Former guitarist for Moby Grape, Skip Spence entered the Columbia recording studios in Nashville 1968 to record his first solo album entitled Oar. Spence had just been released from the prison psychiatric ward of Bellevue hospital where he was incarcerated for six months. Skip produced the album, sang, played the drums and bass and all the guitars which preceded Oldfield’s Tubular Bells by five years !! This masterpiece has been ignored for almost thirty years, and once quoted by the media as a scant reminder of the folly of Mescaline.The nucleus of the album reflects a brittle and stark truth reflecting the fragmentary condition of Skip’s state. Skip’s membership as a seminal musician in associations as varied as the Quicksilver Messenger Service and first drummer for Jefferson Airplane, exemplify his esoteric state. His songwriting ability flavoured the finest of Jefferson Airplane’s albums namely Surrealistic Pillow (“My Best Friend”) and the Moby Grape “Omaha”. A number of Skip’s early releases were destined for the Grape album Wow in particular “Skip’s Song” which later came to surface on Moby Grape 69 as an epitaph called “Seeing”. Frank Zappa once said ‘Get the Oar album before its too late’.
Let me briefly open the curtains to a parchment of truth that may seem too heavy or farout for those that are restricted, but a lifesaver for the edge drifters. The album opens with “Little Hands”, very much in Moby Grape fashion as it melodically builds and crafts its unique melody, continually developing with each tempo. Its only when we reach “Cripple Creek” with its haunting dirge octave that you realise this is not a Grape reformation, but the lament of a soul in tribulation. “Diana” scrapes the whitewashed walls of the sanatorium with its Stellasin smell and dying offbeat that latently creates syringe-sucking status. The essence of Skip is soulishly countrified in the “Prison Song” that probably stimulated country icon Townes Van Zandt to greater heights or depths. The albums epic highlight “War in peace” psychedelically mesmerises with it’s spaced out vocal, hypnotically traded off with electric guitar. The song is literally a prayer and cry from someone hovering in the balance between reality and the door of perception. Unbelievably it was used in a soundtrack love scene called 'Stander' reflecting the life of a South African cop in the fascist seventies gone bad. It is this paranoid schizophrenia so labelled by medical reports that gave Skip the innocence to reach into the murky chakras that slice marrow from bone. Back to the cry of the country with “Broken heart” while the blues scratches your inner being on the “Books of Moses”. The remaining truth is timeously pointing its withered finger straight at you.