vrijdag 30 november 2012

Skip Spence and the Sad Saga of Moby Grape

Source: The Hangar http://www.gotarevolution.com/mobygrape.htm
In the summer of 1965, Jefferson Airplane decided to dismiss their first drummer, Jerry Peloquin. That's when a golden boy named Alexander "Skip" Spence came waltzing into the Matrix club and was immediately signed up by Marty Balin, the band's co-founder. Spence had little experience as a drummer but Balin just knew he'd be right for the group. He sent Spence home with a pair of drumsticks and he soon debuted with the band, going on to play on their first album, Jefferson Airplane Takes Off. Spence wasn't one for staying in one place too long, though, and he took off to Mexico one day with a girlfriend or two, neglecting to tell the band he was going. They decided he wasn't going to work out and Spence was soon replaced by Spencer Dryden, who remained the Airplane's drummer throughout their key years of 1966-70. In the summer of '66, Skip resurfaced with a new band, Moby Grape, this time playing guitar, his first instrument. Everyone agreed that Moby Grape was an astounding band, but confused the Airplane was that they were managed by one Matthew Katz. Katz had also been the Airplane's first manager, and he'd given them nothing but grief. Subsequent lawsuits involving Katz would tie up the court system for a whopping 21 years. Why Skip Spence would choose to continue working with Katz was just one of the many unfortunate mysteries in which his life became tangled during the three-plus decades following his Airplane stay.
With Surrealistic Pillow completed, the Airplane returned home to play Thanksgiving weekend at the Fillmore. The following weekend, they returned to L.A. to play a week of shows at the Whisky, missing a perfect opportunity to witness Moby Grape, the band that Skip Spence had co-founded after his return from Mexico. The Grape had been woodshedding in Marin County for the past few months, working on material. They'd just played their first gig, at California Hall, on November 4th. Everyone who caught Moby Grape's act agreed instantly that this was one outstanding band. But to the Airplane, the most astonishing thing of all was that, even though Skip Spence was well aware of all the turmoil the Airplane had been through, Moby Grape's manager was Matthew Katz. Moby Grape (Skip Spence far left) The Grape's saga is one of squandered potential, absurdly misguided decisions, bad-luck, blunders and excruciating heartbreak, all set to the tune of some of the greatest rock and roll ever to emerge from San Francisco. Moby Grape could have had it all, but they ended up with nothing, and less. Katz had helped engineer the band's formation. In addition to Spence, the quintet included two other guitarists: Peter Lewis (the son of actress Loretta Young), who used to play with Spencer Dryden down in L.A. and was most recently working with a band called Peter and the Wolves; and Jerry Miller. Miller and drummer Don Stevenson had played together in a bar band in the Pacific Northwest called the Frantics, and Miller had earlier worked with Bobby Fuller, the Texan rocker who died under mysterious circumstances in the summer of '66 just months after scoring a Top 10 hit with the Sonny Curtis-penned "I Fought The Law." The Frantics relocated to San Francisco in 1965, where bassist Bob Mosley worked with them briefly. Mosley recommended Miller and Stevenson to fill out the lineup of the proposed new group, which took its moniker from the punch line of a dumb joke, "What's purple and swims in the ocean?" At first, the rest of the Grape-to-be wasn't sure about working with Spence. Jerry Miller: He was a little bit too crazy, even then. When we first met him, he looked a little bit crazed. He was one of the first guys I'd seen with ratted hair. And he'd laugh hysterically when he'd get the feeling. But he played excellent rhythm guitar. He did these things where he would muffle the strings. And he did that better than anybody, ever. And when the five of us played together, there was something happening that was undeniable. Moby Grape was a record company's dream band when they debuted. Their complementary three-guitar lineup produced a thunderous noise, not unlike what Buffalo Springfield was doing down in L.A. Their songs were expertly composed and had both commercial possibilities and the integrity demanded by San Francisco audiences. They looked great onstage–they had a real presence, unlike some of the other local bands–and put on a dazzling performance. Many felt that they were the most accomplished band on the scene musically from the moment they showed up. Al Kooper: The only San Francisco band that did anything for me was Moby Grape. They adhered to more of a three-minute mentality. But the Grape was doomed. For starters, they allowed Matthew Katz to retain ownership of their name, precipitating legal battles that continued to tie up the court system clear through to the end of the century and kept the musicians from exploiting their own legacy. And in 1967, upon the release of their first album for Columbia Records, hailed by many critics as one of few perfect debuts in rock history, the Grape was the victim of one of the most misguided marketing efforts in the annals of the music industry: the simultaneous release of nearly all of the songs on the album as A-sides or B-sides of singles. By pitting the five records against one another, Columbia effectively canceled out the possibility of any one of them gaining enough momentum to become a hit. The disaster was compounded by a press party at the Avalon so overblown in its hype quotient (purple flowers everywhere) that Moby Grape never really recovered. Katz's management style proved consistent with the way he'd managed the Airplane. Jerry Miller says that he remembers the Grape missing a photo session for the high-circulation Look magazine because Matthew had gotten the time of the shoot wrong. Things got worse. There were busts and a second album generally considered inferior to the first. And then, in 1968, began