Fuller Up The Dead Musician Directory 
Alexander "Skip" Spence
Skip Spence
 Lung Cancer
April 16, 1999
Age 52

Skip Spence, of Moby Grape dies

                  Originally a member of the Jefferson Airplane - he played drums on their debut 'Jefferson Airplane Takes Off' and their classic second album 'Surrealistic Pillow' - Skip Spence left in 1966 to form The Moby Grape. 

                While Jefferson Airplane were going off into the wilder extremes of LSD-influenced West Coast psychedelia, the Grape were closer in spirit and attitude to British mod bands like The Who and The Small Faces. Spence, singer and guitarist, led a band that was self consciously stylish in an era when facial hair and ragged denim were considered the height of sartorial elegance, played hard fast R&B-tinged pop at a time when soft folk and extended jams were the order of the day and set out to appeal to teenage girls at a time when such ambitions were frowned upon.  

                 Moby Grape were also one of the first bands to be 'hyped' by a record company; their debut album, for example, was issued on a collection of seven inch singles. All of which backfired on the group who disbanded. 

                Spence made a solo album - 'Oar' released in 1969 - that has acquired a cult following among the likes of Beck and Tom Waits, who have all contributed to 'More Oar', a soon-to-be-released tribute album. 'Oar' is a strange and unapproachable record, with heavy hints that the mind-expanding 60's were crossing over into out and out mental illness.  

                Spence's recent past is unhappy; he was diagnosed as suffering from schizophrenia, was an alcoholic and lived as a derelict on the streets of Santa Cruz, although reports suggest that he had finally managed to stop drinking a few years before his death from cancer on Friday in a Santa Cruz hospital. Spence reportedly heard the tribute album featuring REM and Robert Plant in the hours before he died. 

News story  courtesy of the newly re-launched nme.com 

Musician Skip Spence Dies at 52


               SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ Skip Spence, an original member of the rock 
     band Jefferson Airplane, has died of lung cancer at 52. 

               Spence died Friday at Dominican Hospital in Santa Cruz, where he 
     had been fighting a number of ailments. 

               His death came weeks before the release of ``More Oar,'' a CD 
     tribute to Spence including songs by Beck, Robert Plant, Tom Waits 
     and members of R.E.M. The recording was inspired by ``Oar,'' 
     Spence's unique, folk-psychedelic solo album from 1969, which will 
     soon be reissued. 

               Spence had long battled schizophrenia and alcoholism. He had 
     been on a ventilator since entering the hospital April 5. 

               In 1965, Alexander Lee ``Skip'' Spence, born in Ontario, Canada, 
     was set to audition as a guitar player for Quicksilver Messenger 
     Service when another local musician, Marty Balin, invited him to 
     play drums in his new band, Jefferson Airplane. 

               Spence had never played drums before but learned quickly; on 
     ``Oar'' he plays every instrument. 

               Spence left the Jefferson Airplane in 1966 and became a founding 
     member of Moby Grape. Later, he gave another San Francisco Bay area 
     band, Pud, a new name _ the Doobie Brothers. 

               Survivors include four children. 


                SKIP SPENCE, who played a pioneering role in the San Francisco acid rock 
                sound as a member of both JEFFERSON AIRPLANE and MOBY GRAPE, died 
                of lung cancer in Santa Cruz, California on Friday April 16, aged 52.  

                His death came a week before the American release of 'More Oar', a tribute 
                album including contributions from ROBERT PLANT, BECK and TOM WAITS, 
                the royalties from which were to have gone to a fund to help Spence rebuild 
                his life. He had spent his last years living in a residential care hostel and a 
                trailer home near San Jose after being made a ward of Santa Cruz County. 
                He was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic in 1968 and battled with drug 
                addiction and alcoholism.  

