Before we get to the subject of today's hotcha disques in question, let me clue you in to a neato blog I only recently discovered and found so informative and entertaining (in that thrills and chills me to the quick of my unsated desires kinda way) that I actually found it right and proper to link the thing up on the left-hand column for all of you neophytes to take a gander at it and learn a two or thing about just exactly where you came from, and it wasn't the stork! Anyway this new-to-you blog's called The Third Banana and it's a doozy too which makes me wonder just how I coulda lived so long without it! The Third Banana's devoted to nothing but those crazy moom pitcher comedians of the past (talkin' H-wood's "Golden Age" and even before) that I and presumably you have gone gaga over for a good portion of your kiddie consciousness lifespan which continues to hold a soft spot in your head. Remember all of those boffo articles on such oft-neglected yet meaningful subjects as Educational Pictures and Leon Errol that I wrote about in my own fanzine way back in the maybe not-so-wild-and woolly early-nineties? Well, Third Banana deals in the same sorta chicanery only with a much deeper sense-of-obsession that's perhaps even more one-track than the usual compulsiveness seen in one of those old BLACK TO COMM pieces on whatever captured my fancy at the time! In fact, even the usually staid and generally nonplussed """""I""""" is so impressed by this power-oomphed blog that I'll even go out on my usual limb and tell you all that Third Banana is just the ticket to chase away the blooze usually associated with 21st century living chock fulla the usual pics, posters and Youtube clips that make these blogs more'n the spiritual successor to the same sense of fanzine wonderment that still lingers on somewhere out there in cyberspace! And you really gotta admire a blog that gives the all-out for one of the most out-there funnymen of recent memory, none other than the very same Joe Cook who I have been mentioning at the drop of a hat not only in my fanzoonie of yore but this very blogspot! You'll probably learn more about this guy in one sitting after romping through THE THIRD BANANA than you did during the past ninetysome years of your pathetic existence! When you're done reading today's entry into the wonderful world of BLOG TO COMM-dom, head straight for the banana!
And now on to Moby Grape. Wow (no pun intended), what a great band! It's funny, because I as well as I assume a good hefty portion of you readers, had these guys pegged as just another West Coast batch of country-rock hippies for quite a longer time than any of us could imagine. I probably know why I had these preconceptions crammed into my beanie by heart, and the fact that they were from San Francisco '67 with an ex-Airplane member in the ranks certainly didn't help with any "coolness" for wont of a better term quotient in my book. That along with the fact that way too many "experts" (TRANSLATION: older kids inna neighborhood) thought they were shucks. Of course, I wasn't too impressed myself when I caught THE SWEET RIDE on THE CBS FRIDAY NIGHT MOVIE with Tony Franciosa and Bob Denver eyeballing a topless Jacqueline Bisset onna beach, but that must have been because of my disappointment of not seeing more of the famed lassie's assets ifyaknowaddamean... But thanks to the sage advice of such in-the-know types as Billy Miller and Jymn Parrett (not to mention faverave Edgar Breau) I decided to give these San Fran victims of overhype and overactive glands a chance and whaddya know, despite what Krazee Kenne Highland said this ain't some strange precursor to the Doobie Brothers (an' he meant that as a compliment...) but fine late-sixtes West Coast folk rock stuck somewhere between garage band and psychedelia. And what's even better about the whole shebang is that there's nary a shard of any of the excess or embarassment that would practically ruin the whole West Coast scene as it went from jangle to hack within the span of a good five years.
Debut platter MOBY GRAPE remains a class rock & roll epiphany ranking with such other efforts by Pink Floyd, the Red Crayola, Deviants and Velvet Underground as far as exemplary initial popouts of '67 go, and the thing's certainly a topper when compared with some of the doo-doo that did make it out that year. It's no real surprise that Lou Reed, during one of his customary West Coast putdowns of the time, felt it necessary to include Moby Grape as the exception to the rule (he later would lump Janis and Big Brother in with the Grape as SF's shining moment, no slouch he). After all, there was the same sense of urgency and chilled intensity on MOBY GRAPE that was also found on THE VELVET UNDERGROUND AND NICO...perhaps the Grape's debut ranks with FIFTH DIMENSION and early Love as the best application of East Coast street rock on West Coast terms. Whatever, this one's a sublime winner that only goes to show ya just how pallid other Californian groups like the Dead, Airplane and Doors were in comparison.
