Archive for the ‘Skip Spence’ Tag

Skip Spence – Oar

The only solo record from Skip Spence, a founding member of both the Jefferson Airplane and Moby Grape, Oar was recorded and mixed over a couple of weeks in December ’68 and released in February ’69. It promptly sank with barely a ripple. Greil Marcus (Rolling Stone magazine) dropped some ink about Oar seven months after its release, his article leading off with Oar’s inevitable slide into the Bargain Bins.

There were a lot of bad, external influences that helped Spence get to where he didn’t need to go, and prohibited him from getting what he needed. Being able to look back, his problems seem obvious. Spence had un-diagnosed mental issues, which he attempted to sort out the way a lot of people lacking the necessary bits do: Self-medication through the use of various drugs, including alcohol. Keith Moon and Syd Barrett are two of the Rock ‘n’ Roll set that immediately come to mind.

Eventually, Spence did get some real help. By then, however, too much damage had been done.

Just like the muted, harrowing, and limited output of another founding member (Syd Barrett) of another great band (Pink Floyd), listening to Oar sounds like the last chapter of someone at the end of their string, or the first chapter of that same someone moving on to something better. The perspective changes, depending on the weather, what side of the bed you got up on, was your morning cup alright, etc. Sometimes, while you are listening, Oar’s head changes in the middle of the song.

The era of the Compact Disc has been kind. Both of Barrett’s solo records have been re-released, augmented with extra tracks, and further complimented with Opel, another disc of two dozen previously unreleased tracks.

With Spence, there isn’t anywhere near as much to work with. Oar’s first appearance on CD didn’t happen until 1991, and barely at that. Released on Sony Music Special Products, whoever got the project green lighted must have had a little love in their heart(s). For the Sony re-issue, they went back to the original studio multi-tracks. Since the re-issue was for Compact Disc, LP side lengths were no longer seen as a constraint. With the Sony re-issue we can hear what was done both originally and completely, instead of what was settled for. Sony went further with their re-issue, and added five extra tracks.

In 1999, Oar was released on the Sundazed label. Sundazed used the mixed-down, 2-track masters, restoring the originally released Oar tracks to their original LP released form. Included are all five of the extra tracks from Sony’s ’91 release, along with an additional five minutes in the form of five previously unreleased tracks.

Like the Barrett records, with Oar you can hear Spence emptying the contents of his head. I think the strongest tracks include the record’s open, the oddly joyous Little Hands Clapping. War and Peace sounds like something that could have been on an early Pink Floyd LP yet to be recorded, while Weighted Down (The Prison Song) indeed sounds as described in the booklet from the Sundazed release: Johnny Cash sharing a barstool with Albert Camus.

Since I don’t want to get into a song-by-song rundown, I’ll end the talk of specific songs with this… The single most important bit of restoration is the end of the last song on the original release, Grey/Afro: Four and a half minutes were added in the form of “This Time He Has Come.” Maybe it was supposed to be a coda for Grey/Afro, or maybe it is simply the unfinished, rhythmic foundation for something that will never be.

While I think the Sony release is the way to go, both with regard to sound quality and version of the original record included, the Sundazed release sounds plenty fine (and unlike the Sony release, is currently available).

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