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Moby Grape. (2009, January 11). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 03:00, January 21, 2009, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Moby_Grape&oldid=263433079

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Moby Grape is an American rock group from the 1960s, known for having all five members contribute to singing and songwriting[1] and that collectively merged elements of folk music, blues, country, and jazz together with rock and psychedelic music. Due to the strength of their debut album, several critics consider Moby Grape to be the best rock band to emerge from the San Francisco music scene in the late sixties. The group continues to perform occasionally. As described by Jeff Tamarkin, "The Grape's saga is one of squandered potential, absurdly misguided decisions, bad-luck, blunders and excruciating heartbreak, all set to the tune of some of the greatest rock and roll ever to emerge from San Francisco. Moby Grape could have had it all, but they ended up with nothing, and less."[2]

The group was formed in late 1966 in San Francisco, at the initiation of Skip Spence and Matthew Katz. Both were previously associated with Jefferson Airplane""Spence as the band's first drummer, playing on their first album, Jefferson Airplane Takes Off, and Katz as the band's manager. Both had been dismissed by the group. Katz encouraged Spence to form a band similar to Jefferson Airplane, with varied songwriting and vocal work by several group members, and with Katz as the manager.[3] According to Peter Lewis, "Matthew (Katz) brought the spirit of conflict into the band. He didn't want it to be an equal partnership. He wanted it all."[4]

The band name, judicially determined to have been chosen by Bob Mosley and Skip Spence, came from the punch line of the joke "What's big and purple and lives in the ocean?".[5] Lead guitarist Jerry Miller and drummer Don Stevenson (both formerly of The Frantics, originally based in Seattle)[6] joined guitarist (and son of actress Loretta Young) Peter Lewis (of The Cornells), bassist Bob Mosley (of The Misfits, based in San Diego)[7] and Spence, now on guitar instead of drums. Jerry Miller and Don Stevenson had moved The Frantics from Seattle to San Francisco after a 1965 meeting with Jerry Garcia, then playing with The Warlocks at a bar in Belmont, California. Garcia encouraged them to move to San Francisco. Once The Frantics were settled in San Francisco, Bob Mosley joined the band.[8]

While Jerry Miller was the principal lead guitarist, all three guitarists played lead at various points, often playing off against each other, in a guitar form associated with Moby Grape as "crosstalk".[9] The other major band at the time with a three guitar setup was Buffalo Springfield. Moby Grape's music has been described by Geoffrey Parr as follows: "Probably the most unique thing about Moby Grape was their guitar playing. No rock and roll group has been able to use a guitar trio as effectively as Moby Grape did on Moby Grape. Spence played a distinctive rhythm guitar that really sticks out throughout the album. Lewis, meanwhile, was a very good guitar player overall and was excellent at finger picking, as is evident in several songs. And then there is Miller. ...The way they crafted their parts and played together on Moby Grape is like nothing else I've ever heard in my life. The guitars are like a collage of sound that makes perfect sense."[10]

All band members wrote songs and sang lead and backup vocals for their debut album Moby Grape (1967). Moby Grape has today achieved the status of a highly respected rock album. In 2003, it was ranked as number 121 in Rolling Stone's "500 Greatest Albums of All Time".[11] Noted rock critic Robert Christgau listed it as one of The 40 Essential Albums of 1967.[12] In 2008, Skip Spence's song "Omaha", from the first Moby Grape album, was listed as number 95 in Rolling Stone's "100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time". The song was described as follows: "On their best single, Jerry Miller, Peter Lewis and Skip Spence compete in a three-way guitar battle for two and a quarter red-hot minutes, each of them charging at Spence's song from different angles, no one yielding to anyone else."[13]

In a marketing stunt, Columbia Records immediately released five singles at once, and the band was perceived as being over-hyped. This was during a period in which mainstream record labels were giving unheard of levels of promotion to what was then considered counter-cultural music genres. Nonetheless, the record was critically acclaimed, and fairly successful commercially, with The Move covering the album's "Hey Grandma" (a Miller-Stevenson composition) on their eponymous first album. More recently, "Hey Grandma" was included in the soundtrack to the 2005 Sean Penn-Nicole Kidman film, The Interpreter. Spence's "Omaha" was the only one of the five singles to chart, reaching number 88 in 1967.[14] Miller-Stevenson's "8:05" became a country rock standard (covered by Robert Plant,[15] Guy Burlage, and others).

In mid June 1967 Moby Grape appeared at the now legendary Monterey Pop Festival. Due to legal and managerial disputes, the group was not included in the D.A. Pennebaker produced film of the event, Monterey Pop. Moby Grape's Monterey recordings and film remain unreleased, allegedly because Matthew Katz demanded one million dollars for the rights.[16] According to Peter Lewis, "That was another smart move by Matthew Katz. He told Lou Adler they had to pay us a million bucks to film us at the Monterey Pop Festival. So instead of putting us on Saturday night right before Otis Redding, they wound up putting us on at sunset on Friday when there was nobody in the place." [17] The Moby Grape footage was shown in 2007 as part of the 40th anniversary celebrations of the film. Jerry Miller recalls that Laura Nyro was given Moby Grape's original position opening for Otis Redding, "because everybody was arguing. Nobody wanted to play first and I said that would be fine for me."[18] In addition to the marketing backlash, band members found themselves in legal trouble for charges (later dropped) of consorting with underage females, and the band's relationship with their manager rapidly deteriorated.

