Spence, of Moby Grape dies
Originally a member of the Jefferson Airplane - he played drums on their
debut 'Jefferson Airplane Takes Off' and their classic second album 'Surrealistic
Pillow' - Skip Spence left in 1966 to form The Moby Grape.
While Jefferson Airplane were going off into the wilder extremes of LSD-influenced
West Coast psychedelia, the Grape were closer in spirit and attitude to
British mod bands like The Who and The Small Faces. Spence, singer and
guitarist, led a band that was self consciously stylish in an era when
facial hair and ragged denim were considered the height of sartorial elegance,
played hard fast R&B-tinged pop at a time when soft folk and extended
jams were the order of the day and set out to appeal to teenage girls at
a time when such ambitions were frowned upon.
Moby Grape were also one of the first bands to be 'hyped' by a record company;
their debut album, for example, was issued on a collection of seven inch
singles. All of which backfired on the group who disbanded.
Spence made a solo album - 'Oar' released in 1969 - that has acquired a
cult following among the likes of Beck and Tom Waits, who have all contributed
to 'More Oar', a soon-to-be-released tribute album. 'Oar' is a strange
and unapproachable record, with heavy hints that the mind-expanding 60's
were crossing over into out and out mental illness.
Spence's recent past is unhappy; he was diagnosed as suffering from schizophrenia,
was an alcoholic and lived as a derelict on the streets of Santa Cruz,
although reports suggest that he had finally managed to stop drinking a
few years before his death from cancer on Friday in a Santa Cruz hospital.
Spence reportedly heard the tribute album featuring REM and Robert Plant
in the hours before he died.
News story courtesy of the newly
Skip Spence Dies at 52
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ Skip Spence, an original member
of the rock
band Jefferson Airplane, has died
of lung cancer at 52.
Spence died Friday at Dominican Hospital in Santa Cruz, where he
had been fighting a number of ailments.
His death came weeks before the release of ``More Oar,'' a CD
tribute to Spence including songs
by Beck, Robert Plant, Tom Waits
and members of R.E.M. The recording
was inspired by ``Oar,''
Spence's unique, folk-psychedelic
solo album from 1969, which will
soon be reissued.
Spence had long battled schizophrenia and alcoholism. He had
been on a ventilator since entering
the hospital April 5.
In 1965, Alexander Lee ``Skip'' Spence, born in Ontario, Canada,
was set to audition as a guitar
player for Quicksilver Messenger
Service when another local musician,
Marty Balin, invited him to
play drums in his new band, Jefferson
Spence had never played drums before but learned quickly; on
``Oar'' he plays every instrument.
Spence left the Jefferson Airplane in 1966 and became a founding
member of Moby Grape. Later, he
gave another San Francisco Bay area
band, Pud, a new name _ the Doobie
Survivors include four children.
PIONEER SKIP SPENCE DIES
SKIP SPENCE, who played a pioneering role in the San Francisco acid rock
sound as a member of both JEFFERSON AIRPLANE and MOBY GRAPE, died
of lung cancer in Santa Cruz, California on Friday April 16, aged 52.
His death came a week before the American release of 'More Oar', a tribute
album including contributions from ROBERT PLANT, BECK and TOM WAITS,
the royalties from which were to have gone to a fund to help Spence rebuild
his life. He had spent his last years living in a residential care hostel
trailer home near San Jose after being made a ward of Santa Cruz County.
He was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic in 1968 and battled with drug
addiction and alcoholism.
His 1969 solo album 'Oar' is widely regarded as one of the great lost classics
of the psychedelic era. It was virtually his last recorded work as Spence
came to be regarded alongside the likes of SYD BARRETT, ROKY ERICKSON
and PETER GREEN as a crazed wayward genius, an acid casualty of his
There may now be a memorial concert to accompany the tribute album,
which also includes contributions from SON VOLTís JAY FARRAR, ROBYN
HITCHCOCK, GREG DULLI from THE AFGHAN WHIGS and MARK LANEGAN
of THE SCREAMING TREES. ~Music365
Member of Jefferson Airplane and Moby Grape Dies
Alexander "Skip" Spence, one of the founding
members of both Jefferson Airplane and Moby
Grape -- two of the Bay Area's most influential
bands -- died on April 16th from lung cancer.
Spence, who would have turned fifty-three on
Sunday, died at Dominican Hospital in Santa
Cruz, where he had been fighting a number of
ailments. Spence was checked into a
Northern California hospital with pneumonia on
April 5th, and his condition quickly worsened.
In an odd twist of fate, Birdman Records was
just getting ready to release More Oar, a
tribute album with performances by Robert
Plant, Beck, Tom Waits and others, in a few
weeks. The album is based on Spence's 1969
solo album, Oar. The proceeds of the album,
including artist royalties, were to be donated
to a fund to help with Spence's medical bills.