the downfall of Skippy Spence. Spence had taken to gobbling tabs of acid like Pez, and taking harder drugs, becoming increasingly unreliable and unpredictable. While the band was staying in New York, at the Albert Hotel, Spence chopped away at Stevenson and Miller's hotel room door with a fire axe, and when he failed to find them there, continued on to the studio where the group had been doing some recording. Producer David Rubinson managed to get the weapon away, but Spence was taken by police, first to the Tombs jail and finally to Bellevue Hospital, where he spent six months undergoing psychiatric care. He was never the same after that–the old Skip Spence, described by everyone as a happy-go-lucky, good-time fellow, disappeared into a dope-induced psychosis. Skip Spence Jerry Miller: Skippy changed radically when we were in New York. There were some people there that were into harder drugs and a harder lifestyle, and some very weird shit. And so he kind of flew off with those people. They were really strange, almost Nazi-ish. Skippy kind of disappeared for a little while. Next time we saw him he had cut off his beard, and he had a black leather jacket on, with his chest hanging out, with some chains and just sweating like a son of a gun. I don't know what the hell he got a hold of, man, but it just whacked him. And the next thing I know, he axed my door down in the Albert Hotel. They said at the reception area that this crazy guy had held an axe to the doorman's head. At the end of 1968, Skip was released, and hopped a Triumph motorcycle pointed toward Nashville, where he recorded the idiosyncratic solo album Oar for Columbia. Although largely ignored in its time, Oar grew in stature as a cult favorite over the years, culminating in the simultaneous 1999 re-release of the album, with bonus tracks appended to it, and a tribute album called More Oar, consisting of new interpretations of the album's songs by contemporary artists such as Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin and Tom Waits. But by then, it was too late for Skip Spence. After a near-lifetime as a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic, living much of the time in institutions as a ward of the state, only occasionally venturing out to make new music with the former members of Moby Grape, Alexander "Skip" Spence died on April 16th, 1999 in Santa Cruz, California. He was two days shy of his 53rd birthday. Although the official cause of death was lung cancer, Spence had entered the hospital on April 5th with numerous ailments, including pneumonia, hepatitis and congestive heart failure. His lifestyle and years of poverty and neglect had finally caught up to him. Unlike many other casualties of the '60s, Spence neither died young nor had a chance to find his way out. Unlike the advice in the Neil Young song, he both burned out and faded away. Yet, he touched so many. Sam Andrew: I went to see the Airplane at the Matrix when they were starting out, and what knocked me out was Skip Spence. He was all I could see the night I went. He was the drummer but he had so much charisma. He was really a great player. He was really driving the band. It was just so complete, such a good sound. Paul Kantner: He wasn't the preeminent guitar player in Moby Grape, but he probably was responsible for a good 30 to 40 percent of the exuberance of Moby Grape, just him alone. On stage at his height, he was a force to be reckoned with, in terms of joy and participation and passion with what you're doing and connecting it to people out there. He was a really bright star. He came up with beautiful chord changes and the melodies going through them. He had a real knack for that. He was one of the casualties. That didn't happen until he left the Airplane. And then he had troubles with Matthew and Moby Grape and acid and heroin and girlfriends; those things all conspired against him to blow him over the hill. Miller says that the Grape, when they first formed, was unaware of the problems that the Airplane had had with Katz. Jerry Miller: Neither Skippy nor Matthew told us that he fell out of favor with them. So it took a while before we found that out that they definitely didn't like the Matthew guy. He had a talent, but he abused the hell out of it. I'm not real pro-Matthew at all. I wouldn't piss in his face if his eyebrows were on fire. The Grape held on until 1969, recording and performing without Spence and Mosley, who, disgusted with the turn of events, joined the Marines in an effort to get far away from the rock and roll world. Mosley was discharged after nine months, but the Moby Grape saga continued to grow more bizarre and frustrating for the members in subsequent years. In 1970, Katz, who owned the band's name, put together a new Moby Grape consisting of none of the original members. Eventually a court decision sided with Katz on the ownership of both the name and the Grape's recorded catalog, making it virtually impossible at times for the original members to capitalize on the music they had created in the '60s. Even Columbia Records was unable to reissue the Grape's albums, which came out instead on a label set up by Katz. There would be other Moby Grape recordings and reunions, both under that name and others–the Legendary Grape, the Melvilles–concocted in an effort to circumvent Katz's claims on the group, but for the most part, despite the occasional resurfacing, Moby Grape was sunk almost from the start. Katz spent the better part of the years after the band's original demise in courts fighting appeals and initiating new suits, not just against the Grape but another prominent San Francisco band he managed, It's A Beautiful Day. Meanwhile, after spending several years in and out of the Grape and other bands, Mosley's life took a downward spiral, and he spent considerable time homeless before coming around again in the late '90s. By that time, not only had Miller, Mosley, Lewis and Stevenson reunited as Moby Grape, they had done so legally, the courts finally deciding in their favor on the name ownership issue.

