past five years, the Fanatics have played a few live shows. At places like the Garage in St. Petersburg and Gasoline Alley in Clearwater, they've gotten a warm reception from old fans wanting to hear their classics like Strange Way, Disgusting Thing and Nightmare.

"We've gotten encouragement, so we'll keep going,'' Amorose said.

Morris, a computer technician who holds the title of first Fanatic to become a grandparent, added that it is impossible to think of a day when he would not want to play music with his buddies.

"We still have the love of music. To stop making music would be like stopping time itself — incredible and inconceivable,'' he said.

Piper Castillo can be reached at pcastillo@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4163.

If you go

The Fixx with special guest and Tampa Bay originals the Fanatics will perform at 8 p.m. Friday at the Largo Cultural Center, 105 Central Park Drive. Tickets are $29 VIP; $24 in advance; $29 at the door. For more information, call the box office at (727) 587-6751.

Local favorite the Fanatics to open for the Fixx at Largo Cultural Center 09/27/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 27, 2011 4:34pm]
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