When considering the original Summer of Love, and the bands that were active in the San Francisco Bay area at the time, the list of influential musicians to emerge from the scene is fairly long and impressive: Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead, Steve Miller Band, Big Brother & The Holding Co. (featuring Janis Joplin), Santana, Quicksilver Messenger Service ...
There were dozens of other bands active at the time, too, now known only to record collectors and elderly hippies. One band well-known to both, but largely unknown to the public at large was Moby Grape. Any Grateful Dead or Jefferson Airplane fan would like them; 90s jam-band fans engaging in anthropological research should dig them up, too. Their history is an interesting one.
Their sound shared many similarities with the other Haight Ashbury groups, but they also displayed a versatility that perhaps only the Dead could match; they were adept at combining folk, blues, country, and 50s rock 'n' roll. They also had the requisite acid-rock vibe, and were ambitious in their arrangements. All of it came together best on their 1967 debut, Moby Grape, but there's more to their story than that.
The band's very formation was somewhat unusual. Jefferson Airplane manager Matthew Katz wanted to build a group around Jefferson Airplane drummer Skip Spence. Spence's first instrument was guitar, but was recruited into Jefferson Airplane by founder Marty Balin because he looked like a drummer. Spence was a colorful and sometimes outrageous Canadian with an oddball charisma; he seemed a good choice as a frontman.
Spence resumed playing guitar and songwriting in Moby Grape. Guitarist Jerry Miller and drummer Don Stevenson played in a bar band called the Frantics in the Pacific Northwest and were brought in to augment Spence; surf-band guitarist Peter Lewis and bassist Bob Mosley completed the five-man lineup.
Despite the fact that Moby Grape was assembled piece by piece, rather than grown organically like most other bands of the scene, they (at first) worked well together; all five members contribute to the songwriting on the first album, which brought together all of their diverse influences in a remarkably concise, thoroughly enjoyable Moby Grape, an album that has aged reasonably well, and resembles Surrealistic Pillow in its combination of acid sentiment, controlled experimentation, and pop sense.