Saturday, October 20, 2012

Seeing Skip Spence

It looks like the only times I've ever mentioned Alexander "Skip" Spence was talking about covers or comparisons. So today will be his day!

Picture comes from this William Gibson packet. Thanks!

Skip played drums for Jefferson Airplane on their debut album, and then got one of his songs on Surrealistic Pillow (1967) - without even appearing on it.

"Omaha" from Moby Grape (1967)

As many drummers do, Spence decided to be a guitarist... one of three in Moby Grape, a terrific late-'60s SF psych-pop rock band. He only wrote a couple of tunes on their debut, but one was the band's most famous song, "Omaha." His other song was "Indifference."

"Just like Gene Autry: A Foxtrot" from Wow/Grape Jam (1968)

Skip Spence contributed more to their next record. Some of his songs were more rockin', more dramatic, or more country... but none was as weird as "Gene Autry."

As explained on that YouTube:
"Just Like Gene Autry: A Foxtrot" is a 1920's-era sounding dance number complete with a cameo spoken introduction by Arthur Godfrey himself, who also happens to play ukelele and banjo on the number. As if this tune isn't odd enough, the original vinyl on Columbia mastered this one track at 78 rpm rather than the typical 33-1/3 rpm as the rest of the album is pressed at. An announcement precedes the track "reminding everyone to kindly get up and change your turntable to 78, thank you!" after which there is a lock-groove that stops the needle from playing any further until you pick it up and place it on the next track.

During the making of the album, Spence freaked out on acid and apparently chopped down a hotel door of another band member.

"Save me" indeed.

"War in Peace" from Oar (1969)

After Skip got out of the psych ward (not psychedelic), he took his ideas, bought a motorcycle with his record advance, drove down to Nashville, and recorded Oar all by himself. It's a harrowing but incredible minimalist doom-folk album. For some reason, "Little Hands" seems to pull the most attention, but pretty much the whole album's excellent.

"Grey/Afro" from Oar (1969)

The unprecendented final jam. And other than some re-issues and compilations, I kinda thought that's where it ended. But I happened to notice that Skip had actually participated in some later Moby Grape output down the years.

"Chinese Song" from 20 Granite Creek (1971)

So that's a Skip Spence song on a Grape album that Skip actually played on. Looks like he also played on 1978's Live Grape, where they included 1 total Spence tune (and it wasn't "Omaha" either).

It's too bad how things worked out for Skip, but he made some fine music during his burning-bright youth.

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