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No other popular rock band of their era, let alone the San Francisco scene, boasted five singer-songwriters in their ranks. But “multi-faceted” isn’t synonymous with “good” — and, luckily, Moby Grape had the melodies, arrangements and overall sonic vision to maximize that breadth of skill. The band released four albums in the ’60s before burning out early in the next decade (and being revived later on) — but they could easily stopped after their self-titled 1967 debut, which expertly wove folk, blues, psych-rock and country into a heavily harmonized swirl.

Arguably the most talented San Francisco band from the golden era, Moby Grape was a beloved group whose debut album was released with great fanfare on Columbia Records in June 1967 amid the Summer of Love. It climbed to No24 on album charts with an unprecedented five singles dropped from it.

Each member of the group: Jerry Miller (guitar, vocals, Peter Lewis (guitar, vocals), Skip Spence (guitar, vocals), Bob Mosley (bass, vocals) and Don Stevenson (drums) all contributed to the singing and song writing, each could sing lead, and the versatility of the band was demonstrated in its fusing of folk music, blues, jazz, and rock. So, what went wrong? Why didn’t the group rise to the level of other San Francisco bands such as the Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, Quicksilver Messenger Service or Big Brother & the Holding Company?

As it happened the band was entangled in legal disputes with their former manager, Matthew Katz, for many years. As described by Jeff Tamarkin “The Grape’s saga is one of squandered potential, absurdly misguided decisions, bad luck, blunders and excruciating heartbreak, all set to the tune of some of the greatest rock ever to emerge from San Francisco. Moby Grape could have had it all, but they ended up with nothing and less.” Anyone who saw the Grape perform at the Avalon in January, February or August 1967 or at Winterland with the Byrds in March and April 1967 knows what a singular band it was. The musicianship was extraordinary. Just a few of the band’s gems: “8:05,” “Someday,” “Sitting by the Window,” and “Hey Grandma.” Moby Grape recorded five albums from 1967-1971 but after the second disc “Wow,” (the band’s highest charting album), the next three releases were poor sellers.

Three of the four surviving members (Skip Spence died in Santa Cruz in 1999) still are active in the music business. It is sad that the band never fully realized its true potential, but it is remembered fondly by those fans that were present at its creation.

Just over fifty years ago, the debut album by the San Francisco band Moby Grape was released on Columbia Records. Generally hailed as one of the finest recordings from the ’60s San Francisco scene—and often as one of the great debuts of all time, period—its June 6th, 1967, release presaged a series of missteps, legal sagas and tragedies that have since become legend.

In this edited excerpt from Best Classic Bands editor Jeff Tamarkin’s 2003 biography, Got a Revolution! The Turbulent Flight of Jefferson Airplane, he recounts the tale of Moby Grape and the band’s enigmatic co-founder Skip Spence.

In the summer of 1965, the recently formed Jefferson Airplane decided to dismiss their first drummer, Jerry Peloquin. That’s when a golden boy named Alexander “Skip” Spence came waltzing into [San Francisco’s] Matrix club and was immediately signed up by Marty Balin, the band’s co-founder.

Spence had little experience as a drummer but Balin just knew he’d be right for the group. He sent Spence home with a pair of drumsticks and he soon debuted with the band, playing on their first album, Jefferson Airplane Takes Off. Spence wasn’t one for staying in the same place very long though, and he took off to Mexico one day with a girlfriend or two, neglecting to tell the band he was leaving. They decided he wasn’t going to work out and Spence was soon replaced by Spencer Dryden, who remained the Airplane’s drummer throughout their key years of 1966-70.

In the summer of ’66, Skip returned to the Bay Area from Mexico and resurfaced with a new band, Moby Grape, this time playing guitar, his first instrument. They woodshedded in Marin County for months and played their first gig at the city’s California Hall on November 4; everyone who heard them agreed that this was an astounding band.

One of the great rock debuts of all time. The album cover was reprinted after early pressings, with Don Stevenson’s offending middle finger statement airbrushed out. The album cover, featuring a photo of the band in front of a junk shop, caused controversy because of drummer Stevenson’s middle finger on a washboard (later airbrushed out) and an appearance of an American flag behind Spence. When veterans groups complained about these “longhairs” representing the United States, Columbia made alterations.
“They chickened out and took that off and put on an orange flag,” Miller recalled. “And that wasn’t good enough, because they could still see through that, that it was originally an American flag. So then, they made it black. And we were insulted, and still insulted … because we’re Americans too.”