woensdag 28 november 2012

Alexander "Skip" Spence: OAR

We hatched the original plans for our Alexander "Skip" Spence 'Oar' project well over a year ago. I had long wanted to release the album on Sundazed - having always been a fan of this particular record, and, of course, everything by Moby Grape. We were considering the Sundazed re-release of 'Oar' as being a way to restore the record to it's 'proper' sound, and also a way to further align and bolster our label with recordings of some of my heroes. After securing the rights to the record, we talked with Lynn Quinlan - a longtime fan and close friend of Skip's that had been lovingly devoting much of his time to helping Skip sort out and conquer various musical issues - publishing concerns, new recordings, etc.. He was enthused and anxious to help us with the release. David Rubinson (original Moby Grape producer who had mixed "Oar" in early '69 and penned the liner notes for the original album) and I had become friends many years ago - he too was on board to lend his help. And soon, we were speaking daily with Warner Bros.' Bill Bentley who was busy assembling his "More Oar" tribute album (Birdman BMR 023). Bill became a quick friend - we pooled resources, names and numbers, and decided we would release the two albums as much together as we possibly could. It's difficult to explain the importance (and endurance) of this album. For a better explanation than I could put together here, I'll direct you to [ Wall Of Sound ]- click on their record review section and look for "More Oar". The review is penned by Steve Turner (Mudhoney). However, it did just kind of recently occur to me that, by personally going through every note on the original "Oar" reels, (mastering the album, mixing the bonus tracks), I can lend a little bit of extra insight and info into certain areas of the making of the original record. Thus, this column. I also wanted it to be known that the Sundazed disc was created with a huge sense of community - more than I can remember on any other release. I'll expand upon that a bit as well. But first, I'll give the background on the recording of the album as I've pieced it together - other particulars of the sessions (and the intense period leading up to them) are detailed within the liners that accompany our disc. The 'Oar' sessions were recorded in early December 1968, in Nashville (at Skip's request). All the material was printed to 1/2 inch 3-track tape, a format which had long been rendered obsolete in the recording community. This format, however, would become part of the overall "sound" of the album. Skip " produced" the "Oar" sessions himself - he also played all instruments on the record, and sang all the parts. The first few days in the studio (in early December) were spent laying down the basic tracks to quite a few songs, the next two were spent overdubbing additional parts on them - guitars, drums, vocals, etc. - creating Skip's 'finished master' takes. But it's really December 12, 1968 - the very last day of the 'Oar' sessions - that intrigues me most. That was the day Skip went in and recorded 15 plus "songs". As the clock on his allotted studio time ran down, Skip was pouring it out. As far as I can discern (both from interviews and the little existing vintage paperwork), Skip spent the morning of December 12th completing overdubs on "All Come To Meet Her", finalizing the components for the master version as we know it. In the afternoon and evening of that same day, playing a Fender bass and singing live vocals, Skip recorded nearly non-stop. He then added a drum kit overdub to some of the tracks that evening. A busy day for sure. This one, intense day of recording was responsible for some of Oar's simplest, yet most texturally intricate moments. For folks familiar with the original album, this is where "Margaret-Tiger Rug" is culled from...it's also where and when "Grey/Afro" was recorded. And, all of the bonus tracks on the Sundazed disc were committed to tape that same day. Diverse? Wow. When I combed through the multi-tracks earlier this year (there are only two, jammed 1/2" reels), I was amazed to find that so much material existed - beyond what had already been included as bonus material on the Sony Music Special Products CD release from 1991 (out of print). Sitting unmarked at the end of "Master Reel #2" were an additional five songs, or snippets, or flashes of brilliance, whatever, that no one really remembered. These audio snapshots were obviously excised from lengthier pieces - that no longer existed. At the time of the original sessions, Skip (or maybe Rubinson, or engineer Mike Figlio - nobody can really recall) went through and scrapped all outtake recordings that were considered to be superfluous - but, every extra tidbit, every fragmentary recorded thought, verse, or chorus that did remain was intriguing, organized, carefully leadered off, and then, amazingly, forgotten. Lucky for us. It was in that last section of reel#2 that would yield some unbelievably precious moments; five, unheard vintage " Oar" recordings that would become the perfect bonus material for the Sundazed issue. With the Nashville sessions completed, the multi-tracks were delivered by Skip to Columbia staff producer, David Rubinson, in New York. David and engineer Don Meehan created the final master mixes found on the original Columbia album release - it is also this unique and incredible-sounding mastertape that we used for the body of the Sundazed disc (it was not used on the Special Products disc from '91). Much work went into this original mix. Since it was a 3-track recording, instruments had to be isolated and placed within the mix by using varied, (and pretty adventurous) EQ and compression techniques, most too technical to go into here. The big picture is; that's why this record sounds the way it does. And really interestingly, it appears that at sometime around the assembly of it's original issue, "Oar" was actually given consideration to be issued as a double-album set, as marked on the original multi-track reels. See the inset photo of the tape box legends (below) for the originally-proposed song line-up (keep in mind that some song titles were just working references at that point) for sides one through four. We wanted the liner notes that would accompany the Sundazed release had to be ultra-special. We asked our friend David Fricke (Rolling Stone senior editor) to pen the 'recording history' of the album. David and I have worked together on nearly all things Byrds and Moby Grape for Sony Music, and he's written incredible liner notes for Sundazed as well (ie: our Bryan MacLean release). Next up, West Coast Sundazed staffer Jud Cost agreed to add the 'color' in a second set of notes based upon interviews he conducted with a host of Skippy's music pals, ranging from Marty Balin (Jefferson Airplane), to all the original members of the Grape, as well as others. We also decided to find room to run David Rubinson's vintage album notes. And, Greil Marcus quickly gave us permission to use his incredibly intuitive review of "Oar" as it appeared in Rolling Stone Magazine in 1969. For finishing touches, we unearthed some truly fabulous, unseen photos from Sony's Photo Library. Then Skip died. Bill Bentley called us within fifteen minutes of Skip's passing. We were fully aware of the seriousness of Skip's condition, but still devastated by his death. By the end of that day, our "Oar" album took on a new life - it was now a tribute album as well. Within the following week, as you might expect, the phones at Sundazed started ringing non-stop, flooded with calls from our friends, press people, customers, retailers and distributors - all of them inquiring about "Oar". Rather than rush the albums out, both Bill Bentley's project and the Sundazed release were nudged back a bit on their release schedules in order to provide some respectful breathing room. Sundazed and Birdman issued their "Oar" albums last week - they're already rocketing out the doors and are gathering rave reviews. I thought it would be a completely bittersweet feeling, but instead we all feel very, very proud to be involved in Skip's musical history and part of the testament to his great talent. -Bob Irwin