The second album, Wow/Grape Jam, released in 1968, was generally viewed as a critical and commercial disappointment, even though the album charted at #20 in the Billboard Pop Albums charts, partially due to the unusual 2 albums for the price of 1 double-album packaging. Though Wow added strings and horns to some songs, their basic sound remained consistent from the debut album, featuring tight harmonies, multiple guitars, imaginative songwriting, and a strong level of musicianship. The Grape Jam LP was one of loose improvised studio jams with outside musicians; this detracted from the stronger tunes on Wow, such as the room-shaking shuffle "Can't Be So Bad." Also in 1968, the band contributed to the soundtrack of the movie The Sweet Ride,[19] and appeared, credited,[20] in the film.

Spence was supposedly never the same after ingesting large quantities of LSD (see also the biographies of Peter Green, Syd Barrett, and Roky Erickson). In the words of Miller: "Skippy changed radically when we were in New York. There were some people there that were into harder drugs and a harder lifestyle, and some very weird shit. And so he kind of flew off with those people. Skippy kind of disappeared for a little while. Next time we saw him, he had cut off his beard, and was wearing a black leather jacket, with his chest hanging out, with some chains and just sweating like a son of a gun. I don't know what the hell he got a hold of, man, but it just whacked him. And the next thing I know, he axed my door down in the Albert Hotel.[21] They said at the reception area that this crazy guy had held an ax to the doorman's head." [22] After spending time in the infamous Tombs jail in New York, Spence was committed to New York's Bellevue Hospital, where he spent six months under psychiatric care.

There is a often-repeated myth that on the day of his release, Skip left Bellevue, jumped on a motorcycle dressed only in his pajamas, and headed straight to Nashville for the recording of "Oar." Skip's former wife Pat says that Skip first came home to the Santa Cruz area, and the whole family went out to Nashville together.[citation needed] In Nashville, Skip recorded his only solo album,Oar, playing all of the instruments and producing the album himself.

Peter Lewis's recollections of this time are as follows: "We had to do (the album) in New York because the producer (David Rubinson) wanted to be with his family. So we had to leave our families and spend months at a time in hotel rooms in New York City. Finally I just quit and went back to California. I got a phone call after a couple of days. They'd played a Fillmore East gig without me, and Skippy took off with some black witch afterward who fed him full of acid. It was like that scene in the Doors movie. He thought he was the anti-Christ. He tried to chop down the hotel room door with a fire axe to kill Don [Stevenson] to save him from himself. He went up to the 52nd floor of the CBS building where they had to wrestle him to the ground. And Rubinson pressed charges against him. They took him to the Tombs (and then to Bellevue) and that's where he wrote Oar. When he got out of there, he cut that album in Nashville. And that was the end of his career. They shot him full of Thorazine for six months. They just take you out of the game."[23]

After the forced departure of Spence, the remaining four members continued recording throughout 1968 and released Moby Grape '69 in January 1969. Spence's "Seeing" (also known as "Skip's Song") was finished by the foursome, and it's one of the highlights. Despite the collaborative effort to complete the song, the songwriting credit was left solely with Spence. Mosley and Lewis wrote some of their best songs for this album. Bob Mosley then left the group, shocking the remaining members by joining the Marines.[24] The remaining three released their final album for Columbia, Truly Fine Citizen, in late 1969. The original five members re-united in 1971 and released 20 Granite Creek for Reprise Records. With Spence gone again, the remainder soldiered on for a few years, and later reunited on several occasions, with and without Spence. Notwithstanding continuing to perform on occasion, the group has never returned to the level of popularity enjoyed in the early Avalon Ballroom/Fillmore Auditorium days.

Bob Mosley and Jerry Miller, together with Michael Been on rhythm guitar (later of The Call) and John Craviotto on drums, recorded an LP that was released in 1976 as Fine Wine on Polydor Records in Germany. Fine Wine was one of several band names used by Moby Grape members during the course of a protracted legal dispute with former manager Matthew Katz over ownership of the Moby Grape name. Other names used for performance or recording purposes included Mosley Grape, Legendary Grape and The Melvilles. The Legendary Grape album, originally released in 1989, is considered by some to be a Melvilles recording.[25] This is because, while it was originally issued as a Moby Grape cassette-only release, former manager Matthew Katz took legal action, with reference to his alleged ownership of the Moby Grape name. The tape was withdrawn, repackaged and reissued as being by The Melvilles.[26] Despite Jerry Miller, Bob Mosley and Peter Lewis continuing to release solo records in the 1990s and 2000s, Moby Grape has not released an album of new material since the release of Legendary Grape in 1989. Jerry Miller considers the 2003 remastered and supplemented CD version of Legendary Grape to be an essential Moby Grape album.[27]