And it ain't hard to see why the Grape "worked" despite all of the major-league goofs that kept them from being the all-Umerigan band they coulda been at the time. The three-guitar lineup helped as well as the fact that there was really no clear leader in the band with everybody taking pretty much an equal share of the burden so to speak. And even though the serious SF denizens thought them unworthies (witness ROLLING STONE's willful ignorance of them at the time) it was the Grape, along with the Flamin' Groovies a few years later, who were the standard-bearers for a more refreshing West Coast style and attitude that should have made it big with the same midwest nobodies pimple-squeezing to this music, and considering how their sound resonated in bands such as Simply Saucer years afterwards only goes to show you just how WRONG the taste arbitors were way back when everybody should have known better.
Followup WOW still seems to annoy even the staunchest Grape fans and I can see why. But frankly, I find the use of horns and strings give these songs a good punch here and there plus the chipmunk/country music spoof "Funkytune" fits in rather spiffy if you ask me. Heck, finally getting to hear "Just Like Gene Autry (A Foxtrot)" at the correct speed complete with Arthur Godfrey's throwback intro was worth the wait. (By the way, didja know that during the recording of this track Godfrey and perennial lunatic Skip Spence got along swimmingly well, perhaps hecause of their shared love of general craziness and practical jokester knowhow? And to make matters even stranger in the Moby Grape annals of an already-bizarre career Godfrey was totally unaware of the twenties/thirties nostalgia craze that drove the Grape to write and record this song in the first place! He thought it interesting that some rock group was recording the same music he and a lotta other ukelele bums were doing back then and nothing more which I think is a lot cooler than the attitude my mother had which was that them smartaleck kids were MAKING FUN of their elders!) True WOW ain't as focused or (let's face it) as entertaining as the first 'un, but it sure ain't the swan dive into the turdbowl way too many people make it out to be. But then again I've yet to purchase GRAPE JAM (the original second platter with the Grape grooving along with Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper guesting in the piano stool) which might just be the "teeter" to teeter-tot me into writing this period of the Grape's career off for good...after all, I thought that "Miller's Blues" where former Gerry Roslie bandmate Jerry Miller does his white blues impression the weakest thing on WOW but then again I get that way sometimes.
The bonus material is always a good go-getter esp. if you have this stuff already and need an excuse to toss another fifteen smackers down the rathole. It's nice to finally hear "The Sweet Ride" after all these years (I switched the movie off after I discovered it wasn't gonna be one of those funny Bob Denver vehicles I had imagined it was) and discover just what a powerful hard-rocker in the best SF tradition that number remains, plus that "audition" take of "Indifference" is what I would call a raver with a rawness that never did translate to finished product.
In the meanwhile (while I'm searching out reishes of MOBY GRAPE '69 and TRULY FINE CITIZEN) here are some Youtube Grapestomps that should give you a taste of what kinda jelly these guys could roll out. Dunno where the first one originates from but not only does it present two numbers from the debut smash (including the beautiful and enveloping "Sitting By The Window") but it contains some entertaining and typical-of-the-times camerawork and of course the obligatory dancing gal along with some high-larious commentary about how the Grape are bridging the "Generation Gap" and the urban/rural gap for that matter with their all-new and never-before-attempted country-rock sound!
The second clip is from THE MIKE DOUGLAS SHOW also from way back inna day, and although Bill Shute thinks that Merv was cool I think he was a pitiful creature next to Mike and his long-whacked out show which really knew how to mix and match the guests and juxtapose classic comedians and controversial figures without batting an eye! Anyway here's Mike introducing the Grape (and mishandling their name in the process!) from way back in the day when Mr. and Mrs. Front Porch were still getting apopleptic over anything not outside the realms of Jan Garber and Guy Lumbago!
Saturday, October 20, 2007