Sunday, 29 April 2018

Alexander “Skip” Spence ‎ “Oar”1969 US Psych Folk,Acid Folk


Alexander “Skip” Spence ‎ “Oar”1969 US Psych Folk,Acid Folk
full vk with bonus
https://vk.com/wall-49686613_17011

full spotify with bonus

https://open.spotify.com/album/7sIFcFS96iFIdzLuETglbq



Alexander “Skip” Spence recorded this album in seven days, playing all the instruments himself. The end result is now considered to be a classic psychedelic folk album. The Canadian-born Alexander ‘Skip’ Spence was the co-founder of Moby Grape, and played guitar with them until 1969. In the same year he released his only solo album: Oar…..~ 


Visionary solo album from moby grape/jefferson airplane main man ‘skip’ spence, recorded during his final few days as part of moby grape, as well as at his most mentally fragile. this is a classic peice of san francisco psychedelia drawing on folk, country, jug-band music and blues, yet retaining an identity all of its own thanks to spences unique sonic, lyrical and melodic signature. a great now as it was then…..~ 


The only solo album from this former Jefferson Airplane and Moby Grape cult hero is something of a legend. Cut in four days all by himself, it bombed upon its release in 1969. Nevertheless, Spence’s legend has led to devotion from such fans as Tom Waits, Robert Plant, Beck, and R.E.M.. Oar features quiet, stark folk; odd turns of phrase; old-timey shuffles; playful swing; and pretty melodies croaked out from Spence’s hoarse voice. Generally, the mood is blissed out, with the occasional apocalyptic dread (“Cripple Creek,” “Books of Moses”) and dissociated narratives (“Margaret-Tiger Rug,” “Lawrence of Euphoria”) that came naturally to the poor soul who spent time in psychiatric institutions prior to his death at age 52. This Sundazed reissue includes new liner notes, plus 10 additional tracks, including five previously unissued recordings. –Jason Gross….~


No one except psychedelic Renaissance man Alexander “Skip” Spence could have created an album such as Oar. Alternately heralded as a “soundtrack to schizophrenia” and a “visionary solo effort,” Oar became delegated to cut out and bargain bins shortly after its release in the spring of 1969. However those who did hear it were instantly drawn into Spence’s inimitable sonic surrealism. As his illustrious past in the Jefferson Airplane, Quicksilver Messenger Service, and Moby Grape would suggest, this album is a pastiche of folk and rock. In reality, however, while these original compositions may draw from those genres, each song has the individuality of a fingerprint. As a solo recording, Oar is paramount as Spence performed and produced every sound on the album himself at Columbia Records studios in Nashville in the space of less than two weeks. This burst of creativity was directly preceded by a six month incarceration in New York City’s Bellevue Hospital after chopping down a door at the Albert Hotel en route to do the same to fellow Moby Grape members Jerry Miller and Don Stevenson. A common motif to this album is the presence of saints and demons. Even the straightforward narratives such as the love ballad “Broken Heart” or “Cripple Creek” – which feature vocal treatments reminiscent of folkie Fred Neil – are bathed in unusual chord sequences and lyrical double-entendre. The majority of the sounds on this long-player remain teetering near the precipice of sanity. Primary examples include “War in Peace,” the epic “Grey/Afro,” and the sound effect-laden “Books of Moses.” Comparisons have been made to Syd Barrett, John Lennon, and Frank Zappa – the latter especially for the intense sonic collage techniques displayed on albums such as Lumpy Gravy and Civilization Phase III. In 1999, Sundazed Music issued what is considered the final word on Oar, which has been remastered and boasts over 20 minutes of additional material prepared by Spence. The album’s lasting legacy is also captured on an all-star tribute CD to Spence titled More Oar…. by Lindsay Planer ….allmusic…~



Alexander Spence’s “Oar” is simultaneously one of the simplest AND most complex albums I’ve ever heard. Successive re-issues unearthed additional pieces to this absorbed and absorbing masterpiece with Edsel’s reissue of the album in the late eighties, Sony Music Special Products’ 1991 version with appended bonus tracks and especially Sundazed’s definitive 1999 reissue. Each issue in turn allowed for a widening perspective on this mesmerising work with many excellent bonus tracks in attendance. But the original “Oar” album still stands alone as a dense and beguiling statement and one as delicate as a moment whose passing is immediately felt and never forgotten…as delicate and rare as a hand-carved snowflake sculpted out of a hollowed-out eggshell as viewed through a back lit strobe projection where outlines are only intimated as shadows flicker into a tiny dance within and without. 

Originally conceived as a double album, “Oar” was a prodigious outpouring of Spence’s kaleidoscopically absorbed expressions. From acoustic balladry, country-seasoned laments, ribald conclusions and unswervingly elongated irrigations a silent weight hangs upon every word, every chord and even the drumming is an altogether otherworldly rhythmic device that rolls on unfettered by its dropped beats and minor lapses of tempo. But all instrumentation, handled entirely by Spence, is as unique as it is unvarnished as it all gathers and collects within the limitations of its already archaic sonic environment: fitting perfectly into what would yield two reels of half-inch, 3-track tape over four days of recording in Nashville solitude during the first weeks of December 1968. 

The sound is a mid-range to bass huddle against a curiously structured muddle where relief and insight have nestled into each other. And while unpredictable in its calm erratic-ness, Spence’s vocals whisper and continually descend into the lowest of registers: lackadaisically parched as though enduring an interminable period of thirst while rising above the dry heat of isolation as his migratory mind retaining a playful sense and alertness driven on by concentration as he unloads ruminations on love, women, death, jaunty japes and x-rated sauce that run a fragile but determined orbit whose persistence remains for all their wholly unorthodox sound organisations. But the minor miscues and slip ups that occasionally surface do not hamper the inner drive Spence applied to these recordings. For even after Moby Grape producer David Rubinson and Don Meehan mixed his produced masters and manipulating them with equalisation and compression techniques to bolster the sound of the room, they still sounded entirely at peace as they languished thousands of miles from home. 

With the spirit of life-changing conclusions coinciding with the break of day, “Little Hands” opens the album in an entirely compassionate display. Then on the next track, Spence’s vocals drops to a lower baritone for the deathbed revelations of “Cripple Creek” as gracefully picked acoustic guitar lines slip in underneath with cyclical warp and woof, warmly accompanied by a minor increase in tape hiss in only one of the many scattered, quiet touches that grace the album with understated texturing. The devotional “Diana” follows, its one-named title evoked over and over as the drums are thrown to the back of the mix to let the main acoustic plaintively mingle with muted electric guitar underpinnings. The gentle “Margaret-Tiger Rug” is sweetly quiet in approach and rendered with vocals, bass and drums alone. “Weighted Down” is where “Oar” slows down in mood and delivery to 0 RPM as though set to the rhythm of lapping waves during low tide: 

“Weighted down…by possessions… 
Weighted down…by the gun… 
Waited down…by the river… 
For you…to come…” 

Although this chorus will return to circle slowly overhead all by its lonesome, Spence’s emotional tone never falls prey to self-pity. Even sadder, there’s an undeniable and heart-bursting sense of a higher judgment being quietly accepted and served behind every syllable. The weightless “War In Peace” is an emanation from eternity’s echo chamber. Spence’s electric lead guitar bursts in midway – chipped, fragmentary and falling like glittering silt as echoed whispering and whistling crisscross the patch of snapped tight hit-hats and bass lines like posts demarcating an unswerving boundary into the distance. By the time the electric guitar solo arrives, the infamously shattered “Sunshine Of Your Love” riff is already stumbling down a ravine in slow motion hitting branches, bouncing off rocks and causing landslides while atomic particles just collect and disperse in its wake until finally breaking down into a cosmic freefall beyond their once dimensional limitations. 

Side two opens with the slow country paces of “Broken Heart” in a gentle enumeration of life’s deadlocking foibles as Spence’s highly echoed vocals pick up on Johnny Cash’s ancient reverberations. “All Come To Meet Her” is a beautiful viber and a half, as Spence’s double tracked soothing/humming soon weaves gracefully into sung verse of words with gentle e-guitar unpinning. ‘Iridescent’ comes to mind, as it does throughout the rest of “Oar.” The folk ballad “Books Of Moses” cuts in with a backdrop of sheeting rain, thunderclaps and stone tablets being chiseled right there in Columbia Studios, Nashville against Spence’s acoustic guitar cycles and hoarsely-raised-though-whispered vocals. Booming bass drum accenting explodes in the far distance and only clears with the direct crossfade into “Dixie Peach Promenade,” a bright and sunny amble whose assessment “I could use me some yin for my yang” is winking, goofball simplicity as well as horny to the nth degree. “Lawrence Of Euphoria” continues Spence’s ribald trend hilariously with incurably sore throat vox and a one string scattershot acoustic as his Humpty Dumpty bass plonks out all bouncy and buoyant like a Vic Saywell tuba line. Which makes sense, as he’s gearing up for whipping out his wang-dang-doodle with Vivian from Oblivion and Ella Mae from Cal-li-fore-nye-ay. 

With an opening twilight bass pattern the conclusion of the album is reached with the expansive “Grey/Afro,” an odyssey that plunges immediately into mystery and stays shrouded there in vibe there while emanating impenetrability as it nudges further and further into itself. Its only guide is Spence’s whispery adorations accompanied by bass plucks from the ether via electronic treatments that place it more in the realm of tabla playing than any stringed instrumentation while his drumming operates as a background sound wash steeped in electronic phasing as the rolling snare fills clattering into a stream of modulations that surf an ocean of sine wave hiss rather than existing as strictly rhythmic framing devices. This song suspends animation, disbelief and you’ll never, ever figure out the lyrics. But at this point, it’ll hardly matter because its static qualities are transcendental to the extreme. 
Alexander Spence didn’t so much play music on “Oar” as much as he let the music play him. And it coursed out like a river of the universe steeped through his mind, heart and soul. Powered by strength of composition and a singularity of innovation too far ahead of the curve, it was guided by traditional influences that were generously bestowed with the boundless, golden reins of a visionary imagination. And “Oar” is as unconstructed and sparse as it is sublime and moving. …Julian Cope Head Heritage….~


Considering the circumstances in which Skip made this album,the music is pretty inspirational to me.And I am far past the “Phase” in my life where I judged how good the music was based on how psychedelic it was.This music somehow manages to be as “out there” as possible while at the same time containing an emotional sincerity in it that is almost unheard of in music.I mean even on songs like “Weighted Down” where it is just him and an acoustic guitar for six minutes it doesn’t seem to drag at all for me and I always end up listening to the whole thing.Other songs such as “War in Peace” and “Grey/Afro” are as psychedelic as “The Doors” at their craziest.“Grey/Afro” sounds like music made by a man who knew he was headed for an inevitable collapse,but still thought it was a good idea to record some jams.It sounds like a dance with death.Yet as dark as this album sometimes is other songs like “Diana” and “Broken Heart” are comforting even though you can hear the pain in his voice.Though I doubt Skip ever thought this album would be a hit,I think he knew that people would find their way to it over time and when they did he wanted their to be as much of his love in it as he could have possibly given.He gave all he had.This is a great album that definitley will not appeal to everyone,but that is their loss.Not everyone can hear the magic….by… W. March…~


