Friday, January 22, 2021

Bob Mosley of Moby Grape

 A concert in the UCSD Gym with the Electric Flag and Moby Grape, two better bands to come out of the San Francisco era. They had broken up for several years but now were regrouped for what seemed at the outset to be a historical event but turned out to be a has-beens weekend. The Flag was incredibly lame, going through the motions of trying to resurrect the old fire. The highlight of the effort was guitarist Mike Bloomfield’s stomping off stage in disgust while drummer Buddy Miles did an impromptu vocal cast in the Otis Redding mold on why he needs his baby. But where the Flag at least managed some fake emoting, Moby Grape looked like they were being held up by guide wires. The playing was dead, the expressions uncommitted, and the air smelled of formaldehyde. Bassist Bob Mosley once hailed as the best white blues singer for the shot-from-cannons bellow he had in the Sixties, sang in a slightly inflected drone. He looked as if he were trying to hide behind his beard and microphone.

Spending New Year’s Eve in National City’s Harold’s Club wasn’t my idea of a good time. Packed elbow to the torso with servicemen who danced with cigarettes jutting from their lips and the West Pac widows who sat on barstools with moist Bud bottles in their hands and staring off into the club’s smokey red-tinted atmosphere, I spent the entire evening safe in my seat rubbing knees with those I came with. I felt like a vegetarian in a steakhouse. After a while, I started paying attention to the band Gopher Broke, a group that rattled off dispassionate versions of current chart-toppers. The bassist looked familiar, and after some squinting, I remember who it was, Bob Mosley. His demeanor wasn’t much more animated than when I saw him at UCSD, but he seemed comfortable at least, cracking a smile now and then and taking healthy swigs from a drink between numbers.

Bob Mosley, a native San Diegan now resettled in his hometown after ten years on the road, loads a corn cob pipe, flicks a butane lighter and puffs hard on the pipe’s stem to generate smoke. He rubs his chin slowly, fingers running through a neatly trimmed surfer blond beard, and answers a question in a measured, matter-of-fact tone. 

“The Grape reunion last year was really weird, just plain freaky. To me, it was a matter of getting the money and get out, and pray to God that you don’t go crazy before you get paid. I got out of that scene. Now I’m real cautious about the offers I get. I just don’t like to get freaked out.” 

The reunions were unfortunate because they produced only a poor facsimile of one of the best rock bands from the Sixties. Like that of the Byrds and Buffalo Springfield, Grape’s sound had been a melting pot of American musical genres. But unlike the Byrds, who were merely eclectic at best, or the Springfield, who sometimes go further than their abilities, Moby Grape had guts, a certain graininess that lent the band a deeper emotional base. Their first two albums (now out of print) remain two near-perfect gems, covering hard rock, country, soul, blues, and folk ballads with the requisite grit in their vocals and instrumentation that goes beyond affectations. The band’s primary fault, in fact, was that they were too stylistically varied to be salable to a public larger than a small group of cultists. Columbia Records gave the Grape a hard promotional push, with a massive ad campaign and five releases on singles from the first album simultaneously, sort of in the vein that one of the tunes would click. Even so, Grape remained relatively unknown, and the band’s spirit reached ebb tide. The five releases following Wow were void of the earthy magic that had made the first two such constant joys.

Moseley loaded his pipe. “It was over after the first album, really,” he says laconically. “By the time Wow had come out, the band had moved to Santa Cruz to get away from all the trendy scene makers that were just crowding San Francisco so much that it got to be too much. San Francisco was something. You could walk down streets, smile at people, not feel uptight, you know everyone. It was like being at home. But all the attention focused on it by the media caused everyone and this brother to come up and hang out. It was like having a horde of people just move into your home. You wouldn’t dig it, would you? It just blew me away. The move to Santa Cruz on the band’s part was an attempt to get away from the meth and smack that were going down heavy in San Francisco, but by that time, my feeling had gone from the band.” His pipe burns out, and after an attempt to relight it, he places it on the coffee table in front of him.

How had Moby Grape formed? 

