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Monday, 24 December 2012

Alexander Spence – All My Life (I Love You) / Land of the Sun (1999)

Out of all the 1960s lost souls Alexander Spence was one of the most far-gone. What a pity the acid was so strong back then; fragile guys like Spence just didn’t stand a chance trying to keep it together. Never heard of him? Well the cliché is that Spence was the U.S answer to Syd Barrett, which is shorthand for wayward genius cut short by drugs and mental illness.

Like Syd, Spence had loads of talent and started out drumming for Jefferson Airplane on their first album Jefferson Airplane Takes Off (1966). He left to join Moby Grape as a guitarist and contributed strongly to their mega debut album – Moby Grape (1967), most notably with the song Omaha, which is one the greatest guitar oriented songs ever. Unfortunately Spence was later sectioned after attacking one his band-mates at a hotel with a fire axe. He never fully recovered, but before he started to fadeout he recorded his one and only solo album – Oar (1969) on a three track.* On Oar Spence played every instrument himself and totally manifested the sound of mental confusion with flair and charm. The album is justly regarded as an obscure cult classic and is well worth checking out.

This beautifully packaged and pressed single features two rare works from Spence post Oar. I haven’t found any meaningful information about All My Life except that it was recorded in 1972 in San Mateo, California. It has a great crunchy riff and vocals that are very different to the way he sung on Oar. Perhaps Moby Grape recorded it in 1972 with (or without) Spence? Do any Moby Grape freaks know?

Land of the Sun is a totally different proposition. I still remember the first time I heard this seriously creepy song – I was amazed at how well it encapsulates nameless dread. Listen to it really loud and it will totally weird you out. Known as the last Spence recording, it was made for an X-Files soundtrack, but didn’t end up on the subsequent album. The song was recorded in 1996 and Spence died in 1999. I guess that the excellent reissue label Sundazed released it in 1999 to mark his passing and give the song a chance to freak people out (it is still readily available). I’m going to play it again, just in time for Christmas.

* Legend has it that when Spence was let out of the psychiatric ward in New York he rode a motorcycle non stop dressed only in his pajamas to a Nashville studio to begin recording the album. An apocryphal tale no doubt, but I like to believe that it is true.

Skip Spence - man he had great hair!

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