Skip Spence - Oar (1969)

Skip Spence was an American singer-songwriter and musician, best known for being a founding member of both Jefferson Airplane and Moby Grape.

Skip Spence was born in Ontario, Canada in 1946, and as a teenager he moved to California with his family. He was first recruited as a guitarist by San Francisco band Quicksilver Messenger Service. However whilst they were rehearsing at The Matrix, the club's owner Marty Balin poached Spence from the group and encouraged him to join the band he was forming as their drummer. That band became Jefferson Airplane, and Spence played on their debut album, after which he left to form his own group (back on guitar again). Moby Grape was formed by Spence, Jerry Miller, Peter Lewis, Bob Mosley and Don Stevenson, and their debut album has gone down in history as one of the greatest of the San Francisco scene.
However whilst with the Grape, Spence began to suffer from mental health issues, perhaps brought about from too much LSD. He spent time in jail, and was eventually diagnosed with schizophrenia and spent six months under psychiatric care.
On his release, the legend goes that he drove down to Nashville on a motorbike, wearing just his pyjamas, to record an album (though apparently that's not quite accurate). Oar was recorded in December 1968, with Spence playing all the instruments, and released the next year on Columbia Records. It was a very strange record, stark and harrowing, the sound of a musician on the brink of mental collapse. The first track, "Little Hands", could have worked as an excellent Moby Grape song, but from there things get more minimalist and unsettling.
Unsurprisingly Oar was not a commerical success, but it has endured today as somewhat of an underground favorite. Sadly Spence never really made it back. Though he contributed to Moby Grape reunions in 1971 and 1978, the rest of his life was ruined by mental illness, drug addiction, alcoholism and homelessness. He died in 1999.

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11 comments:

Doug said...

First,your blog is excellent.And thanks specifically for Skip Spence 'Oar'.Skip's life turned out to a mess but this album is a classic.Cheers.

Elliot Knapp said...

Nice write-up! Stark and harrowing, I agree, but also a lot of humor to be found! Just wrote about it on my music blog too.

savageYHS said...

Your blog *is* excellent! Thanks a lot!

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