Mosley laughs. “Kind of a long story. Early on, I was working with a three-piece band that included Joe Scott Hall and Johnny Barbetta (drummer for the Turtles and now for the Jefferson Starship) and a girl singer. A guy on the organ was asked to join the band. I didn’t like organ at the time; I liked the trio sound, with a driving lead guitar, a solid bass, and a drummer who knows all the chops. The organ just filled up the band’s sound too much for my taste, so I quit. The last couple of nights I played with them, two guys from Seattle came down while working at the San Francisco International and asked me to join their band. They were a jazz/rhythm and blues group, and they needed a bass player who could sing. Those two boys were futures Grapes Jerry Miller (lead guitar) and Don Stevenson.

“When the job was up, I went to Los Angeles in mind to find a folk-type musician, someone who can do all that fancy picking stuff. I got a hold of Peter Lewis, who I found out later was Loretta Young’s son. I thought, ‘oh boy, now’s my chance to get in the Hollywood scene … “ Mosley laughs. “Anyway, he, a dude named Matthew Cates (later Grapes’ manager, along with Quicksilver and It’s A Beautiful Day), a drummer named Skip Spence who was just fired from the Jefferson Airplane, and I all went up to San Francisco, where we met Miller and Stevenson. We formed Moby Grape there, and through various means available to us, we found clubs and places to play and built up a big local following.”

Do you ever long for the old days when you were back up there?

“Not really. The only time I get anything like deja vu is when I play the old Grape records. I listen to those songs, and think about the early days, the times on the road, the people I’ve met, the situations I’ve had to sing all those songs under. Things like that. I have this hunger to get back on the road.”

What caused the group to split up?

“Well, Skip Spence left the band. He was the main focal point of the group. He was exceptionally talented in the songs he wrote and how he played his guitar; he was real flashy to watch. The Grape went on the road for two years without him. The whole feeling the band originally had was dead, and eventually, everyone went their own way.”

In the wake of Grape’s demise, Mosley returned to San Diego, worked in high schools as a janitor, and later joined the Marines. 

“I was a janitor in every high school in the city. I worked as an alternate, working for a service. I’d get a call saying where I was to go, and I’d hop on the bus and go to work.”

What made you decide to go into the Marines?

“I wanted to straighten myself out. I had gotten into a heavy scene with the music thing. I got tired of trying to be hip and shooting the bull and such. I thought the Marines could help me be more the person I wanted to be. They’re strict, and they gave me a set of conditions I could live with. I figure that you can do anything you want within limits. Once you feel your way around those limits, you can get along just fine. Anyway, they did do a lot for my brother. They helped him to cope with things, anyway, in a straight-ahead manner, without getting hung up in a lot of childish games.” He picks up the pipe again and scrapes the spent tobacco from it, stuffs more into the mouth, and lights it, this time puffing harder, making his cheeks look like the face of a stuffed chipmunk. 

“Right now,” he goes on, “I’m just playing bars, six nights a week, usually at Harbor Club at the Crossroads in Spring Valley. It’s an easy gig, and the money is pretty good, about $250 a week. It pays the rent and buys the food. I’m just glad to work as a musician because I know that many of them aren’t working. Doing this bar thing is the first time I’ve been off the road for a year, and it’s made me lazy. I’ve gained ten pounds, and between being married working steady, I don’t get the exercise I should. Life for me is sorta the happy homeowner thing. Sometimes it gets hard for me to even write songs.” 

What sort of things do you write? 

“Here, I’ll play you some.” He gets up, leaves the room, and returns with two cassette tapes. He pops one into his machine, plays certain parts tentatively while grimacing at the sound of his own voice, and then advances the tape for snippets he thinks are better examples of his work.

“Some of this stuff is done real trashy,” he says finally and lets the tape roll through three songs. The first is a ballad with tight, interworking harmonies with Jerry Miller’s guitar work weaving jazzy, quicksilver lines throughout. 

The other two are rockers with country blues tinges. Mosley’s singing on them is expressive and laid-back in a positive sense, not so mellow that it becomes a work to discern the easy peaceful feeling.

But enjoy as I might, Mosely fidgets in his chair, shakes his head contemptuously, and snaps a button on the cassette, butting the music. “These were recorded over a year ago up in L.A. with some great musicians, but his performances rub me the wrong way. Like the singing. On one song, I wanted a soulful sound, but I came out crooning, sounding dead. I got tons of tapes in my room that I won’t play for anyone, friend or foe. The songs are good, but I have to get them worked out the way I want.”

What does the future hold? 

