Alexander `Skip' Spence

Weeeoooo! Weeeeoooo! Weeeeoooo! (points forefinger at ear, twirls)

Oar - Columbia 1969.
Rating = 8

This guy was in a band called "Moby Grape" that if I remember correctly was just kind of like a `60s blues rock band. But then, rumor has it that he lost his mind on an Ass Syd trip, and this album was the restul. Restul? One second please.


This album is so goodly good! He plays acoustical blues/pop/country/folk, sometimes with drums, and sings in this kickass gravelly voice. His melodies are great! Sure, a few of them are so slow, you can almost see Skip falling over dead in the studio, but when he's semi-lucid, his vocal melodies are non-head-leavable! "Little Hands"! "Lawrence of Euphoria"! Mood swings left and right. And just all kinds of songwriting talent and influence-absorbing sponginess. And I don't even really like blues, pop, country or folk all that much! But when ol' Skippy Brand Peanut Butter throws `em together, he adds just the right amount of insane genius, vision and personality to draw in my ear over and over, often to the point that my ear is stuck inside the CD player and I have to phone a podiatrist.

Huh? No no, I mean about something else. My foot or whatnot. BUY THIS ALBUM! Some have called him an American Syd Barrett, but he's not. This music is slow, bluesy and sometimes dreary, but almost always extremely tuneful (as opposed to Syd's poppy, circus-like tunefulness). He's also a very good guitarist, adding electric lead lines to a lot of these that really Make the Grade! I mean, what he's doing is essentially a fairly normal mixture of American music forms. But he's, like, a CRAZY guy trying to do a normal mixture of American music forms. So the result is just slightly, slightly OFF, which is why it's so great! Nobody else sounds quite like this, because nobody else tried to murder his ex-bandmates with an axe! (I'm told Skip did just that about six months before recording this album).

Wife's yellin' at me! Gotta go! Can't stick around! Gotta go!

Hi, this is Brenda speaking. My comment about this album is that the song currently playing is going like this: thumpa thumpa thumpa. It's kind of a good rhythm to go with my dog chewing his squeaky sock.

