The new issue of Uncut – in shops now or available to buy direct from us here – includes a deep dive into the heady world of San Francisco psych pioneers Moby Grape, investigating why a band blessed with five songwriters and seemingly endless promise fell apart so quickly.
You can read the full feature exclusively in the magazine itself, but here’s a little piece of bonus content for you: a short interview with Jefferson Airplane’s Jorma Kaukonen, recounting his personal encounters with the Grape: “Quite simply, their sophistication was over my head!”
What did you make of the Moby Grape dynamic?
I saw them live many times. I remember being stunned by their vocal harmonies. And then there were the guitarists. Jerry Miller, as a guitarist, was intimidating. Before I got into Jefferson Airplane I would have never been interested in exploring the possibilities of the electric guitar. For better or worse, fingerstyle acoustic was my world as a player. However, loving electric blues as I did, my heroes were Muddy Waters, Hubert Sumlin, Howlin’ Wolf, Buddy Guy, BB King, Mike Bloomfield.
One must remember that I was a burgeoning electric guitar-playing rock’n’roll band-member for the first time. It was all new to me, it was unknown territory. We were all finding our way, strangers in a strange land, to reference Heinlein. On some levels the Grape seemed way more ‘professional’ to me than the Airplane did. Based on my limited artistic worldview at the time, I thought having three guitar players was excessive and unnecessary but this says more about me at the time than them. Quite simply, their sophistication was over my head! That said, their show was always powerful and multi-dimensional. They always played as a band and they rocked the house!
How well did you get to know the band members themselves?
For some reason I was closer to the guys in the Dead and Quicksilver than the Grape. I don’t know why. It might have had something to do with the fact that Matthew Katz was their manager, but this far down the road your guess is as good as mine. San Francisco bands had an interesting gestalt reality that was peculiar to the Bay Area. We were all family in a way, but some family members were closer than others. Skip [Spence] was the only member of Moby Grape that I knew. I knew him from my Benner Music Company days in San Jose on Stevens Creek Road in ’63 and ’64. He was always mercurial – in that, he would remain consistent. Skip was always a larger than life personality, for better or worse. I would have to say, from my limited perspective, that he was at the very least the most visible member of the band and at the most the driving force. Again, I had known Skip for some years and he was always the light in the room.
Did Moby Grape strike you as the kind of band who were going to be very successful?
The Grape seemed to be born to be successful. An infinite talent pool, a record company solidly behind them – don’t forget, they actually had a commercial logo! Looking back at it all from this far down the road, it’s a tragedy that their collective artistic lives are not better remembered.
Read more about Moby Grape in the September 2023 issue of Uncut, on sale now!