By: John Reed
There is not a more pained story in the annals of rock than Moby Grape. While all partially successful bands have tales of woe, it was more of a tragedy in the case of Moby Grape - one of the most inventive '60s groups of musicians and songwriters to emerge from the Summer of Love era. Bad timing and bad luck dogged the band from day one and this uber talented quintet never got the break it rightly deserved. The band – who has been active on and off for many years - has some heady supporters including Led Zep's Robert Plant, a vocal longtime admirer.
This new greatest hits collection, Listen! My Friends (Sony), includes a half dozen cuts from their classic self-titled debut. "Hey Grandma," which features a ferocious three-lead guitar attack from Peter Lewis, Jerry Miller, and Skip Spence, immediately commands your full attention and just how to do a balls-out rock song properly.
The mystical Spence shines on his best tunes, "Omaha" and "Indifference." Spence left the group prematurely and later created the fascinating, cult adored solo album Oar. A sinfully under-appreciated guitarist (and disciple of jazz great Wes Montgomery), Miller tones it down for some amazing acoustic finger-picking on his haunting composition "8:05."
The group experimented on later releases, and was one of the architects, along with the Flying Burrito Brothers, of country rock. The Grapes sterling "Bitter Wind" and "If You Can't Learn From My Mistakes" rivaled anything Gram Parsons and company created at that time.
Not to be outshined, bassist Bob Mosley - who looked like the combo of a pugilist and a surfer – showed off his own unique, agile songwriting. "Mr. Blues" seems like a homage to the blues artists that influenced the band but this is no Muddy Waters remake. Mosely exercises his depression demons but then wonders where the feelings that caused all his sadness has gone. Set against an upbeat rhythm, defiant lyrics and a throaty, sweet and gritty delivery, Mosley almost creates his own version of "black and blue eyed soul."
The band (sans Spence, who passed away in1999) are reportedly performing this summer to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Summer of Love. Maybe now is the time for the band to finally claim its rightful place in rock history.
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