Spence, a uniquely talented musician and
songwriter, had suffered from mental illness for
the last thirty years.
Spence began his musical career in 1965 as
the original drummer for Jefferson Airplane.
Although a guitarist, he was cast as the
drummer by founder Marty Balin, who took
one look at Spence -- who was at the time
auditioning for the Quicksilver Messenger
Service -- at a club and apparently announced,
"That's my drummer." Spence's songwriting
talents were not wasted, however, and he
co-wrote several songs on the Airplane's debut
album. Before leaving the band in 1966, he left
behind one song, the folk-pop charmer, "My
Best Friend," which was chosen as the first
single from the Airplane's 1967 masterpiece,
Spence was most well known for his
involvement with Moby Grape, a band who
pushed Murphy's Law to its limits. Spence
was the central figure in a band that boasted
four singer/songwriters, combining elements of
country, soul, folk and blues. Despite
managerial nightmares and Columbia Records'
much-maligned marketing move of
simultaneously releasing five singles from the
1967 debut Moby Grape, the album was an
auspicious beginning and a classic of the
period, including such Spence masterpieces
as "Omaha" and "Indifference." "Omaha" in
particular is regarded as a rock classic and
was covered in the Eighties by the Golden
Palominos featuring Michael Stipe on vocals.
During the 1968 recording of the group's
second album, Wow, Spence allegedly
attempted to break down a bandmate's hotel
room door with a fire axe while on L.S.D., and
was committed for six months to the criminal
ward at Bellevue Hospital. After his release,
Spence negotiated a solo deal with Columbia
and recorded Oar in Nashville. The album is an
oddball masterpiece, and one that solidified
Spence's reputation as the "American Syd
Barrett," a true musical genius who was
becoming a casualty.
Spence continued to have minor involvement in
later Moby Grape projects and reunions, as
well as helping the Doobie Brothers get signed
to Warner Bros. Records (the Doobies idolized
Spence and the Grape). More recently,
Spence's "Land of the Sun," one of the only
post-Grape recordings he ever completed, was
nearly placed on the X-Files soundtrack.
Spence is survived by his four children --
Aaron, 34; Adam, 33; Omar, 31; and Heather,
29 -- and his former wife and current girlfriend.
MATTHEW GREENWALD for Rocktropolis
Grape's Skip Spence Dead At 52; Tribute LP Pushed Back
(4/19/99, 1 p.m. PDT) - Skip Spence, the musician whose presence on the
San Francisco music scene in the 1960s helped launch the seminal rock groups
Jefferson Airplane and Moby Grape, died Friday in Northern California of
lung cancer. He was 52.
In the wake of Spence's death, More Oar, a new tribute album featuring
Beck, Robert Plant, Robyn Hitchcock, Wilco, Tom Waits, and R.E.M., inspired
by Spence's 1968 solo classic Oar (LAUNCH, 1/28), will now be released
in early June. The album, which will be released on the indie Birdman label,
was originally set to come out in April.
"I heard they played it for him in his final hour," More Oar producer Bill
LAUNCH earlier today. "I hope he got a sense of love from the musicians
who played on this album. I'd say 95% of the people on the record had never
met him, but by the end they had a connection to him."
Though Spence had overcome alcoholism and schizophrenia in years past,
Bentley said that it seemed the recent diagnosis of lung cancer was too
much for him.
"I went up to see him on April 8 and he was unconscious," Bentley said.
"I saw him, said a little prayer for him, noticed a little smile on his
face, and I really felt he was already out of this world and gone to the
next. You could feel that he wanted out."
Royalties from the new record that were originally to go directly to Spence
will now be sent to the fund established to cover his medical expenses,
Fans wishing to contribute to the fund can send checks, payable to I.T.F.
Alexander Lee "Skip" Spence, to Comerica Bank, CA, Attn: Marilyn Guzman,
1960 41st Avenue, Capitola, CA 95010.
Born Alexander Lee Spence in Ontario, Canada in 1946, Spence moved to California
in the 1960s, where he served as the first drummer for the Airplane before
moving on to front Moby Grape in 1966.
Oar, recorded entirely by Spence in 1968 after a six-month stay in a New
York mental hospital, was not a commercial success, but is considered by
many to be a groundbreaking work. In fact, Beck's major-label debut, 1994's
Mellow Gold, was frequently compared to Oar.
"Oar is the first record where a guy left a band, went out on his own,
and made a record pretty much all alone," Bentley recently explained (LAUNCH,
1/28). "It was really the beginning of the 'do-it-yourself' movement. It
didn't have that effect then, because nobody really paid attention to it
at the time."
Features on Jimmy Page & Robert Plant, Robyn Hitchcock, Wilco, and
R.E.M. are available on LAUNCH.com.
~ Stephen Peters