|Origin||San Francisco, California, United States|
|1966-1969, 1971, 1973-1975, 1977-1979, 1983-1984, 1987-1991, 1996-2001, 2006-present|
|Labels||Columbia, Reprise, Polydor, Legacy, Dig Music, Sundazed|
|The Frantics, the Cornells, the Misfits, Jefferson Airplane, the Rhythm Dukes, Lovecraft, the Ducks, the Call, the Electric Prunes|
Moby Grape is an American rock group from the 1960s, known for having all five members contribute to singing and songwriting, which collectively merged elements of folk music, blues, country, and jazz with rock and psychedelic music. They were one of the few groups of which all members were lead vocalists. The group continues to perform occasionally.
Moby Grape's success was significantly impeded by decades-long legal disputes with their former manager, Matthew Katz. Legal difficulties originated shortly after the group's formation, when Katz insisted that an additional provision be added to his management contract, giving him ownership of the group name. At the time, various group members were indebted to Katz, who had been paying for apartments and various living costs prior to the release of the group's first album. Despite objecting, group members signed, based in part on the impression that there would be no further financial support from Katz unless they did so. Neil Young, then of Buffalo Springfield, was in the room at the time, and kept his head down, playing his guitar, and saying nothing. According to Peter Lewis, "I think Neil knew, even then, that this was the end. We had bought into this process that we should have known better than to buy into."
The dispute with Katz became more acute after the group members' rights to their songs, as well as their own name, were signed away in 1973, in a settlement made without their knowledge between Katz and the band's manager at the time (and former producer), David Rubinson. It was also a settlement made at a time when Bob Mosley and Skip Spence were generally recognized as being legally incapacitated from the effects of schizophrenia.
As described by Jeff Tamarkin, "The Grape's saga is one of squandered potential, absurdly misguided decisions, bad luck, blunders and excruciating heartbreak, all set to the tune of some of the greatest rock and roll ever to emerge from San Francisco. Moby Grape could have had it all, but they ended up with nothing, and less."
The group was formed in late 1966 in San Francisco, at the instigation of Skip Spence and Matthew Katz. Both had been previously associated with Jefferson Airplane, Spence as the band's first drummer, playing on their first album, Jefferson Airplane Takes Off, and Katz as the band's manager, but both had been dismissed by the group. Katz encouraged Spence to form a band similar to Jefferson Airplane, with varied songwriting and vocal work by several group members, and with Katz as the manager. According to band member Peter Lewis, "Matthew (Katz) brought the spirit of conflict into the band. He didn't want it to be an equal partnership. He wanted it all."
The band name, judicially determined to have been chosen by Bob Mosley and Spence, came from the punch line of the joke "What's purple and swims?". Lead guitarist Jerry Miller and drummer Don Stevenson (both formerly of The Frantics, originally based in Seattle) joined guitarist (and son of actress Loretta Young) Peter Lewis (of The Cornells), bassist Bob Mosley (of The Misfits, based in San Diego), and Spence, now on guitar instead of drums. Jerry Miller and Don Stevenson had moved The Frantics from Seattle to San Francisco after a 1965 meeting with Jerry Garcia, then playing with The Warlocks at a bar in Belmont, California. Garcia encouraged them to move to San Francisco. Once The Frantics were settled in San Francisco, Mosley joined the band.
While Jerry Miller was the principal lead guitarist, all three guitarists played lead at various points, often playing off against each other, in a guitar form associated with Moby Grape as "crosstalk". The other major three-guitar band at the time was Buffalo Springfield. Moby Grape's music has been described by Geoffrey Parr as follows: "No rock and roll group has been able to use a guitar trio as effectively as Moby Grape did on Moby Grape. Spence played a distinctive rhythm guitar that really sticks out throughout the album. Lewis, meanwhile, was a very good guitar player overall and was excellent at finger picking, as is evident in several songs. And then there is Miller, "The way they crafted their parts and played together on Moby Grape is like nothing else I've ever heard in my life. The guitars are like a collage of sound that makes perfect sense."
All band members wrote songs and sang lead and backup vocals for their debut album Moby Grape (1967). Mosley, Lewis, and Spence generally wrote alone, while Miller and Stevenson generally wrote together. In 2003, Moby Grape was ranked as number 121 in Rolling Stone's "500 Greatest Albums of All Time". Noted rock critic Robert Christgau listed it as one of The 40 "Essential Albums of 1967". In 2008, Skip Spence's song "Omaha", from the first Moby Grape album, was listed as number 95 in Rolling Stone's "100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time". The song was described as follows:
On their best single, Jerry Miller, Peter Lewis and Skip Spence compete in a three-way guitar battle for two and a quarter red-hot minutes, each of them charging at Spence's song from different angles, no one yielding to anyone else."
