Five Decades of Music-Making

Suzanne Smithline and Glenn Manion started their band SQUEAKY CLEAN in 1983, but their musical collaboration goes all the way back to “The Ford Administration” (1974, to be exact). They met at NYU and performed as folksingers in nearby Greenwich Village clubs.  After graduation, their ambition to be full-time musicians led to a management contract and five years of national touring as a cocktail lounge act. It was the first of many career transformations…

1984 Laundry Loft

While performing in Minneapolis in October 1982, they heard a recording of Wanda Jackson’s “Mean Mean Man” on the radio and were soon exploring the music of rockabilly pioneers like Janis Martin and the Collins Kids.  They strongly identified with the uncluttered instrumentation and the less threatening image of these performers even as greasier rockabilly revival acts were becoming popular back home in New York.  Thus was born SQUEAKY CLEAN, which played many celebrated NYC music venues (CBGBs, The Red Parrot, Heartbreak DIner, The Peppermint Lounge) and released a 6-song EP record produced by Billy Joel’s saxophonist Richie Cannata.

In 1984, a friend suggested they perform for children at a summer program at the Parrish Arts Museum in Southampton.  “And why not share a few stories about the performers while you’re at it?”  Around the same time, the band was invited to appear at a Labor Day Festival sponsored by the Nassau County Office of Cultural Development where they performed for seniors and familles with great success

Suzanne and Glenn reached the conclusion that it was easier to find an audience if they went where the people are, rather than expecting the audience to come to you.  So SQUEAKY CLEAN moved out of the clubs and into venues like schools, libraries, and senior centers.

Meanwhile, they continued to appear in clubs and pursue a record deal with a new name and more contemporary image, working with a drummer and a keyboard player.   Performing as COMBO LIMBO, they released a full-length LP in 1987, followed up by several 45 rpm single releases. Original songs by each band member formed the core of the band’s repertoire.  In 1990, COMBO LIMBO was cited as New York’s “Best Unsigned Band” at the SKC/New York Music Awards, held at the Beacon Theater. Lou Gramm of the band Foreigner presented the award to the band.

We played this gig in 1986 when the Mets played the World Series

Suzanne and Glenn then returned to their folk roots and began performing contemporary acoustic music in area bookstores and coffeehouses. Billing themselves as “smithline/manion,” they released a collection of songs “Islands of Comfort” on cassette in 1993 and a CD “bittersweet” in 1997.

Their band SQUEAKY CLEAN found a unique opportunity in the Arts-in-Education field on Long Island. Schools were starting to book assembly programs in a broader range of artistic disciplines. Suzanne and Glenn, with their rockabilly background, were perfectly positioned to share their knowledge of rock and roll’s formative years with young audiences.  Over time, they learned how to incorporate multimedia content into their presentations and eventually developed a series of programs that related music and popular culture to American history of the 1950s 1960s 1970s and 1980s.

SQUEAKY CLEAN also introduced a generation of preschoolers to rock and roll through their regular appearances on Nickelodeon’s hit program “Eureeka’s Castle.” The band taped segments featuring Chuck Berry’s “School Day” and Ritchie Valens’ “La Bamba” which aired frequently throughout the show’s six year run.  A YouTube video of the band performing on the show has been viewed over 81,000 times.

Today, Suzanne and Glenn average over 250 shows a year.  Much of the time they perform as duo in assisted living residences, senior centers, rehabilitation facilities, and VA hospitals.  Joined by veteran NYC stage and studio drummer Phil Leone,  they remain one of the busiest performers in the Arts-in-Education field. They continue to appear at larger performing venues, including CSI Concert Hall in Staten Island, Hostos Center for Arts and Culture in the Bronx, Colden Center and Queensboro Performing Arts and the Publick Playhouse outside Washington, D.C.

Eureeka's Castle 1989