The debut album and Wow/Grape Jam were first released on CD during the late 1980s by the San Francisco Sound label, a company owned by their former manager, Matthew Katz. These releases suffer from mediocre sound and poor quality packaging. It is also contended that Moby Grape has never been properly compensated for recordings released by this label. The 2 CD 1993 Legacy Recordings compilation Vintage: The Very Best of Moby Grape includes their entire first album and most of Moby Grape '69, selected tracks from Wow and Truly Fine Citizen, as well as studio outtakes and alternate versions, in much better quality. This compilation attracted new attention to the band and helped to re-introduce their music to a new audience.

Moby Grape's success was significantly impeded by decades-long legal disputes with their former manager, Matthew Katz. Legal difficulties originated shortly after the group's formation, when Matthew Katz insisted that an additional provision be added to his management contract, giving him ownership of the group name. At the time, various group members were indebted to Katz, who had been paying for apartments and various living costs prior to the group releasing its first album. Despite objecting, group members signed, based in part on an impression that there would be no further financial support from Katz unless they did so. Neil Young, then of Buffalo Springfield, was in the room at the time, and kept his head down, playing his guitar, and saying nothing. According to Peter Lewis, "I think Neil knew, even then, that was the end. We had bought into this process that we should have known better than to buy into."[4] The dispute with Katz became more acute after the group members' rights to their songs, as well as their own name, were signed away in 1973, in a settlement made without their knowledge between Katz and Moby Grape's then manager (and former producer), David Rubinson. It was also a settlement made at a time when Bob Mosley and Skip Spence were generally recognized as being legally incapacitated from the effects of schizophrenia.[28]

In 1994, the group members commenced an action against Matthew Katz, Sony Music Entertainment and CBS Records (Sony being the successor corporation to Columbia Records), seeking to have the settlement overturned. This settlement from 1973 meant that the group members would receive no royalties whatsoever from the well-regarded Vintage: The Best of Moby Grape, which Sony had released as part of its Legacy Records series in 1993 . At the time of the commencement of the lawsuit, Bob Mosley had been homeless in San Diego since the early 1990s, while Skip Spence was living in a residential care facility in northern California.[29] Production of the Vintage collection soon ceased. In 2006, after three decades of court battles, the band finally won back its name. [30][31].

In September 2007, a reunited Moby Grape performed for over 40,000 fans at the Summer of Love 40th Anniversary Celebration in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. In October 2007, Sundazed Records reissued the Grape's first five albums (with bonus tracks) on CD and vinyl . The following month, the label was forced to both withdraw and recall Moby Grape, Wow and Grape Jam from print on both vinyl and CD because of a new lawsuit by former manager Katz. Sundazed stated on their website that they were directed to withdraw the three titles by Sony BMG (inheritors of the band's original label, Columbia), from whom Sundazed had licensed the recordings.[32] These developments have resulted in a particular emotional setback for Bob Mosley. [33]

Homeless for years and suffering from long-term mental illness, alcoholism and a multitude of health ailments, Skip Spence died of lung cancer in 1999, days before his 53rd birthday. Of the four surviving band members, two are still regularly involved with music. Jerry Miller continues to play regularly as as solo artist and as a member of the Jerry Miller Band. Peter Lewis continues to play regularly as a solo acoustic artist and in an acoustic duo with David West. Bob Mosley performs less regularly, both as a solo artist and when Moby Grape occasionally performs. Don Stevenson has rejoined Moby Grape for occasional performances, and has developed business interests outside of the music industry, such as time share sales of recreational property in Whistler, British Columbia, Canada, where he maintains a residence.[8] Moby Grape continues to perform occasionally, performing with core members Jerry Miller, Bob Mosley and Peter Lewis, and in such incarnations as with Skip Spence's son Omar joining on vocals and Jerry Miller's son Joseph on drums.[34]

Moby Grape has been the subject of five fan-initiated tribute albums, whereby Moby Grape songs are covered by fans of the band. The series commenced with Mo'Grape (2000) and Even Mo'Grape (2002) and has been followed by Still Mo' Grape, Forever Mo and Just Say Mo. [35]

Moby Grape is an example of a talented band that, through a combination of mismanagement and inexperience, unfortunately never fully realized its potential. Along with the Flamin' Groovies, they were somewhat of an anomaly in the San Francisco rock scene; their strong roots in country music and early rock and roll seemed to work against them. In addition, perhaps because they were so versatile, their image was somewhat nebulous; as writer Robert Christgau put it, "All they really lacked was a boss, and what could be more American than that?"

Moby Grape. (2009, January 11). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 03:00, January 21, 2009, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Moby_Grape&oldid=263433079

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