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Moby Grape

One of the best '60s San Francisco bands, Moby Grape were also one of the most versatile. Although they are most often identified with the psychedelic scene, their specialty was combining all sorts of roots music -- folk, blues, country, and classic rock & roll -- with some Summer of Love vibes and multi-layered, triple-guitar arrangements. All of those elements only truly coalesced, however, for their 1967 debut LP. Although subsequent albums had more good moments than many listeners are aware of, a combination of personal problems and bad management effectively killed off the group by the end of the 1960s.

Many San Francisco bands of the era were assembled by recent immigrants to the area, but Moby Grape had even more tenuous roots in the region than most when they formed. Matthew Katz, who managed the Jefferson Airplane in their early days, helped put together Moby Grape around Skip Spence. Spence, a legendarily colorful Canadian native whose first instrument was the guitar, had played drums in the Airplane's first lineup at the instigation of Marty Balin. Spence left the Airplane after their first album, and reverted to his natural guitarist and songwriting role for the Grape (the Airplane had already recorded some of his compositions). Guitarist Jerry Miller and drummer Don Stevenson were recruited from the Northwest bar band the Frantics; guitarist Peter Lewis had played in Southern California surf bands like the Cornells; and bassist Bob Mosley had also played with outfits from Southern California.

The group's relative unfamiliarity with each other may have sown seeds for their future problems, but they jelled surprisingly quickly, with all five members contributing more or less equally to the songwriting on their self-titled debut (1967). Moby Grape remains their signature statement, though the folk-rock and country-rock worked better than the boogies; "Omaha," "Sittin' by the Window," "Changes," and "Lazy Me" are some of their best songs. Columbia Records, though, damaged the band's credibility with over-hype, releasing no less than five singles from the LP simultaneously. Worse, three members of the group were caught consorting with underage girls. Though charges were eventually dropped, the legal hassles, combined with an increasingly strained relationship with manager Katz, sapped the band's drive.

Moby Grape's follow-up, the double-LP Wow, was one of the most disappointing records of the '60s, in light of the high expectations fostered by the debut. The studio half of the package had much more erratic songwriting than the first recording, and the group members didn't blend their instrumental and vocal skills nearly as well. The "bonus" disc was almost a total waste, consisting of bad jams. Spence departed while the album was being recorded in New York in 1968, as a result of a famous incident in which he entered the studio with a fire axe, apparently intending to use it on Stevenson. Committed to New York's Bellevue Hospital, he did re-emerge to record a wonderful acid folk solo album at the end of 1968, but that would be his only notable post-Grape project; he struggled with mental illness until he died in 1999.

Another unexpected blow was dealt when Mosley, despite his membership in a band that emerged from the Haight-Ashbury psychedelic scene, joined the Marine Corps at the beginning of 1969. The band did struggle on and release a couple more albums during that year, and the best tracks from these (particularly the earlier one, Moby Grape '69) proved they could still deliver the goods, though usually in a more subdued, countrified fashion than their earliest material. The group broke up at the end of the '60s, although they would periodically reunite for nearly unheard albums over the next two decades, in lineups featuring varying original members. Their problems were exacerbated by Matthew Katz, who owns the Moby Grape name, and has sometimes prevented the original members from using the name when they worked together. ~ Richie Unterberger, Rovi
full bio