Reader Comments
I am a supporter of mentally challenged people. By that I mean I actually own albums by Syd Barrett, Roky Erikson, and have actually listened to a couple of Jandek albums. That makes me Man of the Decade. But for years, I understood that there was another mentally challenged musician, labeled by some as the American Syd Barrett, that needed my attention. And as Man of the Decade, I felt obliged to help this individual, known as Skip Spence. Problem was, I wasn't a big fan of Skippy's first band Jefferson Airplane and was only moderately interested in his second band, Moby Grape. It was one of those "someday you need to get that album by the crazy dude from Moby Grape" kind of things. So I'd go to record stores and remember that. Sometimes they'd have a copy of "Oar" and sometimes they wouldn't. On both occasions, I was pretty ambivalent about it and would often talk myself out of it ($18! For a crazy bastard you may not even enjoy?! Christ, you could get those used copies of Iron Maiden's "Powerslave" and "Killers" for that price! Don't you remember how good their twin lead guitar attack made you feel when you were younger?! There is no better song than "Rhyme Of The Ancient Mariner" None! Fuck that nutjob Skip Spence! Go with Maiden!). Until one day, I did run across a used copy at Vintage Vinyl in that shitass Midwest Gateway called St. Louis, Missouri. Trust me, it was this store, a stellar performance by The Starlight Mints and a typical Flaming Lips show that made me not want to vomit all over the potholes of this crime-ridden meth lab metropolis. In a distant fourth place was the dumb ass cab driver (which was like a mid 80's station wagon with ripped seats, no door handles in the interior and a permanent glow of both the "check engine" and "oil" lamps) who told us many things like the time he drove Nancy Wilson of Heart to the venue in his cab and later gave her a rose during the concert in which she promptly pointed out our hero cabbie and made the evening "the best concert I'd ever seen." He talked about how he and his "ex old lady" got all messed up on "power hitters" (after five minutes, I figured out he was talking about smoking weed out of a fucking bong) before a Triumph show (I'm not making this up) and how there was nobody at the Vince Neil/Poison show when he drove by the venue earlier that night. I learned that Jerry Garcia died in St. Louis after playing golf after their show. I learned that he and his ex old lady smoked grass during a Michael Bolton concert and how some angry housewives called security on them because they were smoking the demon weed. The guy was quite a character, or "card" as my Grandmother says, but it didn't change the fact that St. Louis does not believe in cabs after Midnight even on a Saturday and how my wife and I had to literally seek out this power hittin' motherfucker twenty minutes after we began our quest to hail a taxi. What I'm saying is: If you've recently been laid off thanks to W's excellent economic team, there is a cash cow waiting for you in St. Louis, Missouri in the form of a taxi company. So you can imagine that the next day, I really wanted to get out of this city. Before I could, I had to visit this Mecca that music fans called Vintage Vinyl. And it was there in which I stumbled across this used copy of Alexander Spence's "Oar." I placed the disc into the car stereo as I made my way down the interstate, trying not to kill the mouthbreathers that would speed up their Ford 150's to 85 miles per hour, merge into my lane and then hit the breaks in front of me. Mr. Spence eased my worries on track one with a little ditty called "Little Hands" and I only noticed a couple of hints of that typical San Fran fuzz guitar dotting the otherwise drum and bass atmosphere of this very sparse recording. It is an album of such magnitude that even my Bjork-lovin' wife declared it "awesome." I understand the Barrett references; it comes across like a Nashville "Opel" even though the selections are not outtakes, but remnants of the tail end of Skip's sanity presented by your friends at Columbia records circa 1969. Of course, Sony circa 1999 would never dream of placing their moniker on this warped album, but choosing instead to license it out to Sundazed, who do a great job of filling out the disc with outtakes and extensive liner notes that promote Skip's myth even further.
hey, i started to listen to this kinda music for about 2 1/2 3 years and im only 17 and own all the syd barrett cd which i fell in love with instantly. i have just ordered the skip spence cd oar and i am waiting eagerly for it to arrive (and still searching for any of this style of music). what i came here to write is that this music is amazing and individual and there is nothin quite like it. it is pure raw music. every one i know has said it is all shit but they are all short sighted trendy bastards who believe if its not metal its not worth listening to. i missed out on probaly the best times every for music (if you every find a way of time traveliing please let me know). i also thought you may be interested in another artist who introduced me kinda into the prescence of syd barrett and soon to be skip spence. is an artist called john frusciante (you may be thinking he is with the red hot chili peppers and far from insane- that is true) but for a brief time of which he nearly lost his life to herion he produce some truly amazing music namely his first album Niandra LaDes & Usualy Just A T-shirt and his second album nearly impossible to buy (if you manage to get hold of it you are the luckiest person ever as frusciante took it out of print after quitting his addiction to herion) Smile From The Streets You Hold (it is alot rawer in essence than barret or spence but contains alot of magic and something special i cannot quite describe) I cannot wait for the skip spence cd hope this comment may be of use you but most likely not. (Adam Spence (Son of Skip)
Where do you guys come up with such philisophical BS? He was a great musician who had great misfortune. Unfortuneatley for most of you, your life has been limitted to living vicariously though others fame, good or bad.

Get Jesus in your life and make a difference in this world rather than sitting on a computer talking about someone elses life. Time is of the essence here gang. (Linda Gail)
wow that last note sure hit me, "Get Jesus in your life and make a difference in this world rather than sitting at your computer talking about someone else's life. Time is of the essence gang.

Great admonition I need to take for myself. I believe Jesus is coming soon with all the prophecies being filled and all the signs of the times are upon us.

Thank you.
The 1st Moby Grape album was really great. I lost interest after that but, need to find them and give them a fair listen. Same with the band Love. Forever changes is a masterpiece but I never cared for anything after that. I need to get Skip's solo album. I always thought he was the cool lookin one. As a kid I had the original Moby Grape album that came with the poster WITH the guy giving the finger on the washboard I think. Then they had to take it out. I will spring for this, I will spring for this! Jesus huh? Why not Buddah or Krisna or the lucky charms leprechaun? Does this stuff run in the family?
I first found out about Skip Spence through a cover song by Beck, "Halo of Gold" which rocked my socks off. So after some checking around I found out about Skip, you know, him getting caught up with some chick who was into black magic, convincing him that everybody in Moby Grape was out to get him, which lead to him taking a fire axe into a door (Heerrrreee's Johnny) and trying to kill some band mates, so he gets sent to a mental institution, gets out after 6 months, he already had a record deal set up, so he takes his money buys a harley and drives down to Nashville in his hospital pajamas. Two weeks later he was done recording Oar, and he recorded every instrument himself. It is one of the most mesmerizing albums that I have ever heard. And I agree with yoyoheybo, if your into the crazy geniuses, you need to check out John Frusciante. (Chris Jimson)
I'm pretty sure this is actually a JANDEK album.

(ok, joking, but certainly there's a similarity there).
Hi Everyone!

