I-Tal's David Smeltz' 'Clean: From Reggae to Recovery'

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In the 70s and 80s lines snaked out the doors of Cleveland clubs like Peabody’s when the popular reggae band I-Tal took the stage. Smoothly directing the action was founding member and guitarist David Smeltz, but beneath his cool exterior something troubling was happening. He shares a cautionary tale to others in his memoir Clean: From Reggae to Recovery.

Like many experimenting youth, Smeltz snuck his first drink from the family’s home bar. “I wasn’t a blackout drinker from the beginning, but I knew once I had that sip it made me feel pretty good. And I kind of ran after that feeling for forty-some years,” Smeltz said.

Smeltz soon found himself experimenting with a variety of drugs as a teen, including hashish, LSD and heroin.

After graduating from Shaker Heights High School in 1974, Smeltz attended the Ohio State University where he dropped out after two quarters.

Back in Cleveland, Smeltz began playing reggae music, and founded I- Tal, one of the area’s first reggae bands. The group quickly became a major draw at area clubs.

Smeltz said at first he was just drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana in moderate amounts, but once the group began touring, often for months at a time, the severity of his addiction increased. Soon it became a vicious cycle of late-night partying followed by hangovers. He turned to more alcohol and drugs to dull the pain.

I-tal continued to play music until they disbanded in 1993. After the breakup, Smeltz continued to abuse both drugs and alcohol and eventually becoming addicted to crack cocaine.

Things continued to spiral out of control for Smeltz until he hit low point in 2001.

“The bottom basically came when I had run out of pretty much all options. My mother only let me into her house so I could call a treatment center,” Smeltz said.

Not wanting his two daughters to find out their father had died a junkie, Smeltz entered the treatment program at ORCA House in Cleveland.

Eventually Smeltz rid himself of his addictions, he said in large part by coming to understand an important lesson: “There’s a difference between trying not to drink and trying not to party compared to not having to do it. I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t have to use that stuff.”

During his time in rehab Smeltz realized he wanted to help others fight their addictions. With the help of a number of people Smeltz opened the non-profit Clean House in Cleveland‘s Buckeye neighborhood. The facility offers a sober space for those in the early part of their recovery process. Participants in the program are given free room and board which allows them to concentrate on their recovery as well as reintegrating themselves back into society.

Smeltz has advice for those who are fighting addiction: “Surrender is a big part of this thing. Getting away from people who are using or still drinking is a big part of this as well. Having someone in your corner with the working knowledge of the 12 Steps is also important, because if I want to learn how to stay sober I have to stay around people who are sober.

Saturday at 2 pm David Smeltz will talk about his life and play music at a free event at the East Cleveland Public Library.

Listen for Dan Polletta’s interview with David Smeltz Wednesday at 12:33 pm on 90.3 during Here and Now featuring The Sound of Applause.

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