maandag 5 november 2012

Savages in Ekko op 4 november 2012

Savages trad op 4 november op in Ekko. Ongelovelijk concert van een formatie met veel toekomst. Onderstaand nadere informatie. A post-punk act from London that thrives off of violence and twisted desire. By Laura Snapes May 22, 2012 Savages: "Husbands" (via SoundCloud) Walking into Savages singer Jehnny Beth's north London living room, you're struck with a sense of the romantic promise and luster bands are supposed to have. There's nothing unassuming or reticent about the black mantelpiece stacked with vases of red roses and a replica of the clock from Dali's The Persistence of Memory; anthologies of 1970s porn magazines on the bookshelves, the enormous vintage wooden speakers in front of the tiled fireplace, and Thelonious Monk LPs propped by the record player. On a tour of the handsome house, Jehnny (real name Camille Berthomier) points out the French doors in her bedroom where she often wakes to see foxes peering in, before leading the way down to the tiny basement where Savages have been recording their debut single, "Flying to Berlin" b/w "Husbands", the second half of which you can hear above. It's a rumbling and explosive post-punk shriek about faceless grooms that will most definitely not be played at your cousin's wedding. (The single is due May 28 digitally and on 7" in June.) After forming last October, Savages played an impromptu first show supporting British Sea Power in Brighton this January, and their excoriating live performances soon became the talk of the town. And though the band hasn't released any official recordings until today, word spread around the internet based on an expertly shot, monochrome live video from a show at east London's Shacklewell Arms, as part of a night put on by the label Pop Noire, which Jehnny runs with her partner John (they continue to record as Jehn and John), and on which Savages will release their single. The live clip of "City's Full" (below) aptly demonstrates why there's been such huge anticipation around the band: bassist Ayse Hassan, guitarist Gemma Thompson, drummer Faye Milton, and Beth evoke Birthday Party-era Nick Cave, the Pop Group circa Y, the ragged speed of Killing Joke, Mission of Burma's way with distortion, and the Slits' predilection for dub. Meeting on a cold April evening, Gemma Thompson and Jehnny Beth are forthcoming as they describe the influence of Black Sabbath and French writer Céline, and talk about how they plan to give people something they're currently missing. Pitchfork: Why the name? Gemma Thompson: A lot of it comes from books I read when I was growing up-- Lord of the Flies, Catcher in the Rye, Bukowski. There's a point where you think everyone knows what's going on, how it all makes sense. Then you realize that everyone's just pretending. I remember sitting on a train and realizing that if it was suddenly the end of the world, we'd take on animal instincts again-- I had an apocalyptic vision of everyone tearing each other apart.
 Pitchfork: How did Savages originally come together? 