This is surely one of the most unique and raw works of pure brilliance I have ever heard. Every single song, song after song, is just as powerful as the last. Its as if this album is a ticket straight into the psyche of this man, it doesn’t get any more real than this. I mean, the man recorded it completely by himself. He wrote all the songs, wrote all the lyrics and vocal melodies, played all the instruments, and he even recorded it by himself. He was the only person in the house it was recorded in, period, nobody else there. And that self-determination and rawness absolutely comes through on this record. It feels like this guy is just sitting in a room alone playing these heartfelt and evocative songs just for himself, and someone happened to record it and issue it. The songs are truly by him and for him. But its not to serious either. There’s still some humor, and him laughing in between tracks. There’s romance, there’s tragedy, there’s happiness, there’s pure joy coming out of this recording, and most of all, there’s hope for how the future will unfold itself. This record is minimalistically beautiful. An absolutely must have, and at the very least, you should give it a listen. If you like it, you;ll love it. If you don’t, hey, its not for everybody. Just don’t go into it expecting anything, i.e. Moby Grape, Syd Barrett, etc., since it is truly like nothing else. One of my favorite of all time. Its stands up against the greatest….by….Colin….~


“Oar” has the dubious distinction of being the worst selling album in the massive Columbia Records catalog, and it effectively torpedoed the professional music career of Skip Spence. In 1969, Skip was committed to Bellvue Hospital after a drug fueled rampage with a fireman’s axe, in a Manhattan hotel, while on tour with Moby Grape. Following his release from Bellevue, Skip headed to Nashville and recorded “Oar” a stunning coda to Moby Grape, the Summer of Love and his career. 
Skip cobbled this album together with few resources aside from his own musical brilliance. The frequent comparisons to Syd Barrett really don’t hold up. Skip was in full command of his mental facilities during the “Oar” sessions and to praise this album as the work an “acid casualty” is to trivialize the visionary intent of “Oar”. True…this album has inspired an entire genreration of do-it-yourself, low-fi, outsider music but Skip’s singular talent demands that “Oar” be accepted on it’s own terms. Beneath the pastoral feel of “Oar” lurks a knotty tension that threatens to explode, even on a “good time” song like “Lawrence of Euphoria”. It’s all there…the full range of Skip’s struggle with sanity… the creeping paranoia, the mania, the isolation and finally a sense of resignation. “Grey/Afro” a circular drum-driven tour de force is “Oar’s” touchstone. This is where all of Skip’s conflicting emotions collide in a mantra that slowly builds into a frenzy of disjointed drumming only to collapse and restart almost endlessly. It’s listening to a stalled automobile trying to kick over, again and again. 
In 1989, I caught up with Skip Spence who had lived in and out of homeless shelters for many years since “Oar”. He was using psychotropic medications and finally had his own apartment in San Jose California. Skip never lost sight of the fact that he was first and foremost a musician and was always trying to get back in the game. Skip was writting some exceptional music, which he said was “floating around” on tape somewhere. I hope that music eventually sees the light of day because it is the equal of anything on “Oar”. Skip seemed geneuinely suprised that I knew the Moby Grape classic “Omaha” and could sing and play the song along with him. Skip told me he always considered “Oar” to be his ultimate artistic statement and hoped that someday it would find an audience, however small. From time to time he’d send me a funny postcard, even though we’d met only once for a couple of hours. His last postcard said a group of great musicians were recording a tribute album to “Oar” and he was plotting the biggest comeback in the history of mankind. Skip’s death went unreported by most of the major news services and I read about his passing on an internet site devoted to noted homeless people, three weeks after his death. I wish he would have stuck around long enough to finish his comeback….by Gavin B….~


Perhaps it’s fitting that in their 9-20-69 review of Alexander Spence’s one and only solo effort, 'Oar’, the album liner notes are misquoted, taking David Rubinson’s description of the album as “an oasis of undersell” and misquoting it as “an oasis of understatement”. While Spence’s 'Oar’ definitely undersold (it is currently and perhaps perpetually lodged dead last in Columbia Records sales catalog), Spence is anything but understated here. Sales aren’t everything, however, and there certainly are recordings aplenty that have eclipsed 'Oar’ in sales, yet possess much less artistic worth, and make a much smaller statement, than 'Oar’. 

The history behind 'Oar’ is enough to pique just about anyone’s curiosity. Spence was a lead performer for the late 1960’s rock band 'Moby Grape’, and while on tour in New York City, he wound up sidetracked into a six month stay at the Bellevue psychiatric facility following a harrowing incident involving a fire axe and his bandmate’s hotel room door. While holed up in Bellevue, Spence penned the twelve songs that became 'Oar’, and left a number of compositions on the editing room floor that eventually became fodder for bonus tracks on this CD. 

One could imagine the music that constitutes 'Oar’ as the type of thing that Ted Kacynski (the Unabomber) or John Nash ('A Beautiful Mind’) might thrive on, not unlike Charles Manson thriving on Lennon and McCartney. It’s a fine line between madness and genius. The Ted Kacynski analogy carries additional weight after reading more of Rubinson’s liner notes, describing late 1960’s music as “technocracy…whereby the act of creation is purely a function of its degree of technical complexity”. Given that line of thought, it’s surprising Spence wasn’t sending packages to the 1910 Fruitgum Company and The Archies. Imagine calling music a “technocracy”, at a time when artists such as The Stooges and Tim Buckley were offering up their best. Trying to make sense out of 'Oar’, however, may be completely contrary to what 'Oar’ is, which at many times seems to be the epitome of nonsensicality. The lyrics are often unintelligible, and when intelligible they are often incomprehensible. Occasionally, a nicely turned phrase or glorious descriptor emerges, but most often it is engulfed in well vocalized gibberish. Despite much of this being indecipherable, Spence’s vocalizations are not without appeal, much as scat singing utilizes the voice as a musical instrument. Unfortunately, you often get the impression Spence IS mouthing words, and the effort to interpret can become tedious. Interestingly, Spence’s instrumental backing (he plays all the instruments on the disc, mostly acoustic guitars, bass, and drums) is the perfect accompaniment for these seemingly imperfect lyrics. While Spence hits a groove just often enough to maintain a sense of cohesion, there are frequent changes in tempo, melody, and every other componant of what we traditionally know as music. Spence also possesses tremendous vocal range, and at times sounds like an entirely different person. The instrumentals mirror this characteristic as well. There are times when you will surely say to yourself, “wow, I’ve never heard anything like this before”. 

'Oar’ possesses a rather stark quality due to Spence’s choice of “2-track master tapes” (Sundaze Records), or “an old 3-track machine” (David Fricke’s liner notes). The better tracks do possess the more traditional elements of music as we know it, such as the two opening tracks, the amusing 'Dixie Peach Promenade’ (with its memorable “I could use some yin for my yang”), the comical little pseudo-sexual ditty, 'Lawrence of Euphoria’, and the bonus track 'Furry Heroine’, which may be the most melodious track in the litter. 

Perhaps insanity is contagious, because after listening to 'Oar’ I’m sure that I’m never going to listen to it again, while at the same time certain that I’ll have to. The only thing restraining the draw of this music is the insulation surrounding your audio cords. Its invitation mimics the inscription on the disc itself, “I think we could be great friends… what do you think… what do you think?” There are several sets of informative liner notes offered along with numerous photographs in the inlay. This disc certainly won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. There is a reason it’s at the bottom of Columbia’s sales chart. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a masterpiece…..By Don Schmittdiel….~


One of the oddest and most affecting personal documents ever put to music. Ex-Jefferson Airplane/Moby Grape member Skip Spence made this totally DIY album in 1968; it was to be his last one before schizophrenia permanently sidelined him. Personally and musically sharing some of the same sad/brilliant territory as Syd Barrett, “Oar” has perhaps a more singular, intentional artistic direction than Barrett’s work did. Spence’s condition seemed to give birth to an entire style of Blues - beautifully honest and confessional viewpoints that we’re richer for hearing. There are moments of lightness and subtle humour here too, and a fascination with the way Spence’s ghostly, minimalist guitar and percussion so effectively embellish his unsettling interior sketches. This CD edition has an extra 10 tracks (nearly doubling the length of the original release), and a 14-page booklet with essays and photos…by..Rik K…~



Some of the songs on Oar are similar to the darkly hued folk of Dylan’s John Wesley Harding but other songs are reminiscent of the Beatles White Album mix of funny lighthearted songs and sparsely orchestrated love songs. Little Hands is the first track and the one that would be the most likely single if this album had lasted long enough to have any radio play. “Little hands clapping all over the world……” A very catchy opener. Diana is a White album style love song. “O O Diana”. As is the beautifully tripped out “All Come To Meet Her”. Cripple Creek and Books of Moses are more deep dark folk, the latter has been covered by Tom Waits. Lawrence of Euphoria will put a grin on your face, its like one of the fun songs on the White album. Lennon and Dylan were certainly influences on Skip as they were on everyone else but also Skip has a San Fransisco summer of love side to him. He drummed and wrote songs on the Airplanes first and co-founded Moby Grape and wrote that bands best known song Omaha, “Listen my friends…”, R.E.M. covered that one. That summer of love sensibility comes across but in a twisted way as Skip quotes the classic cream guitar chords of Sunshine of Your Love but he uses it in a way to comment on that summer of love in a darkly ironic and menacing way. One can sense Skip like many others felt disappointed by the dark direction the sixties took. This record reflects and perhaps documents the dark descent of the late sixties from the mind enhancing euphoria of 67’s L.S.D. to the total mind eclipse of 69’s heroin. One of the extra tracks included is Fuzzy Heroin(Halo of Gold), which Beck has covered. A very impressive record that is so spare(just Skip thumping a Bass mostly while singing) that it is hard to date and doesn’t sound like a time capsule because it tells its stories in a very personal way. It is very raw honest music with humor that shines through it as well and it continues to find listeners because Skips sound is so pure. This record has both the good points and the bad points of the White album style of recording. One of the good points is that many of these songs are first takes and therefore that raw emotional content is captured while still raw. The bad points include some incomplete and fragmented songs that could have ,given the chance, evolved into something more. More often than not though the technique which was one chosen out of necessity(only allotted four days studio time)works….By Doug Anderson…~