In a marketing stunt, Columbia Records immediately released five singles at once, and the band was perceived as being over-hyped. This was during a period in which mainstream record labels were giving previously unheard-of levels of promotion to what was then considered counter-cultural music genres. Nonetheless, the record was critically acclaimed and fairly successful commercially, with The Move covering the album's "Hey Grandma" (a Miller-Stevenson composition) on their eponymous first album. More recently, "Hey Grandma" was included in the soundtrack to the 2005 Sean Penn-Nicole Kidman film, The Interpreter, as well as being covered in 2009 by the Black Crowes, on Warpaint Live. Spence's "Omaha" was the only one of the five singles to chart, reaching number 88 in 1967. Miller-Stevenson's "8:05" became a country rock standard (covered by Robert Plant,Guy Burlage, and others).
One of Moby Grape's earliest major onstage performances was the Mantra-Rock Dance--a musical event held on January 29, 1967 at the Avalon Ballroom by the San Francisco Hare Krishna temple. At the event Moby Grape performed along with the Hare Krishna founder Bhaktivedanta Swami, Allen Ginsberg, Grateful Dead, and Big Brother and the Holding Company with Janis Joplin, donating proceeds to the temple. The group appeared at the Monterey Pop Festival on Saturday, June 17, 1967. Due to legal and managerial disputes, the group was not included in the D.A. Pennebaker-produced film of the event, Monterey Pop. Moby Grape's Monterey recordings and film remain unreleased, allegedly because Matthew Katz demanded one million dollars for the rights. According to Peter Lewis, "[Katz] told Lou Adler they had to pay us a million bucks to film us at the Monterey Pop Festival. So instead of putting us on Saturday night right before Otis Redding, they wound up putting us on at sunset on Friday when there was nobody in the place." 
The Moby Grape footage was shown in 2007 as part of the 40th anniversary celebrations of the film. Jerry Miller recalls that Laura Nyro was given Moby Grape's original position opening for Otis Redding, "because everybody was arguing. Nobody wanted to play first and I said that would be fine for me." In addition to the marketing backlash, band members found themselves in legal trouble for charges (later dropped) of consorting with underage females, and the band's relationship with their manager rapidly deteriorated.
The second album, Wow/Grape Jam, released in 1968, was generally viewed as a critical and commercial disappointment, even though the album charted at No. 20 on the Billboard Pop Albums charts, partially due to the special low price double-album packaging. Though Wow added strings and horns to some songs, their basic sound remained consistent from the debut album, featuring tight harmonies, multiple guitars, imaginative songwriting, and a strong level of musicianship. The album included the track "Just Like Gene Autry, a Foxtrot", a tribute to the ballroom music big band era which was tracked to only be played back properly at the speed of 78 RPM. The Grape Jam LP was one of loose improvised studio jams with outside musicians; this detracted from the stronger tunes on Wow, such as the room-shaking shuffle "Can't Be So Bad." Also in 1968, the band contributed to the soundtrack of the movie The Sweet Ride, and appeared, credited, in the film.
But, amidst this success, troubled times plagued the band when founding member Spence began abusing LSD, which led to increasingly erratic behavior. According to Miller: "Skippy changed radically when we were in New York. There were some people there (he met) who were into harder drugs and a harder lifestyle, and some very weird shit. And so he kind of flew off with those people. Skippy kind of disappeared for a little while. Next time we saw him, he had cut off his beard, and was wearing a black leather jacket, with his chest hanging out, with some chains and just sweating like a son of a gun. I don't know what the hell he got a hold of, man, but it just whacked him. And the next thing I know, he axed my door down in the Albert Hotel. They said at the reception area that this crazy guy had held an ax to the doorman's head."  After spending time in the infamous Tombs jail in New York, Spence was committed to New York's Bellevue Hospital, where he spent six months under psychiatric care.
Recalling this troubled time for Spence, Peter Lewis said, "We had to do (the album) in New York because the producer (David Rubinson) wanted to be with his family. So we had to leave our families and spend months at a time in hotel rooms in New York City. Finally I just quit and went back to California. I got a phone call after a couple of days. They'd played a Fillmore East gig without me, and Skippy took off with some black witch afterward who fed him full of acid. It was like that scene in The Doors movie. He thought he was the anti-Christ. He tried to chop down the hotel room door with a fire axe to kill Don [Stevenson] to save him from himself. He went up to the 52nd floor of the CBS building where they had to wrestle him to the ground. And Rubinson pressed charges against him. They took him to the Tombs (and then to Bellevue) and that's where he wrote Oar. When he got out of there, he cut that album in Nashville. And that was the end of his career. They shot him full of Thorazine for six months. They just take you out of the game."
