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In just a year or so, soulsters FITZ & THE TANTRUMS went from the living room to the main stage. The recipe for meteoric success? Six killer musicians, five dapper suits, irresistible songs, some serendipity, and one vintage organ.
Since their first show at Hollywood’s Hotel Café in December 2008, Fitz and co. have toured with Maroon 5, played to thousands at Colorado’s world-famous Red Rocks Amphitheatre, shared the stage on New Year’s Eve with Sharon Jones and The Dap Kings, and performed on KCRW’s esteemed show Morning Becomes Eclectic, all on the strength of their stellar five-song EP, Songs for a Breakup, Vol. 1.
It all began when… [cue flashback sounds]
“I got a call from my ex-girlfriend,” Fitz explains, “and she said, ‘My neighbor is moving out in a hurry and has to sell everything. And, he has this organ…’ ”
Fitz, the Svengali frontman of the crew, describes the find like the discovery of a compass, or that treasure map in Goonies, which undoubtedly leads to adventure. Not one to say no, Fitz called some piano movers, cashed in some favors, and seven hours later, the organ went from the curb to his living room. That night, Fitz stationed himself in front of that vintage instrument and wrote a blue-eyed soul anthem, “Breaking the Chains of Love.”
“Sometimes, the Music Gods just give it to you,” Fitz says.
In that same living room, he recorded Songs for a Breakup, Vol. 1, a burst of effervescent swingers and floor-stompers, infused with the energy of long-forgotten songs.
Like the EP, Fitz recorded the group’s debut full-length, Pickin’ Up The Pieces, back at home, to bottle the lightning that struck in those first jam sessions. He now delves into more acerbic lyrical territory, going on the offensive against gold diggers on the exceptionally funky “MoneyGrabber,” and even gets political on the piano-banging, handclap-driven call to action, “Dear Mr. President.”
In their sound and on the stage, Fitz & The Tantrums are nothing but professionals, and never less than classy. Enter The Tantrums, Fitz’s airtight ensemble, keeping it real like it’s 1969. Funky drummer John Wicks is a Motown B-side aficionado and prolific session player; Jeremy Ruzumna manned the keyboards and was musical director for Macy Gray. James King backed De La Soul, and bassist Joseph Karnes is a well sought-after session player. Then there’s Noelle Scaggs, the powerful voice behind Fitz’s croons. Make no mistake, Scaggs is not just there for “doo-wops” and handclaps. She shimmies and flirts, she stokes the crowd and simmers them down, and she has no qualms about keeping Fitz in check. “She is not just a backup singer,” Fitz says, “We have repartee. Onstage, we’re Ike and Tina.”
There, on the stage, Fitz & The Tantrums is not just a band; it’s an explosion. Scaggs high steps it to the tight-as-hell rhythm section, while Fitz, cooler than cobalt, croons like the aforementioned Mr. Hall for a new generation. It’s obvious that this is no tryst for the band; this is a full-blown, head-over-heels love affair.
Pickin’ Up The Pieces is available on the Dangerbird Records website: dangerbirdrecords.com/downloads/fitz-and-the-tantrums.