Great Persuader

After 40 years of street-corner symphonies, Jerry Lawson learns to sing with a band

Nita's Nitemare: With its current Tempe neighborhood (at McClintock Drive and Rio Salado Parkway) earmarked for commercial development, Nita's Hideaway has made plans over the last few months to move into a shopping center at the intersection of Price and Southern. Considering what a great asset Nita's has been to the music community, what a positive working relationship it's forged with law enforcement, and the new site's need for a successful business (currently vacant, it was most recently a home for the failed Red Mountain Steakhouse), Nita's bid for a use permit at the new spot seemed like a slam dunk.

But irate neighbors — none of whom live within 500 feet of the site — have used everything from traffic to parking to noise concerns to camouflage their true agenda: propagating a moralistic campaign to keep any live music venue out of the area.

At a May 14 meeting of the Tempe Planning and Zoning Commission, at which I myself testified in support of Nita's, one resident after another complained about the decay that "this kind of entertainment" would bring to the community, even though none of them had set foot in the club, or really understood what kind of entertainment Nita's provides. The absurdity became tragi-comical when one female speaker expressed outrage that a band called "Leftover Semen" had played at Nita's. One slight problem: The band is actually named Leftover Salmon.

Jerry Lawson: The Persuasions' legendary leader is plotting his first-ever solo album.
Jerry Lawson: The Persuasions' legendary leader is plotting his first-ever solo album.

Despite a glowing report from Tempe police, commissioners voted 6-1 against Nita's bid. Now, with the club's future hanging in the balance, the city council addresses the issue on May 30 and June 6 (both meetings are at 5:30 p.m.). If you support Nita's — and object to the ill-informed campaign against it — you can help by writing a letter in favor of the club. Send e-mails to, faxes to 480-446-9724 and snail mail to Nita's Hideaway, 1816 East Rio Salado Parkway, Tempe, AZ 85281.

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