Friday, August 2, at the Grog Shop.

Full Frontal
For those too young to remember, reggae music used to be huge in Cleveland. Throughout the late '70s and '80s, many clubs were booking reggae as many as five nights a week. Local sensations like I-tal would play the old Peabody's. The long line out the door signaled that the venue was packed to capacity. Inside the hot and steamy club, it was all cool vibes, as I-tal served up its tasteful interpretations of classic Marley or the latest from Peter Tosh. The air would be thick with the sweet aroma of sensimilla, and everyone wore a smile.

I-tal was Cleveland's very first reggae band. The group formed in late 1977, after bassist Dave Valentine heard singer/guitarist Dave Smeltz and percussionist Bob Caruso "attempting" to play reggae music at a blues-oriented open-mic night. Reggae music had been popular in England for more than a decade by then, but it was just starting to receive its initial push here in the States. Over the course of the next 16 years, I-tal partook of a steady stream of local gigs and regional touring to consistently packed houses. Throughout this time, Smeltz, or "Papa Dave" as he became known, remained the only consistently involved original member. I-tal's ever-fluctuating lineup, however, served as a training camp for many of the area's most respected reggae musicians. (Core musicians for both First Light and Satta cut their teeth as members of I-tal.)

The group disbanded in 1993. To the surprise of many, last year Valentine picked a handful of his favorite I-tal tunes and released them on a CD titled I-tal USA -- Original Rockers. Of course, he admits, he had a keen eye toward re-forming the band and had been coaxing Papa Dave to get back into the music scene for a couple of years. "Dave [Smeltz] finally called me back and said, 'I'm ready, Let's do it.'"

Joining Smeltz, Valentine, and Caruso will be guitarist John Wagner, who played in a later incarnation of I-tal, along with original percussionist/singer Carlos Jones, on loan from the Peace, Love, and Unity Syndicate (PLUS Band). Valentine stresses the fact that this is not a one-time reunion show. "This is a reformed I-tal," he asserts. "We want to be a part of the scene once again."

We welcome them back.

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