Originally a member of the Jefferson Airplane – he played drums on their debut ‘Jefferson Airplane Takes Off’ and their classic second album ‘Surrealistic Pillow’ – Skip Spence left in 1966 to form The Moby Grape.
While Jefferson Airplane were going off into the wilder extremes of LSD-influenced West Coast psychedelia, the Grape were closer in spirit and attitude to British mod bands like The Who and The Small Faces. Spence, singer and guitarist, led a band that was self consciously stylish in an era when facial hair and ragged denim were considered the height of sartorial elegance, played hard fast R&B-tinged pop at a time when soft folk and extended jams were the order of the day and set out to appeal to teenage girls at a time when such ambitions were frowned upon.
Moby Grape were also one of the first bands to be ‘hyped’ by a record company; their debut album, for example, was issued on a collection of seven inch singles. All of which backfired on the group who disbanded. Spence made a solo album – ‘Oar’ released in 1969 – that has acquired a cult following among the likes of Beck and Tom Waits, who have all contributed to ‘More Oar’, a soon-to-be-released tribute album.
‘Oar’ is a strange and unapproachable record, with heavy hints that the mind-expanding 60s were crossing over into out and out mental illness.
Spence‘s recent past is unhappy; he was diagnosed as suffering from schizophrenia, was an alcoholic and lived as a derelict on the streets of Santa Cruz, although reports suggest that he had finally managed to stop drinking a few years before his death from cancer on Friday in a Santa Cruz hospital. Spence reportedly heard the tribute album featuring REM and Robert Plant in the hours before he died.