The Airplane—who’d been working in Los Angeles on their sophomore album, “Surrealistic Pillow”, and playing gigs out of town—missed the chance to catch their former drummer’s new band right away. What really confused the Airplane, however, was learning that the Grape was managed by Matthew Katz. Katz had also been the Airplane’s first manager, and he’d given them nothing but grief. Subsequent lawsuits involving Katz would tie up the court system for a whopping 21 years. Why Skip Spence would choose to continue working with Katz was just one of the many unfortunate mysteries in which his life became entangled during the three-plus decades following his Airplane tenure.

The Grape’s saga is one of squandered potential, absurdly misguided decisions, bad luck, blunders and excruciating heartbreak, all set to the tune of some of the greatest rock and roll ever to emerge from San Francisco. Moby Grape could have had it all, but they ended up with nothing, or less.

Katz had helped engineer the Grape’s formation. In addition to Spence, the quintet included two other guitarists: Peter Lewis (the son of actress Loretta Young), who used to play with Spencer Dryden down in L.A. and was most recently working with a band called Peter and the Wolves; and Jerry Miller. Miller and drummer Don Stevenson had played together in a bar band in the Pacific Northwest called the Frantics, and Miller had earlier worked with Bobby Fuller, the Texan rocker who died under mysterious circumstances in the summer of ’66 just months after scoring a Top 10 hit with the Sonny Curtis-penned “I Fought The Law.”

The Frantics had relocated to San Francisco in 1965, where bassist Bob Mosley worked with them briefly. Mosley recommended Miller and Stevenson to fill out the line-up of the proposed new group, which took its moniker from the punch line of a dumb joke: “What’s purple and swims in the ocean?”  At first, the rest of the Grape-to-be wasn’t sure about working with Spence.

Jerry Miller: He was a little bit too crazy, even then. When we first met him, he looked a little bit crazed. He was one of the first guys I’d seen with ratted hair. And he’d laugh hysterically when he’d get the feeling. But he played excellent rhythm guitar. He did these things where he would muffle the strings. And he did that better than anybody, ever. And when the five of us played together, there was something happening that was undeniable.

Moby Grape was a record company’s dream band when they debuted. Their complementary three-guitar lineup produced a thunderous noise, not unlike what Buffalo Springfield was doing down in L.A., and each member of the band could sing. Their songs were expertly composed and had both commercial possibilities and the integrity demanded by San Francisco audiences. They looked great onstage—they had a real presence, and real moves, unlike some of the other local bands—and put on a dazzling performance. Many felt that they were the most accomplished band on the scene musically from the moment they showed up. They were tight, and worked within structures that were anathema to some of their peers in the city.

Said keyboardist and singer Al Kooper, then working in New York with the Blues Project, “The only San Francisco band that did anything for me was Moby Grape. They adhered to more of a three- minute mentality.

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But the Grape was doomed. For starters, they allowed Matthew Katz to retain ownership of their name, precipitating legal battles that continued to tie up the court system clear to the end of the 20th century and kept the musicians from exploiting their own legacy. And in 1967, upon the release of their first album for Columbia Records, hailed by many critics as one of few perfect debuts in rock history, the Grape was the victim of one of the most misguided marketing efforts in the annals of the music industry: the simultaneous release of nearly all of the songs on the album as A-sides or B-sides of singles. By pitting the five records against one another, Columbia effectively cancelled out the possibility of any one of them gaining enough momentum to become a hit. The disaster was compounded by a press party at San Francisco’s Avalon Ballroom so overblown in its hype quotient (purple flowers everywhere) that Moby Grape never really recovered.

Things got worse. There were busts and a second album, Wow/Grape Jam, generally considered inferior to the first. And then, in 1968, began the downfall of Skippy Spence. Spence had taken to gobbling tabs of LSD like Pez, and taking harder drugs, becoming increasingly unreliable and unpredictable. While the band was staying in New York, at the Albert Hotel, Spence chopped away at Stevenson and Miller’s hotel room door with a fire axe, and when he failed to find them there, continued on to the studio where the group had been recording. Katz’s management style proved consistent with the way he’d managed the Airplane. Jerry Miller says that he remembers the Grape missing a photo session for the high-circulation Look magazine because Katz had gotten the time of the shoot wrong. Producer David Rubinson managed to get the weapon away, but Spence was taken by police, first to the Tombs jail and finally to Bellevue Hospital, where he spent six months undergoing psychiatric care. He was never the same after that—the old Skip Spence, described by everyone as a happy-go-lucky, good-time fellow, falling into a dope-induced psychosis.

