Vine And Dandy

Legendary '60s Bay Area quintet featuring the notoriously frazzled Skip Spence

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You could say it was all there in the name: Melville’s white whale meets Dionysus, with suitably catastrophic results. But Californian quintet Moby Grape, the great West Coast shoulda-beens of ’66-’69, were doomed by more than nomenclature.

Like Buffalo Springfield, the Grape came at psychedelic pop-rock from several angles: revved-up white R&B (Bob Mosley), sorrowful balladry (Peter Lewis), frantic bar-band drive (Jerry Miller and Don Stevenson) and?last but not least?the whacked-out Bay Area zaniness of Canadian singer-guitarist Alexander “Skip” Spence.

Spence had been in Jefferson Airplane, but Moby Grape was as much a southern as a northern California band: Mosley hailed from San Diego, Lewis was the son of Hollywood goddess Loretta Young. Listening to some of the Grape’s greatest moments on Crosstalk, the pervasive flavour is Sunset Strip rather than Haight-Ashbury.

The key to such vintage Grape blasts as “Fall On You” and Spence’s “Omaha” is the combo of overlapping psych-folk harmonies and crackling, combative guitars. If the Grape blew Stills, Young and co off the stage at Sausalito’s Ark club in late ’66, it scarcely altered the fact that they were a shadow Springfield?Mosley the big-voiced blond soul man

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