Longform

A Man Out of Time

Page 6 of 9

One very good thing did come of Watchdog's year-and-a-half run at the cantina. He met Beth, his future wife. "She's on her way out of the restaurant," he smiles. "This guy, God love him, he stops her and says, 'You gotta check out this band.' They're girls from Palm Beach, they're down here having a good time in Coconut Grove. They don't give a damn about the band. It was one of those love-at-first-sight things. I look down, there's the girl, she's lookin' up, probably thinks I'm Sting or something. Then suddenly we were living in this studio in the Grove, which was fabulous before the Mayfair came in. I remember playing some occasion in Peacock Park and rolling the Fender Quad from the house right down to the park. It was great. That's my little secret victory, that out of Miami I've been able to squeeze small-town living."

By 1987 Watchdog had acquired a harder edge and was encroaching on alternative rock. The gig at Coco Loco's had run its course. The band grew restless. Enter Britt's financial guardian angel, Jonathan Lewis. "I was just blown over by his music," recalls Lewis, who met Britt during Watchdog's extended Coco Loco gig. "I have a lot of friends in the music business, but I never had been or aspired to be until I met Dennis."

Lewis introduced Britt to his music-biz connections, financed the musician's recording efforts (notably at Criteria Studios), and provided Britt and his family with monetary support for what the businessman terms essentials such as "diapers and rent." All told, Lewis estimates he has spent more than $100,000 on Britt. "I was responding to his music and I was responding to him as an individual," Lewis explains. "I really believed in him, I really thought something was going to happen eventually. And I always believed it was important that Dennis spend his time working and writing as opposed to waiting tables or tending bar or something."

Lewis figures that despite the fact that Britt has yet to snag a record deal, their association has paid off for him in nonmonetary ways. "I get a lot from Dennis," Lewis notes. "He's my mentor, I get a lot of strength from him. I think he's incredibly insightful. There have been many times when his support -- his sort of spiritual outlook -- was significant in my life. So things like that generally go in two directions."

One of Lewis's earliest efforts on Britt's behalf was to arrange for Watchdog to play a showcase for an English music entrepreneur, and he instructed Britt to book a room that reeked rock and roll for the occasion. Britt rented the Delano hotel ballroom on South Beach. "We were running through there at all hours of the night," Britt remembers. "We started living at the hotel. So we did the showcase, we're into the alternative thing. The cat's comment was, 'Jesus, people stopped tripping years ago!' Little did he know.

"Downstairs in the basement was a Latin club where they had an average of about a stabbing every week," Britt reminisces. "So I go to [Delano owner Paul] Kasden, 'Listen, you got a bunch of crazy Latins killin' themselves down there. Maybe three or four customers show up a night. Please let me open a rock cabaret. I think that was the key word, cabaret. I tell this old kosher Jewish guy, 'I can make money in this club.' So he says okay."

Britt selected the name Club Beirut to signify a sort of rock-and-roll shelter, a place where music meant more than race, religion, or country of origin. Also, crack sales and an influx of hookers had turned the street outside into a war zone. Delano owner Kasden hated the name from the start, but, according to Britt, acceded to his wishes on that and just about every other issue of any consequence affecting the club. The deal was that Kasden collected all the liquor sales; Watchdog and any other band performing live split the door.

"Kasden's son, Tim, was over at the Seagull Hotel," Britt recalls. "He comes every night. They give us rooms upstairs. Raw B. Jae moved in there, Doc [Wiley] moved in there, the rest of my band, and I was living there too [with his wife and daughter]. Plus we had two rooms for bands. I can remember Vesper Sparrow having water balloon fights in the halls. Bootleg. The Nukes. At night, after the shows, it was a riot. A riot.

KEEP MIAMI NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Todd Anthony
Contact: Todd Anthony