Wednesday, April 15, 2009

What is purple, weighs 2,000 pounds and swims in the ocean?

After listening to a band for 41 years, your affinity for their music can get pretty fully realized. Of course, I relate to many such bands with varying degrees of personal affinity. One of the bands with which I have a very close experiential alliance is Moby Grape. I have gone the full gamut of musical appreciation with this band, although I have never seen them perform live (to my chagrin).

Moby Grape ran the spectrum, in rock music terms. At times they sound like enthusiastic, talented amateurs, at other times studio wizards, goof-offs, the tightest band ever, a band threatening to fall apart as they played, great harmonists, lousy harmonists, ace guitarists, bogus guitarists. To put it plainly, there's a lot there with Moby Grape - five guys who could write, sing, play and function together as a band / or not. They also had a great rock legend, Alexander (Skip) Spence (may he rest in peace) in their midst, a man who you can hear inspirationally hammering away on rhythm guitar on all of their best tracks and singing in a uniquely windy, elastic voice.

Much has been made of the self-destruction of Moby Grape, who were supposed to be "the American Beatles" or something, but I'll take what they left us - albeit that is very hard to find nowadays. (They continue to have enormous legal problems with their ex-manager, so their first two (great) albums "Moby Grape"and "Wow/Grape Jam" are hard to come by without overspending dramatically. I listen to them in the revered VINYL format, BTW).

The Moby Grape Main Legacy was those two albums and all of the tracks they laid down in 2 years, 1967 and 1968. Thank The God Who Whistles in the Treetops that Sundazed records has packaged up the Grape's left-over recordings from those two years (67 and 68) as "The Place and the Time" and made them available in CD and LP format. I have the CD and have listened to it non-stop for the past week. (Maybe, I'll pop for the vinyl, too. Why not?) It's a Moby Grape paradise of alternate cuts, demos and live tracks. I'm so freaking happy with this package that I probably can't even express it properly. It's the Zing Zang with the Kamoogelly Ding Dang! They call it 'the great lost Moby Grape album' and for me, that is exactly what it is. I'm hearing their subsequently "studio-ed up" cuts in their original state for the first time and tracks that they cut after Skip left in their full-group presentation. Its just wonderful.

Now listen, Moby Grape is not for everyone. No, no, no. I don't know if they are one of those "ya hadda be there" bandsor whatever, but like I say, I have been getting maximum joy out of themfor 41 years, with a lot more to be had. Ditto on Skip's LEGENDARY solo 1969 lp, "Oar". Its also available from Sundazed and should be heard. I have an original rare vinyl copy that is my most prized possession in the world. Its almost worn out from 40 years of listening, dubbing and admiring. Needless to say, "Oar" is not for everyone either. If you check the reviews of it online, many are negative. It either gets you or it don't. However, one thing that Il ike about "The Place and the Time", is that it has two or three numbers that would fit nice and sonically on "Oar". Phabulous!

Enough on this for now. Check out a capsule summary of Moby Grape's exploits and bad luck at

Moby Grape's immortal original lineup: Skip Spence - guitar, Jerry Miller - lead guitar, Peter Lewis - guitar, Don Stephenson - drums, Bob Mosley - bass. '

All hail the Grape!

(The album covers pictured above are "Wow" and "Grape Jam", which came packaged as a "two-fer", unheard of at the time. "Wow" is a Sgt Pepper - influenced album, with great songs abetted by sound collages, studio trickery, sound effects, lots of edits and a surprise cut that needed to be played at 78 rpm featuring Arthur Godfrey on ukelele and the Lou Waxman Orchestra playing loping, antique jazz accompaniment behind an absolutely crazed Skip Spence composition. "Wow", was as they say "high concept". Grape Jam was a collection of blues jams, murky performance pieces and one great Bob Mosley blues song, "Never", that was later stolen and renamed by Led Zeppelin as "Since IBeen Loving You." You can pay a lot of money for the CD versions of these two items, or get relatively cheap vinyl versions.)

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