After the forced departure of Spence, the remaining four members continued recording throughout 1968 and released Moby Grape '69 in January 1969. Spence's "Seeing" (also known as "Skip's Song") was finished by the foursome, and it is one of the highlights. Despite the collaborative effort to complete the song, the songwriting credit was left solely with Spence. After a tour of the UK and Holland in February 1969 (the band toured as a 4 piece, minus Skip Spence) Bob Mosley then left the group, shocking the remaining members by joining the Marines. The remaining three released their final album for Columbia, Truly Fine Citizen, in late 1969, with session bassist Bob Moore filling in for the departed Mosley during the sessions for the album. Truly Fine Citizen would be the final work conducted by the band prior to their initial dissolution.
Miller and Stevenson then formed The Rhythm Dukes, later joined by Bill Champlin. The band achieved a degree of success as a second-billed act during much of the latter part of 1969 to 1971, plus recorded one album, which was ultimately released in 2005.
In 1971, the original five members reunited and, along with violinist Gordon Stevens, recorded 20 Granite Creek for Reprise Records. Prior to Spence once again departing and the group breaking up, the group performed a few concerts to support the album, most notably, during the last days of the Fillmore East. These concerts were described by contemporary accounts as disastrous, and circulating recordings do little to challenge that assessment. These shows are noteworthy, however, due to their inclusion of original material that did not appear on their albums proper. Mosley contributed "When You're Down The Road" and "Just A Woman", Lewis "There Is No Reason", and Spence brought along a song referred to as "We Don't Know Now" (a misinterpretation of Miller on an audience recording telling them that they were "going to do Omaha now" before launching into the song) and "Sailing", a song which would be all but forgotten until Spence performed it with Moby Grape at a 1996 gig near Spence's home in Santa Cruz, California, at the Palookaville nightclub. They also performed songs cut for "20 Granite Creek". A Fillmore East gig saw Mosley doing an a capella rendition of "Ode To The Man At The End of The Bar".
Following the departure of Spence, and the band's consequent dissolution, the band reformed several times over the following years; featuring different combinations of the members. In 1973, Lewis, Miller, and Mosley reformed the band for some live shows; with guitarist Jeff Blackburn and drummer Johnny Craviotto filling the roles vacated by Spence and Stevenson. Following the end of the shows in 1975, Miller, Mosley, and Craviotto were joined by Michael Been (later of The Call), under the name Fine Wine, and recorded an LP under the same name on Polydor Records in Germany in 1976. Following the end of Fine Wine, Mosley and Craviotto joined with Jeff Blackburn and Neil Young to form The Ducks, which played in and around the Santa Cruz area during 1977, and were immensely popular during the band's brief life; whilst Miller and Been went on to form The Original Haze", also originating around the Santa Cruz area, before joining Lewis and Spence in another reformation of Moby Grape; this time joined by keyboardist/sax Cornelius Bumpus, drummers John Oxendine and Daniel Spencer, and bassist Chris Powell. The band released 1978's Live Grape album before again splitting in 1979.
The eighties saw the band reform again on two occasions; firstly in 1983 with a line-up consisting of Lewis, Miller, Mosley, and Stevenson, which released the Moby Grape '84 album before dissolving in 1984. Then, in February 1987, the full original line-up of Moby Grape, along with It's a Beautiful Day, Fraternity of Man, and the Strawberry Alarm Clock, got together for a couple of shows. They performed their classics "Hey Grandma," "Naked, If I Want To," "Omaha," "Fall on You," and "8:05," among others, before fans at the Marin Civic and Cupertino's DeAnza College. Notwithstanding continuing to perform on occasion, the group has never returned to the level of popularity enjoyed in the early Avalon Ballroom/Fillmore Auditorium days. Following these shows Spence departed the band (for the final time), and his role within the group was filled by Dan Abernathy for recording and touring purposes.
Due to continued legal battle between the band and Matthew Katz over ownership of the "Moby Grape" name, other names were used during this period for performance or recording purposes; including Mosley Grape, Legendary Grape, Maby Grope, the previously used Fine Wine, and The Melvilles. This led to the band's 1989 Legendary Grape album being considered by some to be a Melvilles recording, as, while it was originally issued as a Moby Grape cassette-only release, the tape eventually had to be withdrawn due to pressure from Katz's legal team; and it was subsequently repackaged and reissued as being by The Melvilles. Despite Jerry Miller, Bob Mosley and Peter Lewis continuing to release solo records in the 1990s and 2000s, Moby Grape has not released an album of new material since the release of Legendary Grape in 1989. Jerry Miller considers the 2003 remastered and supplemented CD version of Legendary Grape to be an essential Moby Grape album.
