Posted by themusicsover on April 16, 2010
Alexander “Skip” Spence
April 18, 1946 – April 16, 1999
Born in Ontario, Canada, Skip Spence moved with his family to the San Francisco area when he was in his teens. Although his name might not be familiar to most, he was as much a part of the San Francisco scene as Janis Joplin or Jerry Garcia were. Spence first came into the scene as a guitarist for Quicksilver Messenger Service, but was quickly recruited by Marty Balin to join Jefferson Airplane as their drummer even though he had never played the drums. But after just one album, he left the group to co-form Moby Grape, the legendary psych-folk band that some consider the greatest band to ever come out of San Francisco. Unfortunately, they never lived up to that reputation commercially. Spence’s “Omaha” from Moby Grape’s debut was included on Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 greatest guitar songs of all time. In 1969, friends began noticing big personality changes in Spence. One indicator was when he tried to break down a band member’s New York hotel door with an axe to kill him in order to save him from himself. At the time he was using LSD heavily and claiming to be the anti-Christ. The band was in New York City recording their second album, and by the time they left, Spence had been admitted to Bellevue Psychiatric Hospital where he was diagnosed with schizophrenia. His mental stability and continued use of drugs and alcohol only made things worse. He was all but out of Moby Grape by the ’70s, although they did take care of him as much as they could and generally included at least one of his songs on each of their albums. Spence spent most of his adult life as a ward of the state of California and was basically homeless in the final years of his life. He died of lung cancer two days before his 53rd birthday.