Talk From The Rock Room: Now Playing: Moby Grape – Live on the Mike Douglas Show /Steve Paul Scene 1967

Monday, March 1, 2021

Now Playing: Moby Grape – Live on the Mike Douglas Show /Steve Paul Scene 1967

Aired smack dab in the middle of the ‘Summer of Love’ and one week after the Beatles released Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, ‘Moby Grape’ appeared for a live appearance on the Mike Douglas Show. A rare paisley glimpse into arguably one of the tightest and best songwriting bands of the 1960’s. Jamming both aurally and visibly in the ‘rock room’ today is a unique performance by a San Francisco band that burst into flames before they earned their rightful due.

Unfortunately, even in current times, television is not the best transmitter of perfect sound nor is it a perfect representation of a ‘rock band’ in their element. Television production is a far cry from front of house music production and balance and quality is not at the top of the list. But, that being said the ‘rock room’ considers us very lucky to have a performance such as this one captured for us to enjoy years after the fact.

Looking like it was dubbed from an nth generation VHS tape multiple times, the performance itself is precious. First off, having footage of the original band with Skip is cause for celebration. As previously mentioned the color is washed out the audio is muffled but the footage is absolute gold. The band begins their set with ‘Omaha’, a rock guitar monument. Introduced by Mike Douglas as the ‘Moby Grapes, gives me a chuckle. (NOTE: Recently on social media some time stamped footage of the show outro has circulated with the band playing 'Aint No Use' under the exit voiceover. This segment looks absolutely stunning! Let's hope the entire clip will circulate at some point in the future!)

The footage begins with Mike Douglas checking in with the band to see if they are ready as instruments can be heard tuning up off screen. The band begins following introduction and is as tight as a ‘go-go’ dancers skirt right from the start. A priceless moment occurs when Skip and the group come in a bit late with their vocals and Spence lends a beaming and mischievous smile at the rest of the band while getting it on! Jerry Miller stands center stage and splays a teletype series of lead lines from his hollow body guitar throughout the cut. The energy emanates from the group regardless of the substandard television sound quality.  It really is special to be able to watch the individual instrumentalists working out their respective parts. 

The band appears to be getting off with shared smiles and bring the outro jam of ‘Omaha’ to a crowd rousing conclusion. The available visuals improve slightly with 8:05 probably because of the brighter stage lighting. The song is played flawlessly, the only issue being the aforementioned messy mix from live television. Spence again has a trouble making look across his face, which is to be expected. The band’s harmonies are tightly pressed, especially in contrast to other contemporaries from the ballroom scene on San Francisco. Oddly and humorously enough, just prior to the conclusion of ‘8:05’ Mike Douglas walks out as the band is finishing the song! The band gathers to finish properly as the show heads to commercial break. A puzzling performance to say the least in the aspect that the band didn't blow up nationally just on the basis of this clip!

A short juicy bunch of ‘Moby Grape’ in their early prime while colliding with the ‘straight’ world of primetime television. Well worth searching out for the quality of the musical performance as well as the rarity of the footage. Well deserving of the possibility, the ‘rock room’ hopes, that someday a proper box set of rare live cuts and available footage will be compiled. I know I’d be down for helping out any way that I could. ;) 

If you like what you checked out above here there is also an additional bit of rock film of the original members performing two additional cuts from their debut LP, including ‘Hey Grandma’ and ‘Sitting By the Window’. While going on a run of available footage of the original ‘Moby Grape’ I figured I discuss another ‘rock room’ favorite. This footage is from a 1967 film shot at the Steve Paul Scene in Manhattan.  This film was broadcast on WNEW New York in November of 1967 and features a host of popular musicians from the time performing at the club. Included in the film are 'The Staple Singers', 'Blues Project', Aretha, and of course, 'Moby Grape'.

Again, like the Mike Douglas footage the band is playing live on stage, as this was a favorite club for famous musicians to play in clandestine fashion. Jimi Hendrix in particular liked the aspect of anonymity and intimacy the NYC club offered. Spence goes properly crazy during the jam, convulsing in excitement and exuding a prickly stage presence to which the band responds. Specially placed dancers and psychedelic displays flood the screen, but do not distract from another thankfully immortalized piece of celluloid from ‘Moby Grape’ and their comet trailing musical career. This footage is a bit washed out, but in actuality clearer than the Mike Douglas footage, with more than acceptable sound quality considering the source.

‘Sitting by the Window’ follows and is played dynamically with Peter Lewis taking a perfect lead vocal spot. Grape’s three guitars work together chain on gear lending the song a diverse blend of melodic lines. Spence sits behind the group on the line of amps watching the band perform the debut album cut perfectly. Even in this sterile environment the band's talent is fully discernable.

Man oh man, four songs from the first ‘Moby Grape