The Dawn of Rock:
In the early months of 1971, the Nolan family moved into their new home in an up & coming neighborhood of Edgewood, KY. Jim & Joy Nolan had 5 children: Sharon, Brian, Dan, Ted and Jim (respectively). The rest, aside from stories of broken bones and bike trails, is essentially your basic growing up-type story.
Then, in 1977, the three youngest brothers decided to take music lessons from the Erlanger Lions. The "music teacher" in very Professor Harold Hill style skipped town with their money and the Nolan's were left with nothing more than a cheap accordion in a case -- but that is another story.
Mom & Dad Had No Idea What They Were In For...
Around 1979 or so, Jim started taking guitar lessons. Dan & Ted had both previously taken piano from a woman in the neighborhood and had learned to play such rocking tunes as The Scary Spider. This inspired the kids to start a band. Their first hit, You're a Dick was composed on acoustic guitar, tambourine and cardboard sticks taken from a dry cleaner's hangers.
Time passed for a while and the three brothers all played separately in different bands. Ted played drums and Dan played bass for Ruckus and Jim played guitar for Hardware. It wasn't until the Summer of 1986 that Dan, Ted & Jim officially set up their gear in their attic (complete with 5' ceiling and no air conditioning) and starting experimenting as a group. They took the name "Spitfish" - gleaned from a B.C. comic by Johnny Hart.
Like so many other garage (or attic) bands, they started off playing cover songs. Tunes such as Jimi Henrdix's Purple Haze or Foxy Lady or Black Sabbath's Paranoid could often be heard, as well as the road-classic Born to Be Wild by Steppenwolf.
They eventually tired of "playing somebody else's stuff" and wanted to make a sound for themselves. Living together made impromptu jam sessions very practical and, with a little help from Radio Shack, the brothers started to record their performances.
One thing the three of them noticed early-on was that there was definitely a chemistry to their playing. Each one was able to recognize their others' style of playing and were developing an uncanny ability to know what each was about to do next. In the mid-1980's - before the apex of the "jam-band" movement - Spitfish found themselves composing 20-minute anthems that ranged from the ripping to the psychedelic.
"Dan was usually the grounding element - like the spine," says Jim. "He'd stay at home and keep things relatively constant and that gave me license to completely freak out and still know where I was. I'd turn on 2 or 3 delay pedals at once, crank up the flanger and play the strings with a 9-volt battery -- just to see what would happen."
What happened was pure magic. Spitfish soon released their first album Rock it Out, Ace on Totally Bitchin Records in 1987. This album featured the 3-part "Spitfish Anthem" of Iron Carmen, Diggin' the Fish and Rock it Out, Ace.
Like, a Real Band?
More extreme experimentation soon continued. Dan took a great interest in recording and producing while Jim was experimenting with new sounds and ways to make them louder. Ted, whose chief influence had always been The Who's Keith Moon started to become more familiar with the wider percussive style of Mickey Hart and the Grateful Dead. Dan then produced their next release for TB Records which was called Album in Progress - Do Not Tape On.
Spitfish at Bogart's - June 1989
The Summer of 1989 was huge for Spitfish. Soon after the release of their third album The 5' Ceiling Meets the Head, the epic single Spot garnered a lot of attention and pushed the band into the spotlight. From the attic to the stage, Spitfish now had to change direction, invest themselves in the band, purchase an actual PA system and start performing in front of actual people. Their first ever live performance was at Gregory's in Erlanger, KY on July 8, 1989 (Ted's birthday). The very next day, Spitfish bounded up the ladder of success and played at Bogart's in Cincinnati, OH.
"The performance pretty much sucked," said Dan of the Bogart's show. The sound guys were great -- we've never sounded that good before -- but we were just not used to playing for people. It freaked us out, I think. We were better when we played for ourselves."
But they also knew that if they were ever going to have any long-term success, that was a hurdle they would have to get over.
With the release of the band's 4th album Pinehurst Drive, Spitfish made a very conscious shift in direction. Many of the songs were written to be significantly shorter, and in such a way that they could be more easily performed live. Singles such as Groovin' and New Frontier were lighter, cleaner and showed a new side of the band. But other hits like Dead Knife Drag also proved to their fans that they hadn't broken from their roots.
"The more we did it, the more comfortable we got with playing out," recounted Ted. "And, I think, the more comfortable we got in front of the people, the more receptive we were to them. It got to the point where playing out was more exciting than playing at home. The energy was so different - it was great - it just took us a little while to learn how to swim, I guess."
"Mom, I said am I coming in clear?"
Spitfish made their television debut on the program "Local Band Jam" in the Fall of 1991 and made history on that program as the first band to do a set comprised entirely of their own, original material AND simultaneously, to completely fry their audio board.
Meanwhile, backstage, things were falling apart.*
In preparation for a performance at the Devou Park concert bowl, Jim suggested bringing in a fourth member in the person of his friend, Nick Barrows.
"It had been a dream [for us] to play the Devou park Bowl," said Jim and my thinking, at the time, was if I can get someone else to sing then I can focus more on playing and we'll sound better. Well... it made sense in my head. Nick was a friend of mine at the time and he's a pretty cool guy, but god, could he not sing. I mean, I'm no Peter Brady, but wow."
There was a live recording made from that show... the tape of which was eventually magnetized, shot, burned, melted, run through a bowling alley ball-return, fried in bacon grease and then buried in an undisclosed location. Nick never performed live with the band again.
Rockin' for a Good Cause -- Girls:
Spitfish at Mount St. Joes - April 1992
In the Spring of 1992, Spitfish was asked by the Cincinnati chapter of Amnesty International to play on the Campus of The University of Cincinnati. So they dragged all of their equipment North to Clifton, carried it all trough Tangeman Hall and set up. Shortly after the 3rd song began, a professor lodged a complaint about the noise and the show was stopped. Yeah, I guess they didn't ask permission first.
However, 1992 was a banner year for the band; garnering shows at various venues including two at The College of Mount St. Joseph in Delhi.
MORE TO COME...
*"Meanwhile, backstage, things were falling apart." is a copyrighted phrase from VH1's Behind the Music© and is used with permission.