If Death ever picks up a few chords and takes it to the studio, the result is likely to sound a lot like this. From the haunted vocals of “Cripple Creek,” the choking heart of “Diana” and the ferocious guitar licks on “War In Peace,” perhaps the album’s best track, something darkly powerful lurks beneath the surface of this masterpiece. Amid so many tossed-off attempts at marketable psychedelia in Spence’s day, this is one of the few with at least an air of authenticity. Though as song after well-wrought song unfolds, it becomes less of an “air” and much more of the real thing. Equally as startling as Spence’s sense for great songwriting is the range of voices and tones he explores. The oddly comforting “Little Hands” descends into the possessed “Cripple Creek.” “Books of Moses” might as well be the only recorded vocal performance of Moses himself, it sounds that rusty and raw; yet this too floats quietly into that other end of Skip’s endless spectrum with the unassuming “Dixie Peach Promenade.” 
Skip’s story is the stuff of legend now: frustrated with Jefferson Airplane’s refusal to allow the guitarist any more than the role of a drummer, he fled to the briefly brilliant Moby Grape before strapping his guitar to his back and taking a motorcycle ride to Nashville, where he recorded this album in a haze of drugs and alienation. His is one of those cases in which the confidence of genius is the thing that kept him from glory in his day, but assured him a longer-lasting spotlight among the rock 'n roll immortals. The indignity of his mental illness and the decades he spent wasting away in asylums is compounded only by the alleged “tribute album” released for him in 1999. The hope was that it would pay his medical expenses, but Spence died just around the release of the album. Even so, why guys like the squealing money-bags of rock, Robert Plant, couldn’t simply cut a check for the man’s bills rather than releasing this “tribute album,” bound to fail commercially because hardly anyone living had given a second’s thought to its tributee in at least thirty years, is beyond me. At least it served up a classic rendition of “Book of Moses” by the always reliable Tom Waits, as well as a weirdly effective cover of “Halo of Gold” by Beck. Yet only one or two of the various artists featured on the tribute has ever managed the simultaneously accessible and challenging music Spence achieved on this, his only solo album. A solid affair from start to finish, it testifies to the combination of talent and substance so rarely bestowed upon the music world….ByGianmarco Manzione….~ 


This obscure '69 masterpiece is often overlooked when many look back on that most trippiest of decades. Yet, the irony is, this record is a direct answer to how far you can push the boundaries of reality and the dark consequences that await those who “trip” too far away from the real world. Alexander “Skip” Spence started his brief career as the drummer for Jefferson Airplane(wrote one of their hit singles “My Best Friend”) and had a short previous stint with fellow California acid rockers The Quicksilver Messenger service. Yet both roles in these bands would be short lived as Skip yearned for a leading position, preferably guitarist/vocalist. He soon got his wish(for the most part)when he and a few other talented musicians formed Moby Grape in '67. Their debut album was a minor success and some look upon them as an American answer to the Beatles given time. Skip however soon folded while on tour with the band, in an acid inducded freak out he chopped down the drummer’s door with a fire axe. Skip was soon booted from the band and recuperated in a mental instiution. After he left the ward, he bought a motorcylce and drove to Nashville where he recorded Oar for Columbia records. Most of the material was written while he was in jail and in the ward. The album immediately sunk like a stone and got the reputation as one of the most major dudes in Columbia’s enitre catalogue. Skip soon after faded entirely from the music industry. With hindsight this album is even more beautiful. Skip was adressing what happens after the ride ends, when Timothy Leary’s colorful theorys breed insanity and in the aftermath how do you continue? The album seems divided between mostly acoustic psychedelia and simple folk blues and Skip for the most part executes each perfectly. “Little Hands” is a great opener, calm and peaceful yet so seeminly sweet its almost scary. In “Weighted Down” Skip laments his losses, and reflects on his situation and how everything seemed to come crashing down upon him. At turns sad and melancholy yet also humorous and witty, Skip seems to be more intact than Syd Barrett was when he recorded his two post breakdown albums. I highly reccomend this album to anybody who likes folk or psychedelia because this recording is a true masterpiece of both genres. Another incentive to purchase it, is the great packaging, Sun Records really outdid themselves, finding the original masters and digitally filtering them, the clarity is stunning and so are the liner notes. Anyways happy listening….By Jack Barrett….~


Alexander “Skip” Spence was one of the great unheralded architcts of the 60s music scene. He was an exceptionally talented drummer, guitarist, and songwriter, whose compositions and performances combined the hippest modern sounds of the day with authentic elements of American roots music to create an earthy, original, and incredibly influential sound. As a founding member of three of the West Coast’s most important groups (The Quicksilver Messenger Service, Jefferson Airplane, and Moby Grape, in that order), Spence was one of the key players in the San Fransisco-based psychedelic scene. 

Spence also had his share of personal prolems- perhaps the most serious of these was his schizophrenia. In 1968 (after reportedly attempting to break into one of his fellow Grape members’ hotel room with an axe), he was sent to the criminal ward at Bellvue Hospital in New York. When he got out six months later, he had little more than hospital-issue pyjamas and a notebook full of songs. Wanting to be alone with his music, Spence decided not to return to California, and instead rode down to Nashville, where he recorded what he’d written in Bellvue. The recording process was an incredibly solitary affair- Spence sang, played all of the instruments, and produced. The resultng album was Oar. After its release in 1969, Spence rode off on a motorcycle (don’t ask me where he got it) and never recorded again. 

With that in mind, it really is hard to see Oar as anything other than a glimpse into the mind of a doomed visionary. And really, that’s what it is. The songs are stark and uncompromising, written and performed without the slightest concession to commerciality or accessibility. Listening to them, one gets the feeling that Spence was trying to create the most emotionally honest music he possibly could, to create a body of work that captured exactly who he was and how he felt at a given point in time. This doesn’t make for an instantly accessable experience- that probably explains why the album sold so badly on initial release- but repeated listenings reveal a set of tense, poetic, and often beautiful songs, the work of a brilliant but deeply disturbed young man who was hanging somewhere on the edge of sanity. 

The first thing you should know about the sound of Oar is that it’s not really a psychedelic album- the songs are certainly unusual, full of strange rhythms, odd melodies, obscure lyrics, and other experimental flourashes, but these touches aren’t the heart of Oar’s concept. Instead, Spence takes most of his cues from folk, blues, country, gospel, and occasionally jazz, folding these various influences into a unique sound under the auspicies of his off-kilter approach to songwriting. The songs are quiet, performed mostly with accoustic guiars, gentle drums, and softly intoned vocals. They’re also incredibly dense, with melodies hiding in the heavy production, with Spence’s lyrical insights drifting among disjointed guitar chords and softly beating drums. “Margaret-Tiger Rug” is based on an inside-out vaudville melody and a bit of whispering, ponderous percussion which combines with Spence’s eerily dark lyrics to form a genuinly unsettling song. The incredible “Books of Moses” is an apocalyptic accoustic blues, which matches a creeping, gospel-tinged guitar riff with Spence’s hoarse, menacing vocal performance. “Broken Heart,” “Dixie Peach Promenade,” and “Weighted Down (The Prison Song)” are dark, atmospheric country numbers that seem to channel the dark ghost of Hank Williams. “Cripple Creek” is a heavy, halucinatory folk song with surreal, evocative lyrics, and “Little Hands” is a genuinly catchy almost-anthem for outcasts and wayward dreamers. “Diana” is an oddly gorgeous ballad that sees Spence painting pictures with the sheer sound of his voice while a guitar mumbles beneath. “War in Peace” is about as close as this album gets to psychedelia, with its siren song vocals and atmospheric electric guitar. “All Come to Meet Her” is a dreamy song that features some gently rolling rhythms and lilting guitars. “Lawrence From Euphoria” is a mean, oddly funny number that cleans the pallate and sets the stage for the album’s incredible closer, the epic “Grey/Afro.” Building itself up from a tense, omnious vocal melody to a full-n instrumental showcase, “Grey/Afro” is a stormy, atmospheric classic that shows off Spence’s unique powers as a drummer. 
This reissue of the album tacks on ten bonus tracks from the Oar sessions and includes some excellent exapanded liner notes (including two essays, Greil Marcus’ review, and the record’s original sleeve notes) makeing it the definitive edition of this lost classic. If you want to hear some truly original, unusual (or just plain good) music, you owe it to yourself to pick up a copy of Oar. If its songs repel you at first, give it time; it really is a great album……By  Laszlo Matyas….~






Having been a big fan of Syd Barrett’s music for many, many years, I had always heard whispered rumours about Skip Spence, along with many other so-called acid casualties like Peter Green, Brian Wilson & Co. So a few weeks ago–after re-reading Jello Biafra’s remarks in Re/Search no. 15, “Incredibly Strange Music, vol. 2”–I finally special-ordered “Oar” in order to hear what all the hype was about. And from the start, the album was incredible. True it is that certain songs don’t measure up to the better ones (so give them three stars, if you will) but majestic tunes like “Little Hands,” “Diana,” “War in Peace,” “Books of Moses” and “Grey / Afro” deserve seven stars out of five, if not more! Frankly, I have never been a fan of Moby Grape’s music; and much the same holds true for the Jefferson Airplane. But having now discovered “Oar,” I find that anything touched by Skip Spence takes on a new meaning (take the Jefferson Airplane’s “My Best Friend” as an example). In addition to this, one thing that is never touched upon by the critics and commentators is that “Oar” in many ways seems a commentary Dylan’s “John Wesley Harding” (listen to Spence’s “Broken Heart” next to Dylan’s “I Dreamed I Saw Saint Augustine” and you’ll know what I mean). Spence, I feel, insisted on being recorded in Nashville because he wanted the sparse sound that Dylan had recently achieved there. Both albums seem acts of repentance–that is to say, the recognition that one’s own artistic ego has finally gone too far, resulting in disastrous consequences. In Dylan’s case, the repentence–while no doubt sincere–seems calculated and conscious; in Spence’s case, repentence seems necessary in order to survive: a sigh from the depths, suspiria de profundis…..By  Chambers Willy…~ 



I always thought that Skip Spence was the least technically proficient of Moby Grape’s three guitarist/vocalists, but that he always made up for it with unmatched manic energy and that unquantifiable magic in his songwriting that few career songwriters manage to conjure. Of course, by 1969 and the release of this much-celebrated (but still obscure) solo album, Skip (now billed as Alexander) was long gone from the ranks of Moby Grape. There’s a lot of mythology surrounding Spence’s departure from the band, his time in Bellevue Hospital and the genesis of this album, which has generated a sort of Syd Barrett-like reputation for Spence as some sort of acid messiah. While I think it’s easy to project an impression of the man’s mental state onto this collection of songs, I think it holds up as fascinating and idiosyncratic work without reading too much into or presuming too much about its creator’s psyche. 