“Well, I had the possibility of getting a recording contract with Warner Brothers through the Doobie Brothers. Their contract was up with them, and they were trying to negotiate a package deal where I could get an album done. I know those guys from Santa Cruz, and Pat Simmons, who was really impressed when he met Skip Spence, was doing his best to give some of the old Grape a break. Anyway, Warner Brothers said no, which leaves us all free to pursue other possibilities. I’ve got more time to write songs and put something together. 

“What I really want more than anything else is a hit record, to have a gold record I can hang on my wall. My old San Diego band, the Misfits, recorded an album, and we had a hit song, ‘This Little Piggy' (Hog For You Baby). When that thing reached that high, I was in seventh heaven. A hit record is the first thing I’ve wanted since I first played professionally. I’d like to get that old feeling back, the energy and enthusiasm of making music. I look for the old feeling whenever I play, and sometimes I find it. I don’t know how many people are shooting for a hit. It must be everybody who plays professionally. I just hope I can come up with a combination that clicks.” 

He places his pipe back on the table. His eyes glaze at the carpet. A motorcycle roars full steam up the street. The sound of grinding metal seems to interrupt Mosley’s train of thought. He shakes his head and seems to sense that the conversation has run its course; he politely says that he has to pick up his wife.

(Originally published in The San Diego Reader.)

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Arthur Blythe, John McLaughlin capsule album reviews from 1980

 Lenox Avenue Breakdown- Arthur Blythe  (Columbia)

Blythe. a saxophonist who's done time with drummer Chico Hamilton's group and the New York jazz scene is the most interesting player of the instrument around. Where most saxists make the choice of the kind of music they want to play and seldom, if ever, stray to other styles, Blythe's sound is an engagingly eclectic mixture that he bonds together with the self-assurance and personality of his playing. His tone is as firm and spritely lyrical as either Joe Farrell or Phil Woods, yet he can, when need be, brandish the pyrotechnical verve of Sonny Rollins, the gruff, full-bodied harmonics of early Pharaoh Saunders of Gato Barbieri and the sweet-natured lilt of Charles McPherson. One shouldn't think that Blythe sounds like any of these players, though. Blythe sounds like Blythe alone, and the different ideas he uses to assemble a perfectly coherent style. With Blythe on Lenox Avenue Breakdown are drummer Jack DeJohnette, bassist Cecil McBee, guitarist James Ulmer, and several others. They provide the firm yet malleable bottom that Blythe requires for his extravagant solos, with their own sorties adding distinctive color and contrast. The title track is the best example of this, a wildly shifting terrain of rich sounds and multi-leveled rhythms interspersed by Blythe's brilliant gymnastics. Lenox Avenue Breakdown is rough, raw, bristling with ideas, and should be bought by anyone tired of the oversweetened contrivances branded as improvisational music.


Electric Dreams
- John McLaughlin and the One Truth Band - (Columbia)

When last seen and heard in concert in San Diego. guitarist McLaughlin had assembled a unit called the One Truth Band, and from the evidence, there was little reason to feel hopeful. The performance was atrocious. A poorly mixed and badly played din of electronic flash. With McLaughlin and the band undertaking a pointless, random cacophony of speedy riffs that never jelled. The concert lacked even the callous cleverness McLaughlin has become known for. Well, surprise. Electric Dreams, the One Truth Band's 'first release with McLaughlin, is everything their concert wasn’t. The six musicians - McLaughlin. L. Shankar on violin, Stu Goldberg on keyboards, Fernando Saunders on bass, Tony Smith on drums, and Alyrio Lima on percussion - have consolidated their skills into a fully integrated unit and display a distinct musical identity. 

McLaughlin, the principal composer here, has taken on a new maturity as a composer as well. Where much of his writing in the past seemed to be little more than tricky unison parts. employing Indian and neo-classical modes with little substantive guts underneath the dizzying dexterity, Electric Dreams material cuts a wider swath. The band's unified character gives the variety of approaches -Basie blues, poly-tonal funk, Coltranish chases - a coherence that last year's recipe hodgepodge, Johnny McLaughlin: Electric Guitarist lacked. Unlike Electric Guitarist, a session where McLaughlin employed different musicians on each track, Electric Dreams has a central character. This album is by recipe hodgepodge Johnny McLaughlin. Electric Guitarist lacked. Unlike Electric Guitarist, a session where McLaughlin employed different musicians on each track, Electric Dreams has a central character. 

