ii last night an mp3 saved my wife

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Alex ‘Skip’ Spence - Weighted Down (Prison Song).mp3

Poor old Skipper. Recounts of this troubled soul’s life seem to veer between lauding him as some kind of musical-visionary-in-pyjamas, and rubber necked gawps at the lysergic excesses of his life. So, in keeping with tradition…

Skip first rose to prominence as the drummer for acid-rock giants Jefferson Airplane, and wrote a couple of songs with them…

CRAZY ‘SKIP’ FACTOID #1: Get this…he was actually a guitarist! Couldn’t even drum! Apparently they hired him because he just ‘looked like’ a drummer! So he learned drums in two weeks! Crazy!

… appeared on their first album, but got sacked shortly afterwards. Surprisingly, not for being a shit drummer, but for skipping rehearsals. Not too fussed, our boy takes even more acid, and with a bunch of kindred spirits founds Moby Grape, this time as guitarist and singer…

CRAZY ‘SKIP’ FACTOID #2: With the other Grapes, Mr Spence gets nicked for ‘entertaining’ a group of underage girls…rock n’ paedo-roll! Mental!

...but their record company releases all ten songs from their fantastic debut album as five singles. Totally confused by this tactic, radio stations don’t get round to playing any of them, which didn’t help matters, but neither did having a second album containing a track only playable at 78 rpm…

CRAZY ‘SKIP’ FACTOID#3: Things have truly started to slide by now, and during a massive acid binge, Skip attacks the Grape’s drummer with a fire axe. He’s confined to Bellevue Mental Hospital in New York. Paranoid Schizophrenic!

…and the band eventually split up. Skip is really suffering, and while institutionalised writes the songs that become Oar. Upon his release, we get the last

CRAZY ‘SKIP’ FACTOID#4: Where Skip is so impatient to record the songs, he rides a motorbike all the way from New York to the studio in Nashville. In his pyjamas.

And what an album it is.
Skip wrote all the songs, played all the instruments, sang all the vocals and produced it himself, which I understand was a first in 1969. A milestone in musical history, and a recording that seems to somehow have gathered strength over the years.
Flippant factoids aside, one can only wonder at the pain that Skip was going through, and the sounds he creates seem born of that. His voice seems old before it’s time: vulnerable, damaged and honest. Dismissed at the time by Rolling Stone magazine as being full of “sad, clumsy tunes that seem to laugh at themselves,” and I couldn’t agree more.
‘Oar’ reportedly became the lowest selling album in Columbia Record’s catalogue.

The recent tribute album (More Oar) by artists as diverse as Robert Plant, Tom Waits, Beck, and Robyn Hitchcock bears testimony to his influence. And I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Will Oldham has a well-scratched copy somewhere in his shed.
One to play at four in the morning, whilst drinking a cup of cold tea that turns out to conceal a disintegrating fag end. In the nicest possible way…
(click here to buy Oar from AmazonUK)
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