Probably the album’s defining characteristic is that it was recorded in seven days with Spence playing all of the instruments (mostly guitar, bass and drums), which gives the album a loose, tentative feel that occasionally comes across as sort of half-assed and shambling. What continually fascinates me on repeated listens, though, is that the rushed, uncertain mood sort of fades away like a patina being polished to reveal songwriting that’s often full of musical nuances and clever wordplay and not nearly as tossed-off as it seems. Like Syd Barrett, Spence has a reputation for sort of spontaneously firing great material out of his drug and illness-wracked brain, but, like Barrett I think he’s a lot more in control than the songs’ cowboy ballad structures and sketchy, plodding arrangements would suggest. Take the tongue-in-cheek mockery of Eastern religion-obsessed hippies of “Dixie Peach Promenade,” the hilarious wordplay of “Broken Heart” (“an Olympic super swimmer whose belly doesn’t flop/a super race car driver whose pit it can’t be stopped”) or the more somber punning “weighted/waited” turnaround of the country lament, “Weighted Down (The Prison Song).” Spence clearly has a knack for sharp satire, a taste for evocative images and an eye for the overall structure and flow that is so crucial to “classically” good songwriting. 

While the album’s songs veer toward a folk/country ballad style more often than not, it wouldn’t have gained its cult status without some overt psychedelia–the opening “Little Hands” has the album’s most hippie-ish message and amply demonstrates Spence’s ability to blend droning acoustic guitar with clean electric parts for a unique texture. This palette reappears on the hazy “All Come to Meet Her,” the closer, “Grey/Afro,” which drones a little aimlessly but pays off with some cool bass/drum interplay at the end, and the album’s psychedelic crown jewel “War in Peace,” where Spence’s delay and reverb-treated whispery vocals float above a sinuous, repeatedly swelling chord progression that finally breaks open with some understated but well-chosen lead guitar notes. Spence’s delayed vocal sound effects twitter in between blooming guitar strums as the song fades out over a forgivable ripoff of the “Sunshine of Your Love” riff. 

I sometimes wonder what this album had been like if Spence had demoed the songs and rehearsed a lot more before going into the professional studio. It certainly would have smoothed the rough edges on some of the wheezy vocals and tightened up the tendency of the drums and bass to emulate drunken lurching (hear both on “Lawrence of Euphoria”). Then again, I think the ragged feel is part of the album’s charming appeal–it’s almost like a trick, duping the listener into believing the music is garbage when in reality all of the most important melodic, structural and creative elements are there in droves. Consequently, the low-key sound means the songs are never really obtrusive despite their psychedelic tinges but anyone really paying attention will be rewarded by Spence’s craftsmanship, which comes across as confused muttering if the disc is played as background music. This deceptively casual veneer has got to be one of the reasons this album is so popular with musicians–it’s not easy to pull off, and the minimalism of the album’s template means the songs could be (and were) embellished in unlimited ways. I can think of few other albums quite as effortlessly subtle, and none that do it in quite this way.  …..by…ElliotGKnapp ….~


One of the oddest and most affecting personal documents ever put to music. Ex-Jefferson Airplane/Moby Grape member Skip Spence made this totally DIY album in 1968; it was to be his last one before schizophrenia permanently sidelined him. Personally and musically sharing some of the same sad/brilliant territory as Syd Barrett, Oar has perhaps a more singular, intentional artistic direction than Barrett’s work did. Spence’s condition seemed to give birth to an entire style of Blues - beautifully honest and confessional viewpoints that we’re richer for hearing. There are moments of lightness and subtle humour here too, and a fascination with the way Spence’s ghostly, minimalist guitar and percussion so effectively embellish his unsettling interior sketches. This CD edition has an extra 10 tracks (nearly doubling the length of the original release), and a 14-page booklet with essays and photos….by….groonrikk ….~



The oddness of this album tends to get overstated because of the circumstances under which it was recorded. Spence had been ejected from Moby Grape due to increasingly erratic behavior, culminating in an infamous incident involving a fire axe, which got him institutionalized. Upon his release, he recorded this sole album as a solo artist. He wrote, sang and played all instruments on all the material before taking a Syd Barrett style retreat from the music biz. Though Spence is often compared to Barrett for obvious reasons, this album is not the window into a fractured mental state that Barrett’s solo albums are. Sure, there is a strange, somewhat haunted quality to these songs, but they are clearly more steeped in tradition (specifically that of country rock) than most of Barrett’s songs were. The main exception is the rambling, mumbled closer “Grey/Afro”, which sounds more like a recording of a song being composed than an actual song. There are hints of breathy psychedelia in impassioned opener “Little Hands” as well as “War In Peace” (which even quotes the riff from “Sunshine of Your Love”) and “All Come To Meet Her”, but more typical are the mostly acoustic country tunes “Cripple Creek”, “Weighted Down”, “Books of Moses” and “Broken Heart”. These songs are good despite being somewhat sloppily executed but they seem like somewhat unremarkably traditional country tunes. Still, Spence’s delivery and certain lyrical turns (especially on “Yin For Yang” and “Lawrence of Euphoria”) keep things interesting but I can’t call this the outsider masterpiece that it’s reputed to be. Also, recent reissues have many bonus tracks, some of which are more in the rock vein and are quite charming…..by….hellaguru …..~ 


I was led to this record by Richie Unterberger’s book; Unknown Legends of Rock & Roll. This has to be one of the greatest debut/final/ONLY albums from a mad genius/acid casualty (what’s up with all the slashes?). I know there was a re-issued CD version with 10 extra tracks, and he recorded a single in '96 (with another “lost” B-side from '72) putting his entire recorded output at 24 songs? (I’m probably wrong, feel free to correct me- be nice about it…) Amazing- sounds like an old hoarse black man reminiscing a cotton field holler recorded over folk guitars and sparse drums. Maybe Skip thought his body was inhabited by an old freed slave- it sure sounds like it….musicologist…~ 


Most music fans are familiar with the Alexander “Skip” Spence story, but if you’re not it’s one of rock'n'roll lore sharing an eerily similar storyline to Pink Floyd’s Syd Barrett. 
Alexander Spence got his start as the drummer for Jefferson Airplane, eventually forming the Bay Area acid rock band Moby Grape as a guitarist and songwriter. Excessive drug use eventually took it’s toll. He was institutionalized for threatening to attack his band mates with a fire axe in NYC while recording their second album Wow. He spent 6 months in Bellevue and came out with a almost 30 songs. 
Those that believed in him gave him a record deal and some studio time in Nashville. Due to his paranoia, it was just him and an engineer with the tape rolling. What he thought were demos were released by Columbia in 1969 with absolutely no faith in promoting it. The album was pressed in limited quantities and disappeared from Columbia’s catalogue. 
Years later the album was rediscovered and hailed as a folk rock masterpiece. A once dollar bin cut out was now going for $1000’s of dollars and sought out by collectors far and wide. It later got a proper reissue by Sundazed in the 1999.  The same year he died……~ 