Jerry Miller: Skippy changed radically when we were in New York. There were some people there that were into harder drugs and a harder lifestyle, and some very weird shit. And so he kind of flew off with those people. They were really strange, almost Nazi-ish. Skippy kind of disappeared for a little while. Next time we saw him he had cut off his beard, and he had a black leather jacket on, with his chest hanging out, with some chains and just sweating like a son of a gun. I don’t know what the hell he got a hold of, man, but it just whacked him. And the next thing I know, he axed my door down in the Albert Hotel. They said at the reception area that this crazy guy had held an axe to the doorman’s head.

At the end of 1968, Spence was released, and hopped a Triumph motorcycle pointed toward Nashville, where he recorded the idiosyncratic solo album “Oar” for Columbia. Although largely ignored in its time, “Oar” grew in stature as a cult favourite album over the years, culminating in the simultaneous 1999 re-release of the album, with bonus tracks appended to it, and a tribute album called “More Oar”, consisting of new interpretations of the album’s songs by contemporary artists such as Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin and Tom Waits.

But by then, it was too late for Skip Spence. After a near-lifetime as a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic, living much of the time in institutions as a ward of the state, only occasionally venturing out to make new music with the former members of Moby Grape, Alexander “Skip” Spence died on April 16th, 1999, in Santa Cruz, California. He was two days shy of his 53rd birthday. Although the official cause of death was lung cancer, Spence had entered the hospital on April 5th with numerous ailments, including pneumonia, hepatitis and congestive heart failure. His lifestyle and years of poverty and neglect had finally caught up with him. Unlike many other casualties of the ’60s, Spence neither died young nor had a chance to find his way out. Unlike the advice in the Neil Young song, he both burned out and faded away.

Yet he touched so many.

Sam Andrew (of Big Brother and the Holding Company): I went to see the Airplane at the Matrix when they were starting out, and what knocked me out was Skip Spence. He was all I could see the night I went. He was the drummer but he had so much charisma. He was really a great player. He was really driving the band. It was just so complete, such a good sound.

Listen to “Omaha” from their debut

Paul Kantner (of Jefferson Airplane): He wasn’t the preeminent guitar player in Moby Grape, but he probably was responsible for a good 30 to 40 percent of the exuberance of Moby Grape, just him alone. On stage at his height, he was a force to be reckoned with, in terms of joy and participation and passion with what you’re doing and connecting it to people out there. He was a really bright star. He came up with beautiful chord changes and the melodies going through them. He had a real knack for that. He was one of the casualties. That didn’t happen until he left the Airplane. And then he had troubles with Matthew and Moby Grape and acid and heroin and girlfriends; those things all conspired against him to blow him over the hill.

Miller says that the Grape, when they first formed, was unaware of the problems that the Airplane had had with Katz.

Jerry Miller: Neither Skippy nor Matthew told us that he fell out of favour with them. So it took a while before we found that out that they definitely didn’t like the Matthew guy. He had a talent, but he abused the hell out of it. I’m not real pro-Matthew at all. I wouldn’t piss in his face if his eyebrows were on fire.

The Grape held on until 1969, recording and performing without Spence and Mosley, who, disgusted with the turn of events, joined the Marines in an effort to get far away from the rock ’n’ roll world. Mosley was discharged after nine months, but the Moby Grape saga continued to grow more bizarre and frustrating for the members in subsequent years. In 1970, Katz, who owned the band’s name, put together a new Moby Grape consisting of none of the original members. Eventually a court decision sided with Katz on the ownership of both the name and the Grape’s recorded catalogue, making it virtually impossible at times for the original members to capitalize on the music they had created in the ’60s. Even Columbia Records was unable to reissue the Grape’s albums, which came out instead on a label set up by Katz.

There would be other Moby Grape recordings and reunions, both under that name and others—the Legendary Grape, the Melvilles—concocted in an effort to circumvent Katz’s claims on the group, but for the most part, despite the occasional resurfacing, Moby Grape was sunk almost from the start. Katz spent the better part of the years after the band’s original demise in courts fighting appeals and initiating new suits, not just against the Grape but another prominent San Francisco band he managed, It’s a Beautiful Day. (Ed. note: Katz is still alive as of this posting, now over 90 years old. In 2010 he ran unsuccessfully for the Malibu, California, city council.)