The high points on the album are many, but especially exciting is "The Dark Prince," a fevered stretch of extended bop acceleration,  where McLaughlin fuses the melodic sense and chordal strategies of Coltrane and Parker with the quirky meters of his Mahavishnu period. Though the purist elements of the jazz audience might dismiss this track as mere facile Clash and showboating for its own sake. McLaughlin’s solos are nonetheless crisp. Concise. Elegantly phrased and to the point. The closing guitar keyboard shootout between him and Goldberg is an enthralling example of two musicians pushing themselves to their respective creative limits. "Miles Davis " (so named. as a return compliment to the trumpet player who named one of his songs "John McLaughlin" on his Bitches Brew  is heartburn with musical  notation after a delicious but over-spiced meal. At this point, I turn off the music and walk into the sunlight of the spirit.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

from 1980:capsule reviews of mahogany rush,gentle giant,Peter alsop

 What's Next-

Frank Marino and Mahogany Rush (Columbia) T

The story goes that a young Frank Marino freaked out on bad acid some years ago, and after being given a guitar by his doctors as part of his recovery therapy, he was soon playing exactly like the deceased Jimi Hendrix despite the fact that he had previously never touched the instrument. Marino said in ea rly interviews that he believed the spirit of Jimi had entered him during his recovery, and that he had been changed from being just another teenage doper into someone who would carry on what Hendrix had begun. So the story goes. What you can say about Marino, whether you swallow' that crock or not, is that he does sound like Hendrix. But instead of "carrying on" the guitar stylistics and advancing the art of electric guitar, Marino's playing is somewhere in the late 60s, fast and furious, full of echo, feedback , and, unlike Hendrix 's occasional moments of bluesy lyricism, utterly graceless. The problem is singular: Marino and Mahagony Rush are incapable of writing a decent riff, a failing that results in Marino ejaculating pud-pounding solos over the material like a meat and potatoes slob drowning the most expensive plate at the Top Of The Cove in a comeuppance of ketchup. Although one has to concede Marino's adeptness, his style becomes wearisome. In the end, What's Next,their newest record, seems aimed at the audience who've turned Hendrix into a deity and refused to admit that better guitarists have come along. 


Civilian -
 Gentle Giant (Columbia)

Back in the days when classically-derived rock was all the rage among the small enclaves of pop dilettantes, Gentle Giant set themselves apart from the pack with the unusual continuity and stringent formalism of. their playing. In recent years, though, Giant has been changing their sound, gearing it toward a more commercial appeal so that they might attract a larger audience who might otherwise dismiss them as mere technical tricksters.- Unfortunately, what they sound like on Civilian, their latest record, is merely a watered down rendition of their old self, bordering almost on self parody. "The material stays safely within the limits of what the average tolerate - there is little risk-taking here - and except for some pleasant ensemble bits here and there, nothing really gels moving. Also, Derek Shulman's singing - a distraught, emasculated whine - has never been my idea of great crooning, and the lyrics, trapped in the aprioric existential murk of alienation and all, amount to nothing more than in articulated pout. Words such as these are enough to make one want to give the linger, incessantly mewling about a world he didn't ask to be born into, a good swift kick in the pants. And not necessarily in the seat. 


Draw The Line -Peter Alsop (Flying Fish)


If this were 1967, al an anti· war or Civil Rights march, and if I were 17, 'dad in khaki, stoned beyond what's reasonable in public, and still believing we could have world peace through the right mixture of drugs and indiscriminate sex, I would think that folkie Peter Alsop . was a totally bitchen guy. But this is 1980, and though my politics haven', changed all that much, I think most of us learned the lesson that the world won't be a better place through wishful thinking and pamphlet politics. Alsop , though, seems to exist quite happily in an airless vacuum . He 's what used to be called a  "topical" songwriter, and though the things he chooses to sing about - the innate greed principal of capitalism, the horrors of nuclear energy,  labor songs, feminisms' liberation of males from the breadwinner role - you find him to be so politically "correct" that you'd like to punch him out. Not that I find anything particularly disagreeable with Alsop's world view. Rather, Alsop gets on my nerves because of his expression, which is didactically self righteous , s hallow and humorous to only an audience of like-minded politico who already know the punchlines. And as a propagandist, he lacks the needed ability to turn up with the stirring turn of phrase . This man is not Phil Ochs, not Dylan, not Dave Van Ronk, not Buffy St. Marie. He is Peter Alsop, an insufferable little snit, a profoundly depressing experience. What else can you expect from a man who probably won't play in any state that hasn't ratified the ERA? 