Chances are you’ve heard of Alexander “Skip” Spence, but you probably haven’t heard him. You have, actually, in a sense at least, if you own either of the first two Moby Grape albums. During his 1966-68 stint in the legendary San Francisco band, Spence penned a handful of that group’s best tunes, including “Omaha”, “Indifference” and “Motorcycle Irene”. His solo album, however, is another matter entirely. Oar was issued by Columbia Records in February 1969, received no promotion, sold a minuscule number of copies, and disappeared. Even two subsequent reissues – in 1988, on Britain’s Edsel label, and again in '91 as a remixed/remastered CD with five bonus cuts courtesy Sony Music Special Products – were doomed to go out of print, despite such luminaries as Robert Plant, Peter Buck, Robyn Hitchcock and the Flaming Lips praising the album in interviews over the years. All that professional and critical respect has resulted in a second reissue of Oar, and in the tribute More Oar. Why has this cult artist and his lone artifact generated such an air of mystique over the last three decades? For one thing, with the Skip Spence story, you get the whole irresistible rock 'n’ roll shebang. There was sex (Spence was a charismatic, baritone-voiced, good-looking young man); drugs (LSD reportedly drove him to attack a fellow band member with an axe); mental illness (summarily shipped off to New York’s notorious Bellevue psychiatric hospital for six months, he would experience recurring problems, including a long homeless stint, for the rest of his life); and premature death (he passed away from lung cancer this past April 16, just two days shy of his 53rd birthday). In his 1998 book Unknown Legends Of Rock 'n’ Roll, Richie Unterberger attempted to explain the album’s out-of-time, therefore timeless, appeal: “Like [Syd] Barrett, Spence conveyed a magical sense of childlike wonder with his one-of-a-kind songs, which fascinate with their eerie tightrope walk between coherence and madness. If Skip was a psychedelic cousin of Barrett’s, he drew upon bedrock American blues, country and folk influences to a far greater degree than his British counterpart.” As the story goes, Spence had begun writing new songs while in Bellevue. After getting out in December 1968, he drove to Nashville, spent a week in a studio producing himself and playing all the instruments, and emerged with what Unterberger described as “not psychedelia in the San Francisco sense, but a sort of summit meeting of Delta Bluesmen and the spirit of Haight-Ashbury.” The biblical musings of “Books Of Moses” sound as if they’re delivered through clenched teeth, accompanied by a spooky Delta blues guitar. In the strummy country-folk of “Cripple Creek”, a “cripple on his deathbed” is visited by an angel and embarks on a surreal final journey. The oddly elegant “All Come To Meet Her” brings to mind images of the Jefferson Airplane charting a plantation-era waltz (Spence, the Airplane’s original drummer, actually musters some convincing Jorma Kaukonen-style licks while triple-tracking his vocal to achieve the group harmony effect). These are clearly not the inaccessible, avant garde ramblings of some basket case. Troubled though he may have been, Spence had the basics of songwriting down, and a musical vision to go with them. He also emerges as a unique vocal stylist: While at times his unadorned baritone might resemble an untrained cross between Dylan’s nasal croak and Marlon Brando in The Godfather, elsewhere he’s capable of such gorgeous bird-in-flight falsetto swoops that his closest peer may have been Tim Buckley. Some have labeled Spence as the progenitor of today’s naif subculture (Daniel Johnston, Smog, East River Pipe, etc.); aside from the general lo-fi, alone-in-a-room ambiance that surrounds Oar, it was his tendency to steer in whatever direction a song might lean that really makes the case. Abrupt time signature shifts, sound effects and odd vocal treatments make the album seem weird at first, but it’s a good kind of discombobulation. For example, the extended stream-of-consciousness bass/drum/voice drone of the 9-minute “Grey/Afro” still makes no sense thirty years later, but sonically speaking, it’s intoxicating. The otherwise straightforward blues of “Books Of Moses” has some off-kilter percussion that sounds like someone in the back room pounding nails into a pie pan. And “War In Peace” is a masterpiece of spontaneous deception, its haunting mood (set up by Spence’s wraithlike vocal, a lumbering bassline, and strange electronic birdcalls) abruptly shattered at the end when Spence lurches into the “Sunshine Of Your Love” guitar lick. Sundazed Records boss Bob Irwin, who produced the 1993 two-disc Moby Grape anthology Vintage, obviously fell under the spell of Oar. Aware that the '91 CD reissue had been substantially remixed, he returned to the original two-track masters and restored them to the mix that graced the original vinyl. The sonic improvement is startling; there’s a clarity and depth to the new Sundazed version of Oar, giving Spence’s singing and playing a finer degree of intimacy. Not only does Spence now sound like he’s sitting right in front of you, but his guitar has a dry, twangy crispness. Adding lots of echo may have been the Sony remixers’ solution to what they thought was a primitive-sounding album; in hindsight, however, it’s clear that Spence genuinely was aiming for the kind of raw immediacy of vintage blues and folk recordings. The Sundazed disc additionally excises some structural tinkering. Among the changes from the Sony version: “Little Hands” doesn’t end on a single chord, but fades out; “Lawrence Of Euphoria” has been restored to its original length (shortened by 23 seconds); “Diana” no longer contains the minute-plus guitar rave-up that Sony had appended. Sundazed’s treatment of five bonus tracks that first appeared on the Sony reissue bears mentioning as well. Originally, they were less “songs” (track 13, “This Time He Has Come”, was a continuation of “Grey/Afro”) than simply fragments in which Spence, sans guitar, experimented with rhythm patterns on bass and drums while testing out lyric and rhyming schemes. (In some spots, he’s heard scatting; elsewhere, his offhand manner suggests he’s coming up with lyrics on the spot.) “It’s The Best Thing For You” is the most tuneful of these tracks, in terms of a regular melody; “Furry Heroine (Halo Of Gold)” is amusingly goofy and full of lyrical non sequiturs (Spence even quotes Johnny Cash at one point). Sundazed has unearthed an additional 30 seconds for the latter tune, giving it a “new” intro. A track mistakenly titled “Doodle” on the Sony reissue is now correctly listed as “Givin’ Up Things”. And all five cuts have been stripped of their prior echo bath. The most significant news about the Sundazed reissue, however, is the presence of five additional bonus tracks. They all follow a similar formula – just bass guitar, percussion and voice – and a couple (“If I’m Good”, “Fountain”) are only half-minute snippets. There’s a new one-minute “Doodle”, a real find, wherein an ebullient (and most likely buzzed) Spence chuckles his way through haphazard rhymes like “at the park after dark, with an old girlfriend (or two) and a quart or two of brew.” And “You Know”, with its driving bassline, staccato beat and deeply soulful vocal, seems sufficiently promising to have warranted further studio elaboration. Of course, 'twas not to be. The last things we hear from the Oar sessions are Spence’s talkback: “We out of tape? Did I just run out? Okay…” More Oar was assembled over the course of a couple of years by Bill Bentley, who clearly treated it as a labor of love. Bentley, a longtime Warner Bros. publicist and occasional guerrilla producer (he also was responsible for Sire/Warner’s 1990 Roky Erickson tribute Where The Pyramid Meets The Eye), fell under the spell of Oar back in 1969. In his liner notes for the tribute disc, he calls the original album “a funky and fractured declaration of independence…like free-falling into Alice’s wonderland. Spence was the only person I heard [in 1969] who sounded like he had even less to lose than me….This album sounded like one big psychic bandage.” More Oar is presented in the same running order as its inspiration, with the dozen LP songs followed by the first CD reissue’s five bonus tracks. As with most tribute albums, it’s not perfect, although its flaws are few. Among them: Engine 54’s whiteboy reggaefication of “It’s The Best Thing For You”; the Ophelias’ grating, vaudevillian “Lawrence Of Euphoria” (on Oar, the tune was at best a Thorazine-addled nursery rhyme); and Beck’s “Furry Heroine (Halo Of Gold)” – Spence’s version, to be fair, was disjointed, but by “Beck-ifying” it and even recycling a keyboard riff from his own “Jack-Ass”, Beck curiously supplants Spence’s weirdness with his own. On the upside, however, there are some astonishing moments on More Oar. Mark Lanegan and Alejandro Escovedo do Spence’s deep roots proud on “Cripple Creek” and “Diana”, respectively. Lanegan’s husky growl is remarkably close in tone and texture to Spence’s, whereas Escovedo clearly knows his way around a desperately creepy Spence moan. Mudhoney’s Mark Arm speak-sings the vocal of “War In Peace” to excavate the song’s dark, cynical side (Spence had adopted an airier, Tim Buckley-like upper register), while the band’s subterranean, echo-drenched arrangement perfectly ladles out the dread. Other high points include the tracks by Flying Saucer Attack (“Grey/Afro”), the Minus Five (“Givin’ Up Things”) and Jay Farrar (“Weighted Down”). Significantly, it’s a pair of veterans – who quite possibly purchased Oar upon its initial release – who submit the best performances on More Oar. Robert Plant gives “Little Hands” a breathless, celebratory urgency, bringing to life Spence’s images of innocent children dancing happily, of “little hands clapping” and praying for “a world of no pain, for one and for all”; the song’s acoustic guitar, upright bass and vibraphone arrangement is gorgeously low-key. And if Plant nails Spence’s mood upswing, leave it to Tom Waits to capture the songwriter in mid-plummet: “Books Of Moses” is terrifying, its bone-rattle maraca, swampy guitar twang and Waits’ apocalyptic, judgmental wail an uncanny re-envisioning of Spence’s original, whose thunderstorm effects, lurching percussion taps, acoustic blues guitar and tense vocal were unsettling enough the first time around. Bentley even pulls a rabbit out of the hat for the finale. Following 5-½ minutes of silence after the last track, you suddenly hear an unmistakable voice laughing; then after an array of bass notes, guitar feedback and Indian percussion, the voice edges into an eerie, William Burroughs-style recitation. Sure enough, it’s Spence’s “Land Of The Sun”, recorded a few years ago for the X-Files album but deemed too bizarre for final inclusion. How fitting to let Spence himself get the final word……~


Alexander “Skip” Spence was a gifted, largely self-taught multi instrumentalist with an ear for unsettling dissonances and an uncanny knack for evoking the haunted atmosphere of pre-war blues and country with nothing more than a twist of his weathered vocal chords. A prime mover on San Francisco’s psychedelic scene, Spence lent his shambolic drumming to an early incarnation of Jefferson Airplane and gained fame as a member of Moby Grape. After being institutionalized in the wake of a violent mental breakdown, Spence cut out for Nashville, where he recorded the unnervingly skeletal tunes that make up Oar, his only solo release. Though Oar is infamous for being one of the lowest selling major label releases of all time, its influence on contemporary music far outweighs its sales numbers. Artists as diverse as Tom Waits, Cat Power, and Uncle Tupelo have picked up on the determinedly ramshackle instrumentation, ghostly aura, and hair-raising melancholy of tracks like the creaking murder ballad “Weighted Down” the flippant “Lawrence of Euphoria” and the formidable “Books of Moses”…..~ 


Skip Spence’s “music from the other side.”

Skip Spence is known for his work in Moby Grape, a seminal psych-rock outfit, and for his only solo album, Oar (1969), which has one of the most gloriously unhinged creation myths in the history of popular music.

In ’68, Spence—who would be, coincidentally, sixty-eight today—was cutting a new Moby Grape record in New York. The city was not bringing out the best in him. One night, as his bandmate Peter Lewis tells it, Spence “took off with some black witch” who “fed him full of acid”: not your garden-variety LSD, mind you, but a powerful variant that supposedly induced a three-day fantasia of hallucinations and cognitive haymaking. The result? “He thought he was the Antichrist.”

Spence strolled over to the Albert Hotel, at Eleventh and University, where he held a fire ax to the doorman’s head; from there, he negotiated his way to a bandmate’s room and took his ax to the door. The place was empty. So he hailed a cab—you know, with an ax—and zipped uptown to the CBS Building, where, on the fifty-second floor, he was at last wrestled to the ground and arrested. He did a six-month stint in Bellevue, where he was deemed schizophrenic. “They shot him full of Thorazine for six months,” Lewis said. “They just take you out of the game.”

But Spence wasn’t out of the game. The same day they released him from Bellevue, he bought a motorcycle, a fucking Harley, and cruised straight on to Nashville, where he planned to record a series of new songs he’d written in the hospital. He was clad, legend maintains, only in pajamas.

If I had to choose one image to condense and aggrandize the rock ’n’ roll mythos, it would be this: a schizophrenic man fresh out of the loony bin, exultant astride his gleaming new hog, wheels aimed south, gaze narrowed, hands steady, pajamas whipping in the wind.

It’s probably not true, at least not in toto. But Spence did, somehow, make it to Nashville, where, at Columbia’s studios, he recorded and produced Oar in seven days. He plays every instrument on the album.

The label released Oar on May 19, 1969, with zero fanfare. It was their worst seller, and it was soon expunged from their catalogue. Small wonder, given the ads they ran for it, which at once exploited Spence’s illness and doomed his music, suggesting it was inaccessible:
As maladroit as it is, the “crazy music” label stuck, especially as the story of Oar’s creation began to spread, taking on the sheen and hyperbole of urban legend. Ross Bennett describes it as “the ramblings of a man on the brink of mental collapse.” Lindsay Planer writes, “The majority of the sounds on this long-player remain teetering near the precipice of sanity.”

That would imply that Oar is difficult to parse, or fragmented to the pointed of obscurity, or just, like, kind of out there, man. But it’s much more put-together than all that; fragile, yes, off, yes, but not off the deep end. These are folk songs inflected with psychedelia. Their reputation as deranged curios doesn’t stand up.

For starters, Spence’s lyrics seldom bear the scars of his perilous journey to the fringes of consciousness. “Little Hands,” for instance, is just a warmed-over serving of free love:

Little hands clapping
Children are happy
Little hands loving all ‘round the world

Little hands clasping
Truth they are grasping
A world with no pain for one and all

You can practically hear the Thorazine at work. And as for the other eleven tracks, many of them are straightforward ballads—or winking expressions of lust. In fact, if there’s one thing Spence sings about most on Oar, it’s wanting to get laid—hardly the abstruse concern of a man lost to metaphysics.

Still, the music is certainly strange, full of unconventional chord changes, harmonies, and voices, lush at one moment, bare and droning in the next. And lyrically, a song like “Broken Heart” has its far-out moments:

An Olympic super swimmer
Whose belly doesn’t flop
A super racecar driver
Whose pit, it can’t be stopped
A honey dripping hipster
Whose bee cannot be bopped
Better to be rolled in oats
Than from the roll be dropped

Likewise, “Fountain” contains the memorably oblique couplet “If I’m dropping quarters on your bed / It seems like it’s the right thing to do.” Are these images crazy, though, or are they just sort of artfully peculiar?

