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I-Tal And Clean House Founder David Smeltz Passes Away At 66

The founder of reggae band I-Tal David "Papa Dave"  Smeltz has passed away at age 66. [Deborah Ann Guy]
The founder of reggae band I-Tal David "Papa Dave" Smeltz has passed away at age 66.

Updated: Monday, June 28, 2021

The Northeast Ohio music scene has lost a local legend. Guitarist and founder of the Cleveland reggae band I-Tal David “Papa Dave” Smeltz passed away Thursday, June 24, at the age of 66.

David "Papa Dave" Smeltz in 2017 [Dave DeOreo / Ideastream]

In a Facebook post, his daughters, Kelsey Belton and Shelbey Smeltz, wrote that their father had passed away “surrounded by family” after a long battle with COVID-19.

David "Papa Dave" Smeltz leads I-Tal at Peabody's Cafe in 1980. [Deborah Ann Guy]

During the 1980s, I-Tal hosted regular Reggae Wednesday nights at Peabody’s Café in Cleveland Heights. Former bandmate Carlos Jones said in an email that Smeltz was an example of what a bandleader should be and that Jones learned a lot from him.

“He was a pioneer of what became Cleveland's Reggae scene, and I think it's safe to say that every Reggae artist and act that came after walked on the path that he laid with I-tal,” Jones said.

David "Papa Dave" Smeltz leads I-Tal at The Coventry Street Fair in 1980. [Deborah Ann Guy]

As beloved as Smeltz was in Cleveland's music community, he was just as respected for getting and staying sober for two decades after many years of a hard-partying, rock-and-roll lifestyle.

In 2017, he spoke with Ideastream Public Media about his memoir, "Clean: From Reggae to Recovery."

"I have to say my daughters were the impetus really for me starting to try to get sober. I found out later that you can't get sober for anyone but yourself," he said.

In 2010, Smeltz went on to found the recovery non-profit Clean House in Cleveland's Buckeye neighborhood.

A musical tribute to David Smeltz is planned for Sunday, July 25, at The Beachland Ballroom.

Dave DeOreo is coordinating producer for Ideastream Public Media’s arts and culture team.