Meanwhile, after spending several years in and out of the Grape and other bands, Mosley’s life took a downward spiral, and he spent considerable time homeless before coming around again in the late ’90s. By that time, not only had Miller, Mosley, Lewis and Stevenson reunited as Moby Grape, they had done so legally, the courts finally deciding in their favour on the name ownership issue. Miller, Lewis and Mosley still  perform today on occasion as Moby Grape, augmented by Skip’s son, Omar Spence, and Joseph Miller, Jerry’s son. Jerry Miller also performs with his own band.

The Grateful Dead and a group of other rock bands of the times including the Jefferson Airplane, took a lease out on the old Carousel Ballroom on Market Street in San Francisco (formerly the El Patio) back in 1968 which only lasted for several short months. During that time however there were many great shows and dance/concerts that took place.  Moby Grape: They could have been the biggest and best band in the world, some contended back in the ‘60s, but something happened. The series of bad luck, misfortunes and critical misfires that derailed most of their career.

It was a Saturday night 47 years ago on this day back in 1968 that Moby Grape, along with It’s a Beautiful Day and Sweet Rush finished up their two night engagement there at the Carousel Ballroom. Back in 1966, amid the ferment of San Francisco’s active music scene, five disparate musicians were brought together in a new band. Heavily laden with talent, the group cut a 1967 debut album,  that is still ranked among the finest, most assured bows in rock history. Almost instantly, they were tabbed as the act to beat. Moby Grape’s name is synonymous among rock connoisseurs with tragedy, failure, unfulfilled promise, and chaos. The story of how what appeared to be rock’s Perfect Beast became a rolling catastrophe is one of the all-time cautionary tales in the annals of music and the music business.

Looking back at Moby Grape and wonders, “How could they fail?” Among performing units of their era, they were seemingly rivaled solely by their Los Angeles contemporaries Buffalo Springfield, whose glittering lineup included the mighty singer-songwriter-guitarist triumvirate of Neil Young, Stephen Stills, and Richie Furay.

Moby Grape trumped the Springfield’s three-pronged attack. All five members of the group sang, and they forged a deftly blended choral attack unique among bands of the day. All five musicians also wrote, with consistent brilliance and economy. Their three-guitar front line could blow any outfit unlucky enough to share a stage with them right off the boards, and their powerful rhythm section was unmatched by any on the Haight-Ashbury scene.

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The seeds of the band’s disorder may have been sown in its founding. In late 1966, its five members were brought together by an ambitious manager seeking a new act to work, as major label A&R men began poking around for acts that were playing in San Francisco’s burgeoning rock ballroom scene. The magnetic linchpin of the new band was singer-songwriter-guitarist Skip Spence. The Canadian musician had served as the drummer for Jefferson Airplane and had played on the group’s debut album, Jefferson Airplane Takes Off. . However, feeling marginalized creatively in the Airplane, he abruptly quit the band for a sojourn in Mexico. On his return to the Bay Area, he linked up with the Airplane’s erstwhile manager to make a fresh start.

Spence’s band mates were all well-traveled journeyman rockers who landed in San Francisco to flex their considerable chops. One arrived with a Hollywood pedigree: singer-guitarist Peter Lewis was the son of movie star Loretta Young, and a veteran of the surf band the Cornells and his own outfit Peter and the Wolves. Bassist-vocalist Bob Mosley, a white soul man to the bone, had recorded with San Diego’s Misfits. Lead guitarist-singer Jerry Miller—who had served for a time in Texas band‘ Bobby Fuller Four—and drummer Don Stevenson had both performed in the Frantics, part of Seattle’s vibrant ’60s scene.

The resultant quintet, while it keyed off Spence’s formidable onstage energy, was the most cooperative unit imaginable, with each member contributing notable songs to the Moby Grape repertoire. Their layered singing and instrumental puissance immediately made them a force to be reckoned with in the SF ballrooms, and they were rewarded with a contract from Columbia Records in early 1967.

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Helmed by staff producer David Rubinson, ‘Moby Grape’ could scarcely have been bettered as a debut album. Released at the height of the Summer of Love in June 1967, it was everything one could ask for in a rock record. Its songs were exciting and tightly constructed, blending elements of hard rock, blues, soul, folk, and country into its alternately stormy and lilting mix. The playing, sparked by Miller’s fiery guitar work, was equally focused, and eschewed the indulgences that would soon overwhelm rock record-makers. Plus the band’s massed harmonies presented a sound matched only by the Byrds‘ contemporaneous work.

