“The band started in 1980, but I didn’t join until February 1981,” says Social Spit singer Cliff Cunningham. “The singer just couldn’t remember the lyrics, so I got in. My first show was at the [Fifth Avenue punk club] Zebra Club, with the Unknowns and Violation 5. In 1981, the band kind of fell apart, and by ’82 it was done. I got Ewing’s sarcoma, which is a type of bone cancer in ’82. I lost a leg in December of that year.”
Guitarist Johnny Vee joined the band in 1980 shortly after it began. Vee and Cunningham regrouped Social Spit for its 1986–1992 glory years when they shared the stage with the Circle Jerks, Bad Religion, the Exploited, the U.K. Subs, 7 Seconds, the Adolescents, and the Descendants.
“The punk shows back then were mostly hall shows at the Fairmount Hall, the Wabash Hall, and Carpenter’s Hall. I don’t think people do shows like that anymore because you have to jump through so many hoops. If you have an exit sign that doesn’t work, the cops can come in and shut you down. You’d be taking a big chance doing a show at the North Park Lions Club because there’s now an apartment building next door. We did one show with the Battalion of Saints at a strip club at Fairmount and I-8. We played with the Dickies once at this bar in Point Loma called Rios in, like, 1989. We did a lot of shows at the Spirit, which is now Brick by Brick.… The promoters then were Tim Mays, Harlan Schiffman of Fine Line, and this guy named Mad Marc Rude, who did shows as Dead or Alive. He’s dead now.”
Cunningham bolted in 1992.
“In 2005, we got back together for seven shows in six months for our 25th anniversary. Due to other personality problems, the band broke up again. Then, last year, I told Johnny our 30th anniversary is coming up, what do you want to do? So, we got back together. All the old-timers from the ’80s came out for our 25th. They will still come out to see us now.”
The new Social Spit includes Vee, Cunningham, bassist Ugly Lenny of Inciting Riots, and drummer Jim Flynn. “He was in an old punk band from the ’80s called Ministry of Truth. We’re like Spinal Tap. We’ve been through six drummers. There’s at least 15 former members of Social Spit.”
There are two Social Spit 7-inch singles and one album, There’s No Place Like Home. “They were all on [local label] Mystic Records. A lot of bands give [Mystic owner] Doug Moody crap, but if it wasn’t for Mystic, there wouldn’t have been any Social Spit vinyl. He never paid us, but he gave us boxes of records we could sell or give away.… Back in the day, the most we ever got paid for a show was $225 at Palisades Gardens, which was a roller-skating rink at University and Utah. We usually got $20 or $30 for the whole band.”
He says pay is still bad for punk-rock bands. “Back in the day, there was no pay-to-play. Anyone who would pay a promoter to play is a moron. We just played the Ramona Mainstage, and the guy gave us 35 tickets to sell. I gave them all back the night of the show. He said, ‘I didn’t think you guys would sell any.’ I work at the post office. I don’t do this for money.… I remember one show with the Vandals at the old Kings Road near where [the Office, formerly Scolari’s] is now. The Vandals weren’t getting paid. Their lead singer pulled out a grenade and said if he didn’t get paid he’d pull the pin. He got paid. We never knew if it was a real grenade or not.”
“I’m 51 with one leg, but you are never too old for punk rock.”
Social Spit appears March 19 at the Whistle Stop and April 3 at the Chico Club in La Mesa.