Jehnny Beth: Gemma had been speaking about the band to me for almost a year before we started, and I was really into it because I had a lot of lyrics that I knew would be perfect for a band called Savages. 

 Pitchfork: In what way?

 JB: I didn't want to write love songs; I wanted to write songs that were more violent. For example, I listened a lot to Black Sabbath, and I really liked how strong it is. I had been reading a lot of poetry about the Second World War from the perspective of the English in occupied France. From where they were standing, it was half romantic, half war poetry. I thought the link between the two was really interesting, but I needed a project to be able to write about this stuff. 
Pitchfork: What tenets do you hold as a band? 
JB: For me, direction and determination are important. 

 GT: You could play one note, but as long as you've got the intent there, you could floor what you needed to, basically. I really believe it's all about feel. I'm obsessed by it. 
JB: And it's about getting rid of anything unnecessary. The French writer Céline always used that technique: He would write a whole chapter, and if he wanted to alter a part of it, he would write the whole chapter again with that new idea included. That's the way I see the right composition-- you have to go through the entire thing to know if it works. 

Pitchfork: You've been playing live for a while without releasing any recorded material. Why? 
GT: We knew from the first rehearsals that we wanted the live performance to be integral, and that everything would come together because of the physical impact. We felt like nothing was finished until our first show. Even if the songs were kind of finished in a sense, they weren't finished until they were performed. Pitchfork: The first time I saw you play, it felt as though there was a sense of narrative to your setlist-- it seemed to be breaking out more and more as the show progressed.

 GT: I get obsessed by setlists. It haunts my dreams. I try to have a live story, in a way, for the sound to grow and become something else. The whole order of it is really important. 

JB: I like her to write the story and then I perform it; it's like she gives me a script two minutes before I perform a scene. 
Pitchfork: Your sound is quite aggressive and austere, and you wear a lot of black on stage, which might make people think what you're doing is masculine. But in one interview, you talked about how being four women really benefits you-- a gender-based difference that's not usually worth commenting on. 

GT: The last thing I want is for this to be about us being a band of four women. [In that interview,] I was thinking to myself about the use of softness and subtlety that we get the through distortion and vocals, because we are women. Also, I thought that's going to be one of the first things asked, and I want to get it out of the way. 
JB: I'm very proud to be surrounded by women. I think it's quite thrilling. I really like their company, their sensuality. I think they're particularly different and more adventurous, too. A band that I've been listening to a lot recently is HTRK, and they've got that primal thing as well, which I like, and I really like the way [frontwoman] Jonnine Standish is very sexual, very feminine, but not very sensual. It doesn't come across as a girl singing. It is active, but in a way that most people are not used to anymore. And that's what I want to come across with Savages. It's going to give something that people are not used to receiving anymore. Pitchfork: Jehn, you previously said something about how being in a group with women means you can sing about more violent things, which perhaps comes out in the song "Hit Me" that you've been performing.

 JB: It's not about domestic violence at all. It came from a documentary about a porn star. In it, she was crying, not because she had been raped, but because the scene she had just done was so emotionally intense, she was feeling full. And the documentary turned it into something very evil, like she had been a victim. And I hate when women are turned into victims like that. I was thinking, "She's not a victim, she knows exactly what she's doing." She's actually, I thought, really impressive. There's a line in the song which is exactly what she said: "I took a beating today, and that was the best thing I ever had." It was interesting to think that desire was coming from awkward places and not necessarily from the twee, obvious things that we think are feminine, but aren't. I like twisted, original desires. To twist that thing is very important, because it's the existence of life. 

 Artists: Savages