A Man Out of Time

Repeatedly sideswiped by fame, singer-songwriter Dennis Britt braces for one last lunge at the big time

Dennis Britt inspires something bordering on fanaticism among his fellow musicians. "No artist to break out of Miami, past or present, myself included, possesses half the genius of Dennis Britt," claims pop songwriter-vocalist Tommy Anthony, whose recent independently released CD, Mondial, sold thousands of copies after garnering airplay on Top 40 radio powerhouse Y-100. "Totally warped yet totally brilliant. He's in a league of his own."

"He's an effortless songwriter," seconds Diane Ward, widely regarded as one of South Florida's top female rock vocalists and currently putting the finishing touches on her first CD at North Miami's Criteria Studios. "He's so incredibly quirky and kooky. Brilliant. One of the best songwriters down here, ever."

"Dennis is my artistic mentor," states Doc Wiley, accomplished bassist, budding producer, and former musical director of legendary Miami Beach rock bastion Washington Square. "His falling off a horse is everyone else's career best."

But despite similar effusive praise from nearly every musician who has ever shared a stage with him -- Raw B. Jae, Demetrius Brown, Jim Baumann, et al. -- Dennis Britt knows that the odds do not favor a man who, at the age of 45, still dreams of making it in an increasingly youth-oriented music industry. "I've been told that I'm out of the race," the singer-songwriter sighs between puffs on a Vantage cigarette. "I imagine they say about me, 'Here comes Dennis Britt again. This guy's been trying to make it since 1980. He didn't make it back then, he's not gonna make it now.'" Britt shrugs, then adds, "Who knows all the cloak-and-dagger things that go on behind closed doors at record companies?"

If anyone should have a clue, it's Britt. While the Cuban-born, Miami- and New York-raised musician has never, to use his own words, "scored the big touchdown" (i.e., put out an album on a major label), he's certainly rammed the ball down on the one-yard line a few times. Britt has performed dozens of industry showcases; he has inked a development deal with Capitol Records; he has partied with Atlantic Records big kahuna Ahmet Ertegun, former Led Zeppelin singer Robert Plant, and members of the Who; he's seen one of his demo tapes championed by high muckamucks at Arista Records; and he's worked with Steely Dan's Donald Fagen. Bee Gee Barry Gibb is a supporter. Two years ago, Britt and his band at the time, the Beat Poets, toured the southeastern U.S. with another obscure little outfit, this one named Hootie and the Blowfish. Britt even has a long-time financial backer, local business entrepreneur Jonathan Lewis, best known for overseeing the restaurant operations at the posh Grand Bay Hotel in Coconut Grove, although he also helped launch Big City Fish and Tu Tu Tango, among others.

"I think Dennis is going to be the oldest guy ever to sign a major recording contract," kids Lewis. "I think his music sounds better than ever. It makes sense that now he's getting recognized."

And that's just the tip of the iceberg. In the last fifteen years, Britt has penned the theme song for the long-running TV sitcom ¨Que Pasa, U.S.A.?, has opened three cutting-edge nightclubs on Miami Beach (Club Beirut, Kitchen Club, and Espresso Bongo), and has attracted the interest of Mike Carr of concert promoters Fantasma Productions. Right now Carr is calling upon his extensive industry connections to shop around a new demo tape by Britt and the singer-songwriter's current band, West Indian. Many insiders feel that the tape represents the best work the creative dynamo has recorded to date.

And if all that fails, there's still a nonmusical wild card that could make Dennis Britt a very wealthy man. During his stint managing Club Beirut, Britt became disgusted with the task of lifting and dropping the toilet seats in the restrooms. As a result, he developed a little plastic handle that juts out from beneath the seat and enables one to raise or lower the seat without getting one's fingers, um, soiled.

Bill Bakula, a former long-haired concert promoter turned corporate direct-response marketing tycoon, has big plans for Britt's little innovation. Bakula presides over Jamie Shoop and Associates A a Miami-based international TV infomercial and marketing company founded by the woman (Shoop) who discovered and managed the artist-when-he-was-still-known-as Prince. According to Bakula, the company grosses more than $150,000,000 annually by marketing everything from compilation albums to astrological charts to sports memorabilia. (Their biggest seller to date has been a weight loss-vitamin package known as Barton Nutritional Systems.) And they are about to launch Britt's toilet-seat invention nationally. They're calling it the "HyGenie."

"We believe in the product," Bakula enthuses. "We've developed 60-second and 30-second TV commercials, and we're currently market-testing them. We're putting a lot of time into Dennis's product. We think it's gonna succeed beyond everybody's wildest dreams because it deals with one of people's basic fears -- touching a dirty toilet seat."

What would that mean for Britt? "Remember the Topsy Tail?" Bakula asks without waiting for an answer. "A little plastic device for braiding hair. They cost about a quarter to produce and they sold between five and six million of them at two for $9.99. Let's put it this way -- if the HyGenie is as successful as we hope, Dennis can start his own record label."

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