Oar is maundering and strikingly shambolic—but it’s also a much more cogent statement than its critical reputation suggests. Spence tore across the country to make it happen; he put nine hundred miles between himself and New York. That might be something you’d do if you were insane, but it’s also something you’d do if you were merely insanely ambitious. That’s the greater compliment. To say that the record is a product of monomaniacal drive is much more favorable than to cast it, however desirably, as the crude discharge of an unwell mind. Is it really so difficult to believe that Spence was in control? You should listen to Oar for the music, not for the crazy….By Dan Piepenbring ….the Paris review….~ 
This poor-selling but influential album by Moby Grape singer-guitarist Alexander “Skip” Spence is a cult classic. This article comes from the Crawdaddy! website from Nov. 24, 2009 and was written by Andrew Lau. Spence was one of the great acid-damaged visionaries of the 60s…

Oar After 40 Years: Brilliant or Mere Ramblings?

Retired Columbia Records staff producer and industry rabble-rouser David Rubinson sits across the table from me in a vegetarian restaurant tucked away in the Richmond district of San Francisco. We’re here to discuss his involvement with Oar, the only solo record by Skip Spence. The record turned 40 this year and has slowly, quietly grown far beyond original expectations. In fact, in the beginning, Rubinson seems to have been the only person with any faith at all. The producer remains baffled by the general indifference.

“When I brought the record to [Columbia], they didn’t hear a thing,” he says with his hard-to-miss Brooklyn accent. “The record company barely released it.”

“You had to push them to release it?” I ask.

“Begged. Pleaded. They had no motivation to put this record out, they didn’t think it was ever going to sell, and it came out to complete silence. Nobody said, ‘Jesus Christ, this is a masterpiece. This is great work of poetry; this man has created a great work of art.’ It wasn’t packaged, no promotion campaign, no release party. I actually don’t recall anything happening.”

Today, of the handful of people involved with the project, there are only a few left to tell the story. Besides Rubinson are recording engineer Mike Figlio (who refused to be interviewed for this piece), mixing engineers Don Meehan and Fred Catero. Spence, who is credited as producer and played all the instruments himself, died in 1999 as did Bob Cato who designed the stunning cover art. Second recording engineer, Charlie Bradley, died in 2005. All of these people had a large impact on the final version of a record still hailed as a masterpiece by some and nothing more than mere ramblings from an acid casualty by others. Either way, Oar is still being talked about all these years later. This is how it was made.

In June of 1968, Alexander “Skip” Spence was admitted into the Psychiatric Ward of New York’s Bellevue Hospital in lower Manhattan, putting an end to a highly creative period of his life. Oddly, it also signaled the beginning of his most prolific writing cycle. Unbeknownst to everyone involved with his career at that point, Bellevue provided Spence the safety he needed and the time to create what was to become his best-known work.

Having spent a good portion of his youth in San Jose after his family relocated there from Ontario, the talented and handsome Spence couldn’t find a better place to start than San Francisco. By the end of 1966, he had already been involved in two seminal acid-rock bands—an embryonic version of Quicksilver Messenger Service and the first recording line-up of Jefferson Airplane, in which he was the drummer.

But it was former Airplane manager, Matthew Katz, who formed a group around Spence when things began to happen. Surrounding him with R&B vets Don Stevenson, Peter Lewis, Bob Mosley, and Jerry Miller, Moby Grape was born. And this is where David Rubinson comes into our story.

Already known in the industry as a brilliant, strong-willed producer and talent scout, the East Coast native was in San Francisco for other reasons when he happened across the band, and from the moment he first saw them, he knew he had to work with the group. Leaning over our table, he still gets excited almost 45 years later. “When they came on they just burned like crazy. They were incredible. There was no lead singer, they all sang five-part harmonies, and the guitar work was incredible, impeccable, three-guitar orchestrations, and [Bob] Mosley was a killer bass player.”

Instincts told him there’d be a bidding war, so he worked hard to see that Columbia was the one that would sign them. He befriended the band right off, worked with them, paid their rent and even dental work, and, most importantly, believed in them. The Moby Grape/Rubinson team was so hot after Columbia signed them that a rival company offered Rubinson a job as long as he brought Moby Grape with him.

It wasn’t hype either; Moby Grape’s self-titled debut is still touted as one of the greatest debuts of that era. Although much like their peers in mind and spirit, Moby Grape didn’t have a lot in common with them musically. They cut away the fat and kept it simple: No extended instrumentation, no surreal lyrics, no starry eyes. And it worked. Ten no-nonsense songs, only two of them over three minutes, with every one a possible single. Unfortunately, they also had what has been described to this reporter (by several credible sources) as one of the worst managers in the history of rock music, which is saying something. By most accounts, Katz was exceedingly selfish and had no idea how to book, promote, push, or finance the band, and Moby Grape suffered.

There were, shall we say, distractions during the making of the first LP in Los Angeles, and Rubinson thought it would be better for them to record the anticipated follow-up in New York, where they could concentrate without interruption, with different studios, engineers, and more available studio time. Spence, always a bit of a wild card, was already showing signs of erratic songwriting. “Just Like Gene Autry: A Foxtrot” was his elaborate tribute to old-time dance bands (and was mastered on the original LP at 78rpm), while “Seeing” had him shouting “Save me, save me!” during the refrain—an early glimpse of what was to come.

It was near the end of these sessions when he disappeared with a woman known only as “Johanna” who, as Rubinson recalls, was English, practiced black magic, and was fond of a certain brand of LSD that produced a three-day high. They vanished into the wilds of the city for two days and things were never the same. It’s a fairly well-documented story that’s as heartbreaking as it is intriguing.

Spence returned a changed man—very high, very agitated, very paranoid. The woman had convinced him that his bandmates were the embodiment of evil. Rubinson was in the studio alone with engineer Roy Halee when a call came from the band’s road manager at the Albert Hotel where the group was staying. Apparently, Spence had cut through the door of Stevenson’s room with a fire ax, and not finding him inside, was headed to the studio, with eyes-a-fire. In a cab.

“How he got into a taxi with a fire ax in his hand, I have no idea,” muses Rubinson, “but that’s New York!”

Members of Moby Grape, the police (who Rubinson had called), and Spence all converged outside the studio door at the same time. During the emotional stand-off, Rubinson was able to talk Spence down; he took the ax from him and the police took over, after which he, Miller, and Stevenson followed the police car with Spence inside to the nearest precinct.

“Don and Jerry had to come over [and] swear out complaints, because there was no way we were going to get him clean or dry or down or get this shit out of his system. We didn’t know what to do, maybe we fucked it up. I didn’t know anything about drugs, I have to admit it. But talking to him and seeing him… his eyes were like one-arm bandits.”

Spence was taken to the Manhattan Detention Center on White Street (better known as “The Tombs”) and then later moved to Bellevue. His band moved on without him; there was no other choice. Rubinson paid for a lawyer out of his own pocket and convinced Columbia to put some money towards the legal fees.

In November, Spence walked out of Bellevue with nothing but his hospital-issued clothes and a batch of newly written songs that he’d kept locked away in his head. Everything else he had given away. Rubinson was there to pick him up and took him uptown, bought him new clothes and breakfast, and had Columbia put him up in a nice hotel with room service. Then they started talking about what to do next.

“We’re sitting in this fancy hotel room,” he says quietly, “I asked, ‘What do you want to do?’ He said he wanted a Harley-Davidson and he wanted to go to Nashville and wanted to record; he’d written a lot of songs while he was in the hospital. Then he wanted to get on his motorcycle and drive home to his wife. I said, ‘Fine.’”

Once Columbia gave up a small advance for the solo project (small for even those times, and part of which went to Spence’s new motorcycle), Rubinson called his friend and recording engineer Mike Figlio, who was working at the Columbia studios in Nashville. Rubinson saw him as the perfect foil for the project. Knowing his good-humored and patient nature, it was obvious that Figlio could handle the eccentricities of an artist like Spence. “I said, ‘Mike, I’m sending Skip Spence down and he’s going to do an album. Listen to me very carefully: I want you to get a lot of tape. I want you to load up the machines with tape and have one of them running all the time. Never. Stop. Recording. Whatever happens, even if it gets crazy, even if it gets quiet for 20 minutes, I want you to record everything.’ Everybody had heard about the ax and Bellevue. He said, ‘This guy’s crazy, what are you doing?’ I said, ‘He’s a good guy, he’s harmless.’”

And this is where Rubinson’s expertise for producing helped him make what could be the most crucial decision. “I wanted to go sit there with him and work on the songs in the worst way,” he says, “but it was the wrong thing to do. If I had been there, I would’ve produced it. I didn’t know how to sit quietly and get sandwiches. It wasn’t in me. I thought he needed a tape running all the time.”

Legend has Spence driving his motorcycle down to Nashville by himself in what would be winter, arriving at the studio in early December. While there are a few people who wonder about the validity of that story, chances are that Spence did in fact make the 900-mile trip by himself, perhaps enjoying a renewed sense of freedom; after all, this is a man known for his unusual temperament. Once in town, he took a room at a hotel near Columbia’s Nashville studios on 16th Ave. According to Rubinson, it wasn’t even a real studio that had been set aside for him, but an editing room where equipment had been set up. Microphone cords trailed off to an old three-track recorder (“Whatever machine they had down there that nobody wanted anymore”), which sat behind a wall where Figlio would sit and watch the reels of tape spin. “[Figlio] was a great guy. He was the catalyst that made the record happen.”

Rubinson would get updates from his friend in Nashville. “Mike was saying, ‘Hey David, you don’t understand, the guy comes in, sits for an hour or two, nothing happens and all of a sudden he starts singing. He wants to put on his own bass, then he puts on guitar…’ I said, ‘[enthusiastically] Yeah, yeah, yeah. Whatever, just keep the tape running and do whatever he says.”

Spence and Figlio worked for exactly one week. “He’d eat, he’d go back to [the hotel], he’d go and record,” says Rubinson, “and Mike had a three-track machine running all the time.” Within the confines of that tiny studio, Spence unveiled the deepest corners of his talented and fractured mind; the songs he was recording were his essence. With a minimal sense of lyrical writing and crafty wordplay, it seemed a forgone conclusion to those involved that the record would be special.

“He was a great songwriter but he never labored,” Rubinson confirms. “He’d sit down and write the song. It would come right out of him. He would write the song the way Picasso would paint. He wouldn’t pay attention. He’d grab a pencil and the back of an envelope and write the song; he’d sit down and play the song. Then he’d tell everybody what the concept was. He was a remarkable, amazing dude.”

Interestingly, Oar opens with “Little Hands,” a bright but slow-strummed tune with bass, drums, guitar, and Spence’s double-tracked vocals. A heart-filled paean to a world filled with children’s hand clapping, “shatterin’ records and rules” in a world with “no pain for one and all.” With this opening song, Spence is looking either back or towards a time when things were less complicated. Simplicity in words, simplicity in worldview.

Compared to the rest of the record, “Little Hands” sounds almost quaint. From here on, the singer dives inward towards his other world. “Cripple Creek,” the second track, is delivered in a syrupy baritone, his voice sounding heavily medicated. With this song’s first lines, the mood is established for the remainder of the album: “A cripple on his deathbed / In a daydream did ride.” Though Spence was not a cripple, nor was he on his deathbed, these songs make up a good example of what it must’ve been like for a hyperactive, creative workhorse to be locked up in a mental ward.