My name is Eric, I'm now 40 years old and dicovered this recording of skip Spence's "OAR" around the time it became availible on CD. I HAD heard of Mobey Grape prior to this from an"old" shipping cleark who worked at my summer job when I was way back in my last year of high school. The year was 1984. This shipping / stock room guy was kind of older than me when I was 18 (he had to be in this 30's then) He claimed to have seen all these great 60's band,rock and roll, everybody, as he was a hippie leftover, really years later. I gotta say he was a really great guy and real nice. We got on musicly immediately, and I alway kind of felt bad that he was stuck in this crappy job he had. You know but after talking to him about music one day, as the subject came up, he realized I knew alot about the music he loved , so a couple of times he went home and made cassette tapes for me of tunes and artist that I had never heard of. Each one was great. It's have to appriciate it now because of all the access to oldies and hit radio, internet radio, etc. It's really hard to imagine , but at one point when I was growing up, you couldn't find, locate, or even hear older music that was not programed on radio, you never heard it again once they stopped playing it. Sounds Funny Today, cause at any given moment you can source music anywhere and find all kind of obscurities. Wasn't the case in those days. So I figured out early on as a teen that if I wanted to hear any cool old music, I had to go find a "left-over," or "long hair" to ask. That being said, This guy named Paul, who gave me a tape he made of Wow!(at that time out of print)the 2nd album of "the grape'" I think it was their best and more interesting even then the first one.Anyway, Paul mentioned Oar, spoke to me as if it was the lost holly grail. I finnally heard it 13 years later and lved it too , this Paul guy was right on!!!
Most of you sound like idiots. Especially the guy who thinks he is the man of the decade and believes schizophrenics are mentally challenged. Also Skip Spence is good but Syd Barrett is better. (John Denman, Swindon England)
I first heard Oar in 1989 when it was re-issued again. I'm a real West Coast/Folk Rock fan and loved the first Moby Grape album but didn't know too much about Skippy, this was in the days before the internet and Mojo magazine. I read a review in Q magazine, took a gamble and ordered the album, and first played it late at night. I just thought the whole album was magical and still do and to me it is the altimate late night album, with Little Hands being my favourite song ever to this very day. Later on I got to know more about Skip's ups and many downs and the album took on more significance. I know its not every-ones cup of tea but to me I find it very sad, funny and yes even uplifting and I still don't understand half the lyrics. And it is one of those rare records which you'll hear something new in every time you play it.

I have every-thing Skip ever recorded with the Airplane, Moby Grape and the Buffalo Springfield jam and they are all brilliant tracks. I don't believe Skip ever recorded any filler. The whole American Syd Barrett thing is a joke to me, I don't think Syd bless him could hold a candle to Skip Spence and the more people hear his music the more they would agree.

Finally checkout the Moby Grape clips on You Tube and see a young committed rocker at the top of his game and forget about all the stories of an axe weilding maniac. I just wish I'd got to see the Grape with Skip rocking real hard in their prime.

Cheers and all the best
this is probably the single greatest "review" for Oar I have ever read. I recently moved and was without my sundazed reissue LP for about six months and of my 500+ LP collection that was in storage I sorely missed Oar more than any other (though being reunited with the Fred Neil catalog has been really refreshing as well).
I bought the album in 1970,and still after 37years its great to listen to,no gimmick,no bullshit,solid as a rock,as shakey as it sounds.

Great album!
Picked up my copy of Oar from a cut out section of a small music/record store in 74.

Worked in mental health and first met Skip in 1975, and saw him many times after that. Asked him to autograph my copy in 79. After the note he signed it Alexander Spence, but whenever he introduced himself he did it as Skip.

Great album, great musician, good guy. (Ben)
I stumbled upon this review…and the reader’s comments are pretty entertaining, some almost poignant. I came to this review as I was looking for more background info on the history of the Oar album. I knew of Pence with his work in Jefferson Airplane and was never much of a fan…I was however, a loyal deadhead so I saw enough of him anyway. I never bought any of his stuff…and then many years later I see the tribute album with Plant, Jay Farrar and Mudhoney all musicians that I listen to frequently so I immediately downloaded it to my ipod. I was fortunate in that my first time listening to the album I was able to listen, uninterrupted, in my favorite comfortable chair, my headphones and sticky lungs….and I was thoroughly pleased. It has been a long time since an album has taken me on a journey. Now, I have to get my hands on original as I’m eager to hear the story told by the original author.

Julian Malone
I love Moby Grape and Skip--great music and great presence-- "Oar" is definitely a lost classic finally gotten it's due. Somewhere in R@R heaven, Skip is singing and playing and hands are clapping!

Add your thoughts?

Buy "Oar" here! Or...

Back to Mark Prindle, Eyesore Doctor