Still rockin' after all these years

CATCHING UP WITH ... SPITSHINE

The Baltimore band Spitshine has stuck together through ups, downs and additions -- and now they have a CD to show for it.

November 28, 1999|By Rob Hiaasen | Rob Hiaasen,Sun Staff

Updating something you've already written is like calling up an old girl friend you haven't spoken to in 15 years. What's left to say? Guess you could always ask about her little cat--he was a lovable kind.

Or you could ask what music she listens to these days. "I really love Buck Cherry. They're awesome," says Rose Manfre, still the lead singer of Spitshine.

And just like in the old days, we have no idea who or what Buck Cherry is. But Rose likes Buck Cherry, so it must be a rock band heard around these parts. She should know, because Rose still sings for a rock band in Baltimore.

Four years ago, with much fanfare (a story in The Sun), four locals formed a new band. Half the band, Ariana Patterson and Chris Mulloney, had hailed from Sisson's Tavern in Federal Hill. One was a cook, the other a waitress. The other half, Joe and Rose Manfre, were already established local musicians. One was also a UPS driver, the other an insurance customer rep.

They all had been in bands that had evaporated for one reason or another. Nothing good lasts for-ever; nor does anything bad. With some last jolt of conviction and promise, they formed Spitshine.

There is only joy in beginning, says a Zen saying. Spitshine began by rehearsing nights at the Manfre homestead in Morrell Park in southwest Baltimore. They drank Harpoon beer, looked Seattle-grungy, admitted their affection for Abba and Neil Diamond, and proceeded to write and perform their own music -- quite loudly and sincerely.

In January 1996, Spitshine debuted at the Eight by Ten club in Federal Hill. Friends and families joined them. Rose brought her Marshall amp and a soul mate -- a guitar named "Rocket Guitar" after a horse she'd once bet on at the state fairgrounds. In their inaugural set, Spitshine covered Abba's "S.O.S."

So a band was born -- one of the countless a-band-is-born stories. Just four kids without kids of their own. Their expectations were practical: Get along. Write music. Perform music. Make a CD. See what happens. Get along.

Survival might have to be success enough.

Spitshine went ahead, playing club dates in Baltimore, Fells Point, Annapolis, Philadelphia, New York and the mecca of rock and roll: Nags Head, N.C. We noticed their name popping up on occasion in City Paper. Wow, they're still together.

They won band contests, such as the Virginia Slims' "Dueling Divas" contest in Baltimore and nabbed an honorable mention in the Punk category of the 1996 Music Monthly's Annual Readers' Poll. In our favorite band note, Spitshine played a benefit in Millersville for the Great Dane Society.

Gigs were steady. Word was out about Spitshine. They were "gutsy" and "feisty." There was talk of making a CD.

"We were on a roll, and I had to screw it up and get pregnant," jokes Ariana Patterson, now Ariana Peers, now mother of a 20-month-old girl named Shilo, named after the Neil Diamond song.

"We took some time off while I was too fat to see the guitar in front of me," she says, though quickly and proudly adding: "I did play when I was eight months."

The birth of their CD, "Kick Me Hard," proved to be hard labor. The gang -- Chris, Ariana, Joe and Rose -- had gone into a Wheaton studio to record in 1997. They wanted to capture their live performance tunes, such as "Tarnation" and "Flea Dip the Cat," on compact disc. But the band went on hiatus while Ariana and husband Dave Peers settled in with Shilo.

"We went through a slump," Joe says. But no one gave up.

Finally, after two years, "Kick Me Hard" was released this summer on JoyIsNoise Records. On the CD, the band thanks everyone from the Beatles to Bohager's to a band called Buttsteak. Oh, and Joni Mitchell, too.

Meanwhile, Rose worked up a Web site for the band (www. members.home.net/spitshine1): "Hello, friends and strangers. Spitshine is a cool rock band from the Mid-Atlantic USA. ... Our favorite way of describing our music these days is: hot, hip, tuneful, tuff & sweet!" Get your Spitshine T-shirt for $10 or Spitshine bumper sticker for $1. The Web site also mentions the Spitshine Intergalactic Tour planned for 2025, "assuming the band is still together."

It was time to find our old girlfriend and ask about her cat.

When we called Spitshine this month, they were right where we left them four years ago -- at the Manfre homestead, rehearsing new stuff, breaking for Harpoon beer, and still getting along -- for the most part. Had anything changed?

"Chris is still wearing the same sweat pants," Ariana says. "And I'm still the youngest in the band, am I not?"

Spitshine is ancient now. Geez, Ariana is 31 and Joe is 40 (he asked us not to mention his age, but since we are 40, we will take him down with us). Everybody has kept their day jobs, we learned. Local rock and roll still doesn't pay.

Life is what happened to Spitshine -- life in the form of "tiny life forms," as drummer Joe Manfre says. First, Ariana enlarged the Spitshine family. Now, Rose and Joe are having their own baby, their own tiny life form. All the paperwork is done and all the hoops have been jumped: They will fly next month to Russia to adopt a boy they've already named Adam.

"We're a family band now," Ariana says.

"We've slowed down some," says Rose, which is not an easy thing to admit when you are a hard-rock band. But the Manfre homestead, with its soundproof rehearsal room, has now been fitted with a nursery.

"We don't have to stop being a band just because our lives have changed," Rose says, almost defiantly.

So, here's the update on Spitshine. They're still together because four people still love making music, and they still like each other.

Anything less wouldn't be a success.

For a sample from Spitshine's CD, "Kick Me Hard," visit Sunspot at www.sunspot.net/features/as.

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