The remainder of the band’s story can be told through a series of horrific bullet points. What brought down this almost impossibly gifted and commercially alluring group? Well, for starters there was…

On June 6th, 1967, Moby Grape celebrated the release of their self-titled album with a splashy party and performance at San Francisco’s Avalon Ballroom . Early the next morning, Miller, Spence, and Lewis were popped in Marin County after police discovered them cavorting with three underage girls. The three men were charged with contributing to the delinquency of minors, and Miller was also charged with possession of marijuana.

All charges were later dropped, but the incident could not have added any luster to Moby Grape’s rep in the eyes of the Columbia executives who had just spent a small fortune launching their brand-new act. And that launch would itself become problematic for the band, who were instantly the victims of…Moby Grape’s Avalon appearance was a record-company saturnalia of the first magnitude. Janis Joplin with her own star on the rise as a member of Big Brother & the Holding Company made a guest appearance with the group; orchid petals were dropped from the ceiling of the venue during the band’s set; and invitees were presented with a velvet-covered box that included press materials, glossy photos of the band, and copies of ‘Moby Grape”s first five singles.

That’s right: five singles. In their infinite wisdom, Columbia’s marketing executives had decided to issue 10 of the 13 tracks on ‘Moby Grape’ simultaneously on 45s with identical picture sleeves. If there was ever a tactic guaranteed to put the noses of suspicious music critics, over-burdened radio programmers, and confused retailers out of joint, that was it.

Somewhat miraculously, ‘Moby Grape’ managed to perform decently in spite of Columbia’s miscalculations. The LP reached number 24 on Billboard’s album chart, where it spent six months; it reportedly sold 200,000 copies. The damage done by the label’s strategy at radio was apparently irreversible, however: Spence’s “Omaha”  became the band’s only chart single, peaking at number 88 during a two-week stay. The writing was on the wall, and the next step in Moby Grape’s career witnessed…

By the time the band entered the studio with Rubinson in the fall of 1967 to begin work on a new record, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band had just been released, and every musician on the planet was cocking an ear to the Beatles’ opulently recorded collection. The members of Moby Grape were in that number, and they were demonstrably led astray by the Fab Four’s example during the making of their second album, Wow.
Wow lacks the rev-it-up spirit of Moby Grape’s masterpiece, but Peter Lewis, Jerry Miller, and Skip Spence’s guitar work is just as impressive and richly layered, and the group’s harmonies and songwriting chops are still in solid shape. While the unobtrusive production on Moby Grape showcased the group’s many virtues, those attributes are visible on Wow despite the layers of studio excess, which sapped the momentum and charm of this band without snuffing them out altogether.
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The band seemed to misunderstand its own strengths. In contrast to the lean, diamond-hard originals on ‘Moby Grape’, the second album bore unfocused tunes that were not enhanced by the overbearing and needless presence of strings and horns. Even a tuff little rocker like “Can’t Be So Bad” was dressed up with 20 reed and brass pieces. The album reached its nadir with “Just Like Gene Autry: A Fox Trot,” a trivial spoof of ’20s crooning introduced by ex-vaudevillian Arthur Godfrey; that track was pressed at 78 rpm, and owners of the original LP will recall the annoyance of getting up to change turntable speeds to listen to the number—an event that likely occurred only once in most cases.

Compounding the irritation, Columbia marketed ‘Wow’ with a “bonus album,” ‘Grape Jam’, which featured four listless improvisations with guest stars Mike Bloomfield (inexplicably abandoning his guitar for piano) and Al Kooper, both soon to ring up sales with their own similarly styled Super Session, Hawked at a two-for-one-price, the two-LP package rose to number 20 nationally. For many, the bloom was off the rose, but the group was already being wracked by larger problems, including…

Moby Grape also probably the only band to ever boast two diagnosed paranoid schizophrenics among its members. Skip Spence, was never a stable character to begin with, became an early LSD casualty; by 1967 he was, in the words of writer Jeff Tamarkin, “gobbling tabs of acid like Pez.” During the band’s stay in New York to record ‘Wow’, Spence attempted to attack Don Stevenson with a fire axe, and was committed to Bellevue Hospital. On his release, he hopped on a motorcycle and rode to Nashville; there, without the assistance of sidemen, he recorded the self-penned, self-produced solo classic album “Oar” under his given name, Alexander Spence. This disquieting, sometimes beautiful record has become a cherished classic of underground psycho-rock.