The debut album and Wow/Grape Jam were first released on CD during the late 1980s by the San Francisco Sound label, a company owned by their former manager, Matthew Katz. These releases suffer from mediocre sound and poor quality packaging. It is also contended that Moby Grape has never been properly compensated for recordings released by this label. The 2 CD 1993 Legacy Recordings compilation Vintage: The Very Best of Moby Grape includes their entire first album and most of Moby Grape '69, selected tracks from Wow and Truly Fine Citizen, as well as studio outtakes and alternate versions, in much better quality. This compilation attracted new attention to the band and helped to re-introduce their music to a new audience. In 1994, the group members commenced an action against Matthew Katz, Sony Music Entertainment and Columbia Records (Sony being the successor corporation to CBS Records), seeking to have the settlement overturned. This settlement from 1973 meant that the group members would receive no royalties whatsoever from the well-regarded Vintage: The Best of Moby Grape, which Sony had released as part of its Legacy Records series in 1993. Production of the Vintage collection soon ceased.
The band had folded again in 1991 due to the deteriorating emotional state of Bob Mosley; who ultimately ended up being homeless in San Diego. This led Lewis, Miller, and Stevenson to regroup with Mosley and reform the band in 1996 as a means to help him resolve his problems; with health problems preventing Skip Spence from also joining the band. Spence lived in a residential care facility in northern California, and despite an extended period of homelessness and suffering from mental illness, there was a marked improvement in his domestic life in his later years before he died from lung cancer in 1999, two days before his 53rd birthday.
Amid the ongoing legal proceedings between Moby Grape and Katz, the surviving members of the band decided to dissolve the group once again in 2001. Finally, in 2006, and after three decades of court battles, the band finally won back its name; and subsequently reformed. To celebrate, in September 2007, a reunited Moby Grape performed for over 40,000 fans at the Summer of Love 40th Anniversary Celebration in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. In October 2007, Sundazed Records reissued the Grape's first five albums (with bonus tracks) on CD and vinyl. The following month, the label was forced to both withdraw and recall Moby Grape, Wow and Grape Jam from print on both vinyl and CD because of a new lawsuit by former manager Katz. Sundazed stated on their website that they were directed to withdraw the three titles by Sony BMG (inheritors of the band's original label, Columbia), from whom Sundazed had licensed the recordings. Following the reunion performance, Stevenson departed the band and semi-retired from the music industry. Moby Grape continues to perform occasionally, performing with core members Jerry Miller, Bob Mosley and Peter Lewis, and in such incarnations as with Skip Spence's son Omar joining on vocals and Jerry Miller's son Joseph on drums. New recording commenced in 2009, following the release of The Place and the Time, a well-received collection of demos, outtakes, alternate versions and otherwise unreleased material from the band's 1960s recording period.
Subsequent to the withdrawal of Vintage, Sony released Cross Talk: The Best of Moby Grape (2004), followed by Listen My Friends! The Best of Moby Grape (2007). Legendary Grape was issued for the first time in CD by Dig Music in 2003. In 2009, Sundazed Music issued The Place and the Time, a two disc collection of alternate takes, live versions and other previously unreleased material. In February 2010 Sundazed released the First Official Live Moby Grape 'Live' Album on Vinyl and Compact Disc formats.
Moby Grape has been the subject of five fan-initiated tribute albums, whereby Moby Grape songs are covered by fans of the band. The series commenced with Mo'Grape (2000) and Even Mo'Grape (2002) and has been followed by Still Mo' Grape, Forever Mo and Just Say Mo.
Of the four surviving band members, all but Don Stevenson still perform to a regular degree.
Peter Lewis released a debut CD in 1995 and formed an acoustic duo with David West (released Live in Bremen, 2003). Lewis also spent three years (2000-2003) as a guitarist with the reformed Electric Prunes, contributing to the band's Artifact album (2002).
Bob Mosley's relocation to the Santa Cruz area has been noteworthy for weekly guest appearances with veteran country artist Larry Hosford, a stalwart of the Santa Cruz music scene, and in occasional duos with ex-Doobie Brothers keyboardist Dale Ockerman. Don Stevenson, who has rejoined Moby Grape for occasional performances, has developed business interests outside of the music industry, including time share sales of recreational property in Whistler, British Columbia, Canada, where he maintains a residence.
In 2010, Don Stevenson, Jerry Miller and Omar Spence performed at the South by Southwest music festival (the performance at the Dirty Dog was recorded by Eric Sigsbey), while Peter Lewis appeared separately.
Contains Billboard (BB) and Cashbox (CB) chart peak positions.