Twisted Tales: Brilliant Burnout Skip Spence Squanders His Massive Talent
According to legend, Skip Spence once sat up in a morgue, a tag on his toe, and asked for a glass of water.
By then, he'd already been dead to the San Francisco rock scene for years. One of the brightest flames and quickest burnouts of the psychedelic era, Alexander "Skip" Spence drifted into decades of hard-core drug addiction after recording his only solo album, 'Oar,' in 1969. An early member of three key Bay Area groups -- Quicksilver Messenger Service, Jefferson Airplane and Moby Grape -- the dynamic, multitalented Spence was effectively through with performing by the age of 23.
After playing guitar for the first group and drums for the second, Spence took off for Mexico unannounced and was dumped by the Airplane. (One of Spence's songs, 'My Best Friend,' was later included on the band's definitive album, 'Surrealistic Pillow.') With manager Matthew Katz, another Airplane castoff, he put together a new group called Moby Grape. The band, with its three-guitar interplay and its effortless blend of country, folk, rock and psychedelia, was soon recognized as the cream of the San Francisco crop.
Signed to Columbia Records, the Grape had a gala introduction at the Avalon Ballroom. Fifty thousand orchids were dropped from the balcony, and the crowd shared hundreds of bottles of "Moby Grape Juice" wine. Janis Joplin and members of the Airplane and the Grateful Dead joined the band onstage for an all-star hippie jam.
But the band was ill-fated from the start. When it was noted that drummer Don Stevenson appeared to be flipping the middle finger in the group portrait on the album cover, Columbia was shamed into airbrushing the offending digit. The label infamously torched its new band's commercial prospects by launching an ill-considered publicity campaign, releasing five singles from the