                His 1969 solo album 'Oar' is widely regarded as one of the great lost classics 
                of the psychedelic era. It was virtually his last recorded work as Spence 
                came to be regarded alongside the likes of SYD BARRETT, ROKY ERICKSON 
                and PETER GREEN as a crazed wayward genius, an acid casualty of his 

                There may now be a memorial concert to accompany the tribute album, 
                which also includes contributions from SON VOLTís JAY FARRAR, ROBYN 
                of THE SCREAMING TREES. ~Music365

Founding Member of Jefferson Airplane and Moby Grape Dies

                                             Alexander "Skip" Spence, one of the founding 
                                             members of both Jefferson Airplane and Moby 
                                             Grape -- two of the Bay Area's most influential 
                                             bands -- died on April 16th from lung cancer. 
                                             Spence, who would have turned fifty-three on 
                                             Sunday, died at Dominican Hospital in Santa 
                                             Cruz, where he had been fighting a number of 
                                             ailments. Spence was checked into a 
                                             Northern California hospital with pneumonia on 
                                             April 5th, and his condition quickly worsened. 
                                             In an odd twist of fate, Birdman Records was 
                                             just getting ready to release More Oar, a 
                                             tribute album with performances by Robert 
                                             Plant, Beck, Tom Waits and others, in a few 
                                             weeks. The album is based on Spence's 1969 
                                             solo album, Oar. The proceeds of the album, 
                                             including artist royalties, were to be donated 
                                             to a fund to help with Spence's medical bills. 
                                             Spence, a uniquely talented musician and 
                                             songwriter, had suffered from mental illness for 
                                             the last thirty years.  

                                             Spence began his musical career in 1965 as 
                                             the original drummer for Jefferson Airplane. 
                                             Although a guitarist, he was cast as the 
                                             drummer by founder Marty Balin, who took 
                                             one look at Spence -- who was at the time 
                                             auditioning for the Quicksilver Messenger 
                                             Service -- at a club and apparently announced, 
                                             "That's my drummer." Spence's songwriting 
                                             talents were not wasted, however, and he 
                                             co-wrote several songs on the Airplane's debut 
                                             album. Before leaving the band in 1966, he left 
                                             behind one song, the folk-pop charmer, "My 
                                             Best Friend," which was chosen as the first 
                                             single from the Airplane's 1967 masterpiece, 
                                             Surrealistic Pillow.  

                                             Spence was most well known for his 
                                             involvement with Moby Grape, a band who 
                                             pushed Murphy's Law to its limits. Spence 
                                             was the central figure in a band that boasted 
                                             four singer/songwriters, combining elements of 
                                             country, soul, folk and blues. Despite 
                                             managerial nightmares and Columbia Records' 
                                             much-maligned marketing move of 
                                             simultaneously releasing five singles from the 
                                             1967 debut Moby Grape, the album was an 
                                             auspicious beginning and a classic of the 
                                             period, including such Spence masterpieces 
                                             as "Omaha" and "Indifference." "Omaha" in 
                                             particular is regarded as a rock classic and 
                                             was covered in the Eighties by the Golden 
                                             Palominos featuring Michael Stipe on vocals.  

                                             During the 1968 recording of the group's 
                                             second album, Wow, Spence allegedly 
                                             attempted to break down a bandmate's hotel 
                                             room door with a fire axe while on L.S.D., and 
                                             was committed for six months to the criminal 
                                             ward at Bellevue Hospital. After his release, 
                                             Spence negotiated a solo deal with Columbia 
                                             and recorded Oar in Nashville. The album is an 
                                             oddball masterpiece, and one that solidified 
                                             Spence's reputation as the "American Syd 
                                             Barrett," a true musical genius who was 
                                             becoming a casualty.  

                                             Spence continued to have minor involvement in 
                                             later Moby Grape projects and reunions, as 
                                             well as helping the Doobie Brothers get signed 
                                             to Warner Bros. Records (the Doobies idolized 
                                             Spence and the Grape). More recently, 
                                             Spence's "Land of the Sun," one of the only 
                                             post-Grape recordings he ever completed, was 
                                             nearly placed on the X-Files soundtrack.  

                                             Spence is survived by his four children -- 
                                             Aaron, 34; Adam, 33; Omar, 31; and Heather, 
                                             29 -- and his former wife and current girlfriend.  

