They had the looks, the songs, the guitars (three of ’em) and the singing (five drop-dead, blues-angel voices) — everything they needed to be America’s Beatles and Rolling Stones combined. Everything except the luck. Six monthsafter releasing their first LP, Moby Grape, in June 1967, bassist Bob Mosley, drummer Don Stevenson, and guitarists Jerry Miller, Peter Lewis and Skip Spence were a mess and a half, struggling to make music amid legal crises, Columbia’s misguided hype (issuing five singles at once) and Spence’s descent into drug-fueled psychosis. It would be a classic rock-biz tale offucking up, except for two things: (a) The Grape never gave up (they still gig with the electricity of yore) and (b) Moby Grape. Cut in three weeks for $11,000, Moby Grape is one of rock’s truly perfect debut albums anda pivotal document of Sixties rock in radiant mid mutation. Funky country, folk rock, acid punk, frat-band R&B: They’re all here, whipped into a thirteen-song fireball of wide-screen vocals and meticulous guitar sizzle.
Made by a band with deep experience (Miller Toured with Bobby Fuller; Spence was an early member of Jefferson Airplane), Moby Grape is high in drama, broad in dynamics: the lusty, Beatle-ized gallop of “Hey Grandma”; the hyper-Byrds blast of “Fall on You”; the genteel melancholy of “8:05”; the eccentric tension of the tempo and key changes on “Indifference.” Mosley was a powerhouse singer who could do Otis Redding and Brian Wilson in a single measure; Lewis’ finger-picking guitar was a rich backdrop for Miller’s roadhouse-honed leads. Spence was the Grape’s visionary imp, a man of great melodic gift and playful, if prophetic, madness. “Omaha” is just two and ahalf minutes long, but the Grape turned Spence’s song into a thing of power and beauty, full of medieval-choir luster and high-gear guitars.
“Omaha” is also Moby Grape in microcosm, the glory of a mighty band atan early but untouchable peak. Moby Grape never became stars, but with Moby Grape, their legend is secure.