Selected Discography

Comments

Jerry Miller is one of the top 100. Guitarist, Rolling Stone
cavor4
Gee. Another great band screwed by a Jew manager. Imagine that?
The Grape WERE the SF sound. Omaha rocks!!!!!!
The lyrics aren't the correct ones on this song.
bcsports109
How come Pandora has no Hank Davison
pandora sucks
skip's oar give syd and roky a run for there money...but love them all
Moby Grape generated several very good albums well into the 1990's. 1974's SILVER WHEELS and QUEEN OF THE CROW by Moby Grape are their most innovative and gorgeous songs, in my humble opinion.
johnnyohania n
Wow, that dude Mosley enjoyed his experience with the Grape so much that he joined the US Marines. That was very patriotic of him. I wonder if the Drill Sgt asked him: Maggot did your Momma have any children that lived?
homeloft
Matthew Katz needs to be sent to the woodshed. What's his problem?
What an INCREDIBLE sound & Band they were! I loved them in the 60's and I knew they had had their Mishaps but were trully a good blues band and I loved their lead vocalist and the guitar player.. Drugs were big then and guys always like younger girls too. Life is funny we all go thru
HEAVEN and HELL The balance is what matters.. I am a vocalist myself.. I knew Joplins boyfriend Seth Morgan too.. I sometimes I belong in Bellevue where my mama was born....Oh Boy! Moby Grape one of the BEST!
A great band with so much talent. The guitar playing was superb, the songwriting excellent. Gotta agree with a lot of the comments on how they stacked up against the other SF bands of the day. Jerry Miller is one of the best and is still out there playing. If you get the chance to catch him with Terry Haggerty (Sons of Champlin) you are in for guitar heaven.
sacredfun6
How can a debut album be so brilliant-- sounds as good now as it did 45 yrs ago-- and then a later album (Truly Fine Citizen) be so mediocre? Their first album still sounds so superior to anything by Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead, Country Joe and the Fish of the same era and style. They flew so high and fell so far... (drugs and mental illness).
Kurt: Boston to Breslau, Moby Grape rocked my socks!!
mrschaffins
good music
Did a guy they called Moose ever play base with the band?
kvons1
Fantastic and seriously under-rated & overlooked group. I remember them getting a fair amount of attention and air-play on the better FM rock stations in the Boston area at the time although they were much more popular in the SF area. Days of youth---grea t times and music indeed.
bevbevan
Moby Grape was not only the most talented band to come out of San Francisco, they were the best band out of SF to see and hear live. Like a shooting star, they made their mark and left an incredible catelog of music.
babablowfish
Moby Grape was an extraordinar y band whose music remains as listenable today as when it first came out. I disagree with Richie Unterberger: Wow was a great album. Moby Grape 69 also gave us some great songs. Check out the song All My Life on the album Legendary Grape - it was recorded later but has all of the energy of their earlier stuff. Skip Spence's son Omar performs his father's song Seeing on youtube: http://www.y o u t u b e . c o m / w a t c h ? v = b w C H 8 T W P j A E
zrkent
Yes, agreed, He and 8:05 are unbelievable . . . . . w h a t a tight, brilliant, group of guys, for the time they were together. Crazy good.
doozersnh
Tight harmonies, well written tunes with great hooks, great guitar work in an era when none of this stuff was commonplace. The entire first album is great, and in my opinion belongs in the top 10-20 of post-Beatle work. "Seeing" on '69 is pretty wild as well.
Hey there pandora, play more moby grape!!! thanks!!!
railroadbill 3 5 1
THE premier band of the "San Francisco Sound". Had egos and psyches not been bruised and battered they would have been bigger that The Grateful Dead.
And Tom, the Arthur Godfrey cameo was on WOW.."Just Like Gene Autry: A Foxtrot" (Spence)...r e c o r d e d at 78 RPM includes a guest appearance by Arthur Godfrey, who reads the spoken introduction and plays ukulele. It was Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper that sat in on Grape Jam . And though it was much looser, and improvisatio n a l than WOW, it hardly "
8:05 a classic grape song
this is great music I love it it brings back many memories
ranchodement o
I was lucky enough to see these guys several times in 1967 - the energy from the stage, the 3 way guitar talk, the through-the- r o o f vocals, the incredible range of songs, they had it all...
dmlp1960
Funky-Tunk, Murder in my Heart for the Judge & Just like Gene Autry ; A Foxtrot are awesome tunes. Talk about a band with range.... WOW!
The first three albums I bought when I arrived in S.F. in 1967 were Sgt. Pepper's, Fresh Cream and Moby Grape. The second night there, I saw Moby Grape at the Berkeley Community Theater. They were amazingly tight, given all the guitar interplay. Don't overlook WOW as a good recording. Grape Jam does suck (even with the cameo by Arthur Godfrey) but songs like He, Murder In My Heart For The Judge, Bitter Wind, Motorcycle Irene and Miller's Blues are classics.
Check out the album Oar by Skip Spence
baynol
I got a rec from a guy at work who was in San Fran in the late 1960's, & have investigated this group. They were just a name to me before. They are really good, & should have had more success & fame than they did.

We didn't appreciate how good we had it, 1965-1976... . . .
R.I.P. Skip Spence...you will be remembered.
I really think these guys are underrated.
ron.steele6
check out 8:05 ...it is the best song they did
Check out the song "He," which just played on my Pandora Radio. I've liked Moby Grape and Skip Spence for a while now. I had never heard this song. It is extraordinar y ! Wow. Talk about gorgeous songwriting, arranging, and execution on every level. This is a new favorite of mine. It puts me in a very peaceful and groovy place. Super!
MOBY GRAPE IS THE BEST F**KIN' BAND EVER!!!!!!!! !

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