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Alexander "Skip" Spence — Oar
(Sundazed SC 11075, 1969/1999, CD)

by Steve Robey, Published 2000-10-01

Oar Cover art

A founding member of both Jefferson Airplane (on drums) and Moby Grape (guitar, vocals), Spence is undoubtedly one of the most important, and most charismatic, figures of the San Francisco psychedelic scene in the late 60s. After Moby’s second release, Wow, Spence’s psychiatric facuties began to falter, and following a violent incident involving an axe (see liner notes for the sordid story), Spence was hospitalized in a prison hospital, during which he wrote the songs to be released on this, his only solo album, in 1969. Spence rode to Nashville and recorded this entire album alone, playing guitar, bass, and drums, with complete artistic freedom afforded to him. The album is a minor classic, completely unlike anything else in its dark, claustrophobic, homemade atmosphere and its desperate, hopeful vocal approach. Certain tracks, such as “War in Peace” and “Little Hands,” compare favorably to the best of Moby Grape, but most of the rest is weird, visionary song ideas that seem unfinished at first but over time show a unique, uncensored pop vision at work. The highlight, and the weirdest of the weird tracks, is the 10-minute “Grey / Afro,” which rumbles along via a mesmerizing bass/drum pattern and mantra-like vocals, all overlaid with eerie echo effects. The Sundazed reissue features a “continuation” of this track, making for a full 15-minute version. The reissue also includes extra recordings from the sessions (the whole session took only a couple of days) that further explore the bass / drums weirdness of “Grey / Afro.” In all, this is an intriguing release, with wonderful liner notes, packaging, and sound provided by Sundazed. Those who swear by Syd Barrett’s solo releases should definitely check this out.

Filed under: Reissues, Issue 20, 1999 releases, 1969 recordings

Related artist(s): Alexander "Skip" Spence


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