There’s pain and otherworldliness at work here, a report from the brink of one man’s vanishing point with every song giving a different perspective. The dreamy ballad of “All Come to Meet Her,” the simple waltz pushing the not-so-simple tale of “Broken Heart,” the haunting “Diana,” the almost jubilant “Lawrence of Euphoria”, and the incredibly catchy “Dixie Peach Promenade” (on which he takes a throw-away line such as “I could use me some yin for my yang” and makes it into one of the catchiest parts on the record). It comes to a skittering, abstract end with nine-and-a-half minute “Grey/Afro.”

There are multi-layered guitar parts, off-kilter time signatures, and brilliant musical ideas such as the entry of the bass and drums after the first verse in “Dixie Peach” that gives the song an irresistible lift. Another remarkable aspect here is the way he turns his voice into an instrument and uses it much more than he did with Moby Grape—from the throaty yelp on “Books of Moses” to the echo-drenched, quasi-Roy Orbison falsetto during “War in Peace.” All in all, a stunning array of creativity.

“It’s like Mozart writing the Requiem,” says Rubinson. “[Spence] had the clear light. He could see everything in absolute detail, in the sharpest illumination, in total relief, in the sense he could be cooking an omelette and turn around and say something so mind-bendingly clear and perfect; he would express it in incredible terms and it was obviously true. It was the trance medium process; he was the medium for the stuff coming through. It was that way with the clothes he wore, it was that way with the way he wanted to do business, the way he treated people.”

Perhaps the most harrowing track is the slow-waltzing dirge of “Weighted Down (The Prison Song).” With just a guitar, acoustic bass, and his voice, he gives you the sound of a man locked up within walls, locked up within his own head, locked away from his family, his band, past, and future. When he sings, the words are clear and gentle; this is Spence in top form:

My darling, you’re darning my action
Of when three months, I was gone
But whose socks were you darning, darling
While I been gone so long

The wordplay doesn’t distract from his pain and he effortlessly glides into the chorus:

Weighted down by possessions
Weighted down by the gun
Waited down by the river for you to come

This is legitimate anguish partly disguised as an old-time ballad and just one of the dozen tracks here that are completely honest and bare, striped of all pretense and ego, the type of music that’ll give you a smile and the chills at the same time.

Despite being steeped in a gauzy haze, most of these songs contain that trademark Spence charm so evident on his Moby Grape material. No matter how dire sounding Oar can get, there’s always a lyrical wink or a double entrendre to keep it somewhat anchored, never slipping into self-importance. During the final moments of “War in Peace,” for example, one can almost see him smile to himself as he dreamily plucks out the main riff to Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love.” One of Rubinson’s favorites is “Margaret-Tiger Rug,” which he quotes to me without hesitating: “Well, there goes Margaret, the daring ice skater / She skates the truth on the ice / If she wasn’t so daring and dashing / Her lips would be chapped at half the price.”

“Fuck man, that was one of the funniest lyrics I’d ever heard!” he exclaims, his enthusiasm cutting through the restaurant din.

Having recorded everything, Spence simply checked out of his hotel room, got back onto his motorcycle and headed west to his waiting family and an unclear future. As Rubinson would write in the LP’s original liner notes, “It is the purest possible representation of that human being who was known as Spence at that time.”

When it came time for Rubinson and engineer Don Meehan to begin the mixing process, they called Memphis for the masters and received not just a few reels of tape, of course, but a week’s worth. Following his instructions, Figlio had indeed recorded everything that had happened, including Spence quietly thinking to himself in that small studio.

For Meehan, it was just another job, although a job that involved “stacks and stacks” of reels. Editing took place at the Columbia Studios on East 52nd Street in Meehan’s room and the mixing process was done a floor below in Studio B with Fred Catero now joining the team. “He just brought in the tapes to the mix room,” remembers Meehan, “and we spread out and worked on ‘em. It was a task.”

“We listen to everything within reason,” says Rubinson. “We’d fast forward, hear music, stop [the tape], and listen. Trying to make an album out of this was challenging because it was very fragmentary. But we really worked on it; it was a labor of love. There were no commercial aspirations. It was really, to me, a way of Skip living.”

Their hard work paid off. The sequencing alone is incredible. Each song perfectly follows another, not necessarily to tell a story, but to move along with Spence’s temperance. The transition from “Weighted Down” to “War in Peace” is an especially emotional way to end the first side.

Columbia grudgingly released Oar on May 19, 1969 (CS 9831) with no intention of promotion. Rubinson shakes his head. “Nobody heard it, nobody understood it. Except I got amazing phone calls from some very, very amazing people, but very, very few and far in between. It went under the waves and submerged.”

One of the few people who did hear it was Rolling Stone columnist Greil Marcus. His review, printed a few months after the record’s release, was way ahead of the curve. Referring to the music as “quiet and insinuating” and likening its randomness to Gold Rush-era California campfire songs, Marcus already foresaw the grim future for this record, despite its amazing qualities. “Get ahead of the game,” he cautions at the end, “and buy Oar before you no longer have a chance.”

He was right. Within a year’s time, the record was the Columbia’s worst seller at that time and had been stricken from their catalog. “I don’t have much more to say [about the record],” Marcus tells me. “I think of it all as someone trying to row to shore—or out to sea—with just one oar. You go ’round in circles forever. That seemed to be Spence’s argument about life.”

Despite what others have written about this record over the ensuing years, Oar cannot be dismissed as a throw-away by some half-assed musician, nor is this about drugs or drug abuse. Almost everyone involved, everyone I’ve talked with, agree that Spence, above all else, loved life even when it was pushing him down. His kinetic personality made him as popular with those inside Bellevue as he was with those inside the Fillmore. Simply put, behind the legend and the lionizing of a talented but troubled man, Oar contains brilliant music.

“He had this connection to the truth and the truth was coming through him and it’s very, very hard to carry that around,” concludes Rubinson as the restaurant empties out. “It’s very hard to turn off, it’s very hard to say. ‘I’m not going to feel all this, I’m not going to know all this.’ If you see the picture on the cover, this is an incredible, transcendent picture. It has everything in it I was talking about: Trance medium, transcendence, and the truth coming through him.”

If anything, Oar allows us, the listener, to witness the battle between an artist’s immense creative ability and his growing mental illness. It’s an uneasy listen at times, but that’s expected when a musician puts himself on the line, bare and honest. Spence wrung himself out onto tape, said what he had to say, sang what was in his heart, and then rode away victorious.

Everything else is left in the dust…by…Andrew Lau…..~ 







Poking around the shelves of bargain record shops, you’ll stumble across the wreckage of the rock and roll revolution—the hundreds of albums released in the last few years that no one ever listened to. They’re shoved against the wall, their hopefully outrageous psychedelic covers now limp and dull; you can almost judge the quality of the music by a glance at the jackets. 
Crammed in between the waste and the garbage are the good records that got lost in the shuffle, LPs that had the misfortune to come out in the same week as Wheels of Fire or Cheap Thrills: the already forgotten records by the Good Rats, Bunky and Jake, and more. The hip FM stations never got around to programming them, Top 40 never heard of them, and the unlucky songwriters and musicians may soon be back toiling at the Sixties equivalent of the proverbial car wash. 

Oar, the new album by Alexander (Skip) Spence of Moby Grape fame, will probably find its way onto the dingy shelves of the bargain dumps soon enough, with a brand new copy going for a dollar or less. “This album is an oasis of understatement,” read the liner notes (if it’s true, it shouldn’t be said, right?). Not many new LPs will sell less. 

Much of Oar sounds like the sort of haphazard folk music that might have been made around campfires after the California gold rush burned itself out—sad, clumsy tunes that seem to laugh at themselves as Spence takes the listener on a tour through his six or seven voices: a coughing, halting bass on “Diana,” a withered, half-dead moan on “Lawrence of Euphoria,” a lyrical wail for “War in Peace” and “Grey/Afro.” 

From one side this album is a joke. It’s so unpolished and rude—as in “rude hut”—that it sometimes seems merely incompetent. “Uh, uh, Di-anna,” lurches Alexander Spence, and if it’s not intended as a good laugh on Neil Sedaka then it’s just plain bad. Nothing on Oar is irritating, though—the music is quiet and insinuating, so if it’s not world-class rock like Moby Grape’s “Omaha” or even cute like their “Funky Tunk,” this is still real music, not someone’s half-baked idea of where it’s at. 

Spence recorded in Nashville, but lo, unlike so many before him he didn’t follow Bob Dylan and spring for Charlie McCoy, Kenny Buttrey, and Bob Johnston. He plays, sort of, every instrument himself—bass, drums, electric and acoustic guitars—and produced his own album. Sometimes his playing is about as good as Wildman Fischer, and sometimes he’s perfectly brilliant. The end result is music that has the same tone to it as Dylan’s basement tape. 

Oar’s highest moments come with “War in Peace” and “Grey/Afro.” They’re quintessential Spence cuts—anarchic in conception but somehow holding on to form and rhythm in execution. I’ve never been able to figure out how Spence’s most astounding compositions—“Seeing” from Moby Grape ’69 and “Indifference” from Moby Grape—were ever performed: they sound like street fights, singers shouting back and forth, guitarists challenging one another for the lead, harmonies splitting the beat without a thought for the invisible order that’s the triumph of Spence’s revolutionary music. “War in Peace” and “Grey/Afro” are less immediate in their impact. “Weighted Down” precedes “War in Peace,” and by the time it’s over the listener might be half-asleep—only to be lifted out of the doldrums by the ghostly approach of Spence’s electric guitar. He states a theme and then sets a mood, following it as far as it will go. His voice is another instrument—I’ve played this record over and over and not understood more than a score of the words. The tune is pure San Francisco in its sound, but the San Francisco sound long after the scene has passed and Spence himself has passed from it, and so the song offers a slow, aging glimpse of what the music was all about. 

Oar presents some of the most comfortable music I’ve ever heard—it’s not good old rock and roll, the way Moby Grape plays it, anyway, but that line from a thousand old rock ditties, “I just can’t explain, I’m goin’ insane,” might be the musical father to Spence’s new album. This unique LP is bound to be forgotten—some day it’ll be as rare as “Memories of El Monte,” which Frank Zappa wrote for the Penguins, long after their time had gone. Get ahead of the game and buy Oar before you no longer have the chance…..Rolling Stone, September 20, 1969….~ 



Poking around the shelves of bargain record shops, you’ll stumble across the wreckage of the rock and roll revolution—the hundreds of albums released in the last few years that no one ever listened to. They’re shoved against the wall, their hopefully outrageous psychedelic covers now limp and dull; you can almost judge the quality of the music by a glance at the jackets.
Crammed in between the waste and the garbage are the good records that got lost in the shuffle, LPs that had the misfortune to come out in the same week as Wheels of Fire or Cheap Thrills: the already forgotten records by the Good Rats, Bunky and Jake, and more. The hip FM stations never got around to programming them, Top 40 never heard of them, and the unlucky songwriters and musicians may soon be back toiling at the Sixties equivalent of the proverbial car wash.