Spence, whose material was later recorded by his erstwhile band in his absence, returned sporadically to the Grape fold during a long period of homelessness and institutionalization; thanks to medication, his life stabilized to some extent before his death from cancer in 1999.

With Spence’s precipitous exit, Moby Grape carried on, recording Moby Grape ’69 as a foursome. The album was a solid return to form, and it was highlighted by three exceptionally strong Bob Mosley contributions, the ballad It’s a Beautiful Day Today and the hard rockers Hoochie and Trucking Man. Despite good reviews in the rock press, ”69′ sustained a meager chart peak of number 133. By the time the set was released, Mosley had one foot out the door: He suddenly bolted for a stint in the U.S. Marines, leaving Moby Grape to wrap its obligations to Columbia as a trio; late 1969’s thoroughly lackluster Truly Fine Citizen was cut with session man Bob Moore standing in for Mosley. Moby Grape ’69 is concise enough — most of the songs are under three minutes and the whole thing clocks in at a shade under a half-hour — and the high points come close to recapturing the electric magic of the group’s nearly flawless debut, especially the gritty groove of “Hoochie,” the doo wop influenced boogie of “Ooh Mama Ooh,” the beatific joy of “It’s a Beautiful Day Today,” the raucous celebration of one “Trucking Man,” and the folk-tinged wisdom of “If You Can’t Learn from My Mistakes.” However, even though these sessions found guitarists Peter Lewis and Jerry Miller, bassist Bob Mosley and drummer Don Stevensonplaying and singing at the top of their game and writing fine songs, the absence of Skip Spence, who left the band after Wow, robs Moby Grape ’69 of a significant share of the energy and drive that was the hallmark of their finest studio work.

It’s significant that the album’s most striking cut, the closer “Seeing,” was written by Spence during the Wow sessions.
Mosley ultimately returned to Moby Grape for a lone effort for Reprise Records, 1971’s sadly overlooked and underrated ’20 Granite Creek’ (which also featured an instrumental contribution from the largely sidelined Spence) and a well-written self-titled 1972 solo album that was marred by uncertain playing and production. But he was not a well man: He too was intermittently hospitalized and homeless through the ’90s. He returned to play, quite magnificently, with latter-day incarnations of the band,

Given the fondness of Moby Grape’s onetime manager for launching combative litigation, K. handled Moby Grape from its 1966 founding, which he midwifed, through August 1967, when he was dismissed by the band. Prior to that time, he had managed Jefferson Airplane; after he was fired in 1966, his dispute with the Airplane’s members over their contract dragged through the courts for nearly 20 years, tying up $2 million in royalties and interest, most of which were ultimately awarded to the band. A similar contract conflict with another San Francisco bandIt’s a Beautiful Day, of “White Bird” fame, effectively put the group in deep freeze for two decades.

In 1968, K. sued Moby Grape, claiming his contracts gave him ownership of the band’s name and music publishing. This action remained on the docket for 38 years. During that time, K. assembled various groups to perform under the Moby Grape handle, and released CD editions of ‘Moby Grape’ and ‘Wow’ on his own label, using needle-drops off vinyl pressings of the original LPs as his “masters.” In 2003, K. sued the band again after they issued an excellent album, first released on cassette in 1989 by “the Melvilles,” on CD under the handle ‘Legendary Grape’.

Finally, in 2006, a California appellate court ruled that the members of Moby Grape owned their name and their songs. For most litigants, this would be the end of things. However, in 2007, after an independent label licensed the band’s Columbia catalog from Sony for classily packaged and augmented editions, another suit landed at the band’s feet; this time, K. claimed he owned the artwork for ‘Moby Grape’, ‘Wow’, and ‘Grape Jam’.

Realizing that it would be pointless and impossibly expensive to fight this vindictive new action for miniscule returns, Sony asked that the albums be taken off the market. Thus, to date, nearly half of Moby Grape’s studio work, including its classic debut, is unavailable in fully authorized form. Few rock bands in history have been served a platter of misfortune piled as high as the one placed before Moby Grape. The group’s music—at its best the equal of any made in its time—remains elusive to this day, but it’s worth hunting for.