Peter Lewis - guitar, vocals; Jerry Miller - guitar, vocals; Bob Mosley - bass, vocals; Alexander "Skip" Spence - guitar, vocals; Don Stevenson - drums
Some bands are doomed from the beginning. On paper, Moby Grape's early bio reads just like some of their more successful contemporaries: Super-talented, creatively-charged songwriter/musician Alexander 'Skip' Spence left his gig drumming with poised-for-stardom Jefferson Airplane to form his own group, hooked up with a manager, cherry-picked more super-talented songwriter/musicians from various bands and recorded a stellar debut album. So far, you could substitute different names and shuffle the facts and come up with the back story for the Byrds, CSN, Blind Faith, just about anybody. Unfortunately for the Grape, it's what happens next that gets your name in the history books.
Upon completion of their debut album, the Grape's label was so excited by what it heard (the deafening sound of cash registers…not the music) that it released five tracks from the album as singles—all at the same time. Suddenly, this merry band of true-blue psychedelic cowboys looked like the Monkees out for a quick buck. An uneven sophomore effort did little to sway public opinion. For his part, Skip sought to reaffirm his artistic integrity by attacking drummer Don Stevenson's room door with an axe during a recording session, then spending six months in the Bellevue mental institution. Upon his release, he drove straight to Nashville in his pajamas to record the brilliant but largely forgotten solo record, Oar. During their first three years together, everything that could go wrong did go wrong. Disastrous management, both on and off the road, legal entanglements, arrests, stolen equipment, and eventually drug-induced insanity—Moby Grape experienced it. Despite the undeniable chemistry and raw talent involved, the band was running low on new material and self-esteem by the end of the 1960s. Soon prevented from even using their own name, the various band members recorded and performed only sporadically throughout the following decade.
Luckily for everyone who missed the experience of Moby Grape live on stage in 1967, at their most inspired and promising moment in time, this brief recording from Winterland featuring all five original members stands as a testament to what might have been. "Rounder" is a quick and fierce psych-pop gem penned by Spence featuring some uneven but spirited vocals by pretty much everybody on stage. Passed over in favor of other material on the early Moby Grape LPs, this compares favorably with the high-spirited material on the debut. The slow shuffle, "Miller's Blues," showcases some first-rate guitar wailing courtesy of Jerry Miller, and "Changes" picks it back up a couple notches with the same soulful glee that made it one of many standout tracks on the first album. So now, with the benefit of hindsight, plus 30 or 40 years for the music industry hype to die down, Moby Grape may finally get the audience they always deserved.