Oar, the new album by Alexander (Skip) Spence of Moby Grape fame, will probably find its way onto the dingy shelves of the bargain dumps soon enough, with a brand new copy going for a dollar or less. “This album is an oasis of understatement,” read the liner notes (if it’s true, it shouldn’t be said, right?). Not many new LPs will sell less.

Much of Oar sounds like the sort of haphazard folk music that might have been made around campfires after the California gold rush burned itself out—sad, clumsy tunes that seem to laugh at themselves as Spence takes the listener on a tour through his six or seven voices: a coughing, halting bass on “Diana,” a withered, half-dead moan on “Lawrence of Euphoria,” a lyrical wail for “War in Peace” and “Grey/Afro.”

From one side this album is a joke. It’s so unpolished and rude—as in “rude hut”—that it sometimes seems merely incompetent. “Uh, uh, Di-anna,” lurches Alexander Spence, and if it’s not intended as a good laugh on Neil Sedaka then it’s just plain bad. Nothing on Oar is irritating, though—the music is quiet and insinuating, so if it’s not world-class rock like Moby Grape’s “Omaha” or even cute like their “Funky Tunk,” this is still real music, not someone’s half-baked idea of where it’s at.

Spence recorded in Nashville, but lo, unlike so many before him he didn’t follow Bob Dylan and spring for Charlie McCoy, Kenny Buttrey, and Bob Johnston. He plays, sort of, every instrument himself—bass, drums, electric and acoustic guitars—and produced his own album. Sometimes his playing is about as good as Wildman Fischer, and sometimes he’s perfectly brilliant. The end result is music that has the same tone to it as Dylan’s basement tape.

Oar’s highest moments come with “War in Peace” and “Grey/Afro.” They’re quintessential Spence cuts—anarchic in conception but somehow holding on to form and rhythm in execution. I’ve never been able to figure out how Spence’s most astounding compositions—“Seeing” from Moby Grape ’69 and “Indifference” from Moby Grape—were ever performed: they sound like street fights, singers shouting back and forth, guitarists challenging one another for the lead, harmonies splitting the beat without a thought for the invisible order that’s the triumph of Spence’s revolutionary music. “War in Peace” and “Grey/Afro” are less immediate in their impact. “Weighted Down” precedes “War in Peace,” and by the time it’s over the listener might be half-asleep—only to be lifted out of the doldrums by the ghostly approach of Spence’s electric guitar. He states a theme and then sets a mood, following it as far as it will go. His voice is another instrument—I’ve played this record over and over and not understood more than a score of the words. The tune is pure San Francisco in its sound, but the San Francisco sound long after the scene has passed and Spence himself has passed from it, and so the song offers a slow, aging glimpse of what the music was all about.

Oar presents some of the most comfortable music I’ve ever heard—it’s not good old rock and roll, the way Moby Grape plays it, anyway, but that line from a thousand old rock ditties, “I just can’t explain, I’m goin’ insane,” might be the musical father to Spence’s new album. This unique LP is bound to be forgotten—some day it’ll be as rare as “Memories of El Monte,” which Frank Zappa wrote for the Penguins, long after their time had gone. Get ahead of the game and buy Oar before you no longer have the chance…..Rolling Stone, September 20, 1969….~ 
In December 1968, Alexander “Skip” Spence left Bellevue Hospital. For a six month stay, all he had to show for it were the pajamas on his back, a diagnosis of schizophrenia, and a head full of songs. So, as legend has it (Spence’s wife has denied that this ever happened), the young man got on his motorcycle and rode straight down to Nashville from New York City, clad only in those pajamas. The music was devouring him, and it needed to be let out. The music was all he had left.

At one time, Skip Spence had the whole world wrapped around his finger. He started out as an early member of Jefferson Airplane before going on to become the founder and principal songwriter of Moby Grape, one of the most promising young bands of the San Francisco psych rock scene. Their self-titled 1967 debut album was hailed by critics, who paid special attention to Spence’s songwriting and wild, flowing guitar prowess. This would-be rock god was barely old enough to buy alcohol.

Sadly, by 1968, it all started falling apart. The Grape decamped to New York City that spring to record their sophomore effort, Wow. But Spence was well on his way towards becoming another acid casualty. Things came to a head one day when Spence, high on LSD, tried to kill his fellow bandmates Jerry Miller and Don Stevenson with a fire axe. The men were unharmed, but it was more or less the beginning of the end for Moby Grape. Wow was a critical and commercial bust, and Spence was jailed before beginning his six month stay in Bellevue.
When he got to Nashville, Spence set about exorcising his latest batch of songs at Columbia’s studios, under the watchful eye of Mike Figlio. The engineer simply left a three-track recorder running while Spence wandered around the studio, picking up different instruments seemingly at random. A plucked guitar line

here, a drum roll there. They managed to get it into some sort of order, and from there, the recordings were handed over to Moby Grape’s longtime producer, David Rubinson. The tapes were originally intended to be demos only, but Rubinson was apparently so taken with what Spence had created that he sent the tapes to Columbia as they were.
The resulting album, Oar, celebrates its 35th anniversary this year. Of course, it is miraculous that the album is remembered at all. The record was virtually ignored by both critics and fans upon its May 1969 release; for many decades it had the unfortunate distinction of being the lowest-selling album in the history of Columbia Records. Perhaps the world wasn’t yet ready for an album like Oar: so dark, so mysterious, so stripped down, so full of doom, yet so full of heart. In many ways, Oar represents the most unusual of contradictions: Spence made a record that so perfectly summed up the end of the 1960s, but it wouldn’t find its audience for another few decades. Spence himself is the physical representation of the beautiful promise of the 1960s gone to seed.
Just listen to the opening track, “Little Hands.” It starts with plaintive, darkly strummed acoustic guitar chords, before Spence, in a husky, defeated voice begins intoning: “Little hands clapping/Children are laughing/Little hands clapping/All over the world.” Through the darkness, you can almost hear Spence’s vision; slap some electric instrumentation on there, maybe a choir and a string quartet, and “Little Hands” could’ve been a perfect breezy AM pop hit. It could’ve been used to sell Coca-Cola. But cast through Spence’s chiaroscuro lo-fi prism, it becomes something else entirely: a mocking lament for the end of the ’60s. It is the sound of the Hells Angels at Altamont, of Sharon Tate‘s slaughter at the hands of the Manson family, of thousands more dead in Vietnam. In the album’s gnarled folk pop (“Diana”), brain-melting psychedelia (“War in Peace”) and eerie abstract drone (“Grey/Afro”), we are confronted, over and over, in pure naked heartfelt emotion, with the end of innocence.

Not only with the end of innocence, but with the end of Spence’s career as a musician. Oar would prove to be his swan song. He spent the rest of his life in and out of mental hospitals and rehab facilities, dealing with homelessness, mental illness, and debilitating substance abuse. Spence died in 1999, at the age of 52. That same year, the boutique label Sundazed reissued Oar, adding ten extra tracks recorded during the sessions. The album has been a beloved cult classic ever since, providing brave listeners with a rarefied glimpse into the psyche of a disturbed genius with his calloused, malnourished hand on the pulse of society. Many people like to refer to Oar as a lost album, in that it languished in obscurity for so many years before receiving its proper due. But, on the contrary, the story of Skip Spence and Oar proves that truly great music is never truly lost….Liam Carroll….~ 






Alexander Spence 
writer, performer, producer 
Charlie Bradley 
engineer 
Don Meehan 
engineer, mixing 
Mike Figlio 
engineer 
David Rubinson 
mixing, liner notes 
Lloyd Ziff 
cover design 






Tracklist
A1 Little Hands 3:45
A2 Cripple Creek 2:13
A3 Diana 3:28
A4 Margaret - Tiger Rug 2:16
A5 Weighted Down (The Prison Song) 6:25
A6 War In Peace 4:04
B1 Broken Heart 3:27
B2 All Come To Meet Her 2:00
B3 Books Of Moses 2:38
B4 Dixie Peach Promenade (Yin For Yang) 2:50
B5 Lawrence Of Euphoria 1:26
B6 Grey / Afro 12:10

Extra Oar
13 This Time He Has Come 4:42
14 It’s The Best Thing For You 2:48
15 Keep Everything Under Your Hat 3:06
16 Furry Heroine (Halo Of Gold) 3:36
17 Givin’ Up Things 0:59 

Unissued Oar
18 If I’m Good 0:47
19 You Know 1:47
20 Doodle 1:02
21 Fountain 0:34
22 I Think You And I 1:14 













Skip Spence alamy photos

https://www.alamy.com/stock-photo-1960s-musician-skip-spence-outside-a-halfway-house-on-the-streets-27744435.html


Skippy was just hanging around. He hadn't been all there for years, because he'd been into heroin all that time. In fact he actually ODed once and they had him in the morgue in San Jose with a tag on his toe. All of a sudden he got up and asked for a glass of water. Now he was snortin' big clumps of coke, and nothing would happen to him. We couldn't have him around because he'd be pacing the room, describing axe murders. So we got him a little place of his own. He had a little white rat named Oswald that would snort coke too. He'd never washed his dishes, and he'd try to get these little grammar school girls to go into the house with him. He was real bad. One of the parents finally called the cops, and they took him to the County Mental Health Hospital in Santa Cruz. Where they immediately lost him, and he turned up days later in the women's ward. 










Discography 

With Jefferson Airplane 

Jefferson Airplane Takes Off (RCA, 1966) 

With Moby Grape 

Moby Grape (Columbia, 1967) 
Wow/Grape Jam (Columbia, 1968) 
Moby Grape ’69 (Columbia, 1969) 
20 Granite Creek (Reprise, 1971) 
Live Grape (Akarma, 1978) 
The Place and the Time (Sundazed, 2009) 
Moby Grape Live (Sundazed, 2010) 

Solo 
Studio album 

Oar (Columbia, 1969), remastered and expanded in 1999 by Sundazed 

Single release 

Land of the Sun (Sundazed, 1999) 


Spence, at far left, with Moby Grape in 1967.

Moby Grape, 1967


johnkatsmc5,the experience of music..

volume

volume

Fuzz

Fuzz

Analogue

Analogue

Cassette Deck

Cassette Deck

Akai

Akai

vinyl

vinyl

Music

Music

sound

sound

Hi`s Master`s Voice

Hi`s Master`s Voice

Vinyl

Vinyl

music forever

music forever

“A Revolutionary New Triumph in Tape” 1958

“A Revolutionary New Triumph in Tape” 1958

Dance

Dance

Crazy with music

Crazy with music

vinyl

vinyl