                                             MATTHEW GREENWALD for Rocktropolis

Moby Grape's Skip Spence Dead At 52; Tribute LP Pushed Back 

                   (4/19/99, 1 p.m. PDT) - Skip Spence, the musician whose presence on the San Francisco music scene in the 1960s helped launch the seminal rock groups Jefferson Airplane and Moby Grape, died Friday in Northern California of lung cancer. He was 52. 

                   In the wake of Spence's death, More Oar, a new tribute album featuring Beck, Robert Plant, Robyn Hitchcock, Wilco, Tom Waits, and R.E.M., inspired by Spence's 1968 solo classic Oar (LAUNCH, 1/28), will now be released in early June. The album, which will be released on the indie Birdman label, was originally set to come out in April. 

                   "I heard they played it for him in his final hour," More Oar producer Bill Bentley told 
                   LAUNCH earlier today. "I hope he got a sense of love from the musicians who played on this album. I'd say 95% of the people on the record had never met him, but by the end they had a connection to him." 

                   Though Spence had overcome alcoholism and schizophrenia in years past, Bentley said that it seemed the recent diagnosis of lung cancer was too much for him. 

                   "I went up to see him on April 8 and he was unconscious," Bentley said. "I saw him, said a little prayer for him, noticed a little smile on his face, and I really felt he was already out of this world and gone to the next. You could feel that he wanted out." 

                   Royalties from the new record that were originally to go directly to Spence will now be sent to the fund established to cover his medical expenses, Bentley said. 

                   Fans wishing to contribute to the fund can send checks, payable to I.T.F. Alexander Lee "Skip" Spence, to Comerica Bank, CA, Attn: Marilyn Guzman, 1960 41st Avenue, Capitola, CA 95010. 

                   Born Alexander Lee Spence in Ontario, Canada in 1946, Spence moved to California in the 1960s, where he served as the first drummer for the Airplane before moving on to front Moby Grape in 1966. 

                   Oar, recorded entirely by Spence in 1968 after a six-month stay in a New York mental hospital, was not a commercial success, but is considered by many to be a groundbreaking work. In fact, Beck's major-label debut, 1994's Mellow Gold, was frequently compared to Oar. 

                   "Oar is the first record where a guy left a band, went out on his own, and made a record pretty much all alone," Bentley recently explained (LAUNCH, 1/28). "It was really the beginning of the 'do-it-yourself' movement. It didn't have that effect then, because nobody really paid attention to it at the time." 

                   Features on Jimmy Page & Robert Plant, Robyn Hitchcock, Wilco, and R.E.M. are available on LAUNCH.com. 

                   ~ Stephen Peters



Born:  April 18, 1946 in Windsor, Ontario, Canada
Like a rough, more obscure American counterpart to Syd Barrett, Skip Spence was one of the late '60s' most colorful acid casualties. The original Jefferson Airplane drummer (although he was a guitarist who had never played drums before joining the group), Spence left after their first album to join Moby Grape.  Like every member of that legendary band, he was a strong presence on their first album, playing guitar, singing, and writing "Omaha," one of the LP's best songs. The group ran into rough times in 1968, and Spence had the roughest flipping out and (according to varying accounts) running amok in a record studio with a fire axe, ending up committed to New York's Bellevue Hospital. Upon his release, Spence cut an acid-charred classic, Oar, in 1969. Though released on a major label (Columbia), this was reportedly one of the lowest-selling items in its catalog, and is hence one of the most valued psychedelic collector items. Much rawer and more homespun than the early Grape records, it features Spence on all (mostly acoustic) guitars, percussion, and vocals. With an overriding blues influence and doses of country, gospel, and acid freakout thrown in, this sounds something like Mississippi Fred McDowell imbued with the spirit of Haight-Ashbury 1967. It also featured great cryptic, punning lyrics and wonderful wraithlike vocals that range from a low Fred Neil with gravel hoarseness to a barely there high wisp. Sadly, it was his only solo recording; more sadly, mental illness continues to prevent Spence from reaching a fully functional state to this day, although he periodically plays music, sometimes with former members of The Grape. -- Richie Unterberger, All-Music Guide