(Originally in The UCSD Daily Guardian)

Saturday, January 16, 2021

EMOTIONAL RESCUE by The Rolling Stones (capsule review from 1981)

 Emotional Rescue --The Rolling Stones

Although Some Girls was a wide improvement over the phoned-in raunch-rock the Rolling Stones came to specialized in  after Exiles on Main Street, I never thought it was really that good. There were no songs on the par with "Satisfaction," "Sway," or "Backstreet Girl" (to choose three from a sizable collection of classics). Still, I didn't think that the Stones would go as slack and indifferent to their legacy as they sound on Emotional Rescue. Might it be that they’ve become so world weary that their sense of cruel irony, which was always a refreshing bracer against the worst collective delusions and naivete of major b ands that wanted to be relevant in turbulent times, has been dulled to the degree that they’re reduced to the status of cranky uncles at the family Christmas table. They don't sound angry or outrageous, they sound as though their feet hurt.

 Maybe they’re jaded, maybe they're tired, maybe they're just burned out by the stress of being the "world's greatest rock and roll band." but whatever the cause, the symptoms are apparent and irritating. Keith Richards and Ron Wood charge through Chuck Berry riffs like drunks stumbling through plate glass, Charlie Watts drumming has never sounded more uninteresting, and Bill Wymans' bass work sounds resembles nothing so much as sleepwalk proficiency. Jagger is the only one who sounds as though he's having any fun, but I suspect its fun for the wrong reason: he knows precisely what he can get away with throughout the songs he sings With a leering, mocking contempt.

 The problem is that the contempt is aimed not at any of the sacred cows the audience likes to see slaughtered as a matter of routine. Rather, the smug superiority of persona and derisive disgust seems aimed toward the audience, the the front row to the cheap seats.  This is to say that the cynicism that comes easily and too convincingly for the Stones signals a flatlining of their imagination.  Living up to your reputation isn’t the same as creating something a few of us would so preciously  term art. 

(Originally seen in the UCSD Daily Guardian).

Thursday, January 14, 2021

2 capsule record reviews from 1981

 Directions - Miles Davis (Columbia)

 Like last year's Circle In The Round, Directions is another double record anthology of previously unreleased Davis material from 1960-70, and it's neatly divided between the coaly lyrical post-bop styles and the period when the trumpeter led his musicians into the wilds of polyrhythmic jazz-rock. For my part, I prefer the latter of the two styles on the fir t two sides, highlighting Davis' sharp, pointillistic brassiness and several swinging performances from Wayne Shorter, Hank Mobley, Ron Carter, and others. The fusion material tends to drift too far afield, lost as it is around funk riffs that are annoyingly stationary while improvisations, by Davis. John McLaughlin , Wayne Shorter and Steve Goodman, lack anything to say save for arbitrary utterances. One jam, "Willie Nelson ," do 1' , however. transcend the hit-and-miss method of the style t with superlative bassist Dave Holland elevating a simple figure into truly propulsive  groove that in turn inspires McLaughlin to give his best guitar work-out on the four record set. Still, the fusion sessions are stiff and unmotivated, and one wonders whether Davis himself would have allowed these tracks to see light. Sides one and two, though, are quite fine, and well worth the price of the package.  

Intensities In Ten Cities - Ted Nugent (Epic) 

I once thought  Ted Nugent was a  guitarist of singular style who would one day drop the meat-eater stance and make music well the equal of his instrumental skill. Well, I still think that Nugent i a good guitarist, but I’ve abandoned all hope that he might garner some dignity as a musician. Primarily, dignity and class are elements Nugent has no interest in, nor use for. Yes, he can play guitar well and one respects him for that, but he’s also a freak show, a performer, a loud and grotesque figure of masculinity who has no problems selling out arenas and moving vinyl. Intensities in  Ten Cities is more of what he' been serving up the last . ix years or so: songs in major keys using major chords with lots of screaming guitar work and plenty of lyrics that display no more odal conscience than a back alley brawl. Nugent is obviously very happy to remain where he is, his audience seems more than happy to be typified as bone heads of the first order, and presently I'm more than happy to ignore this me . Give the audience what it wants and then wash the blood off your hands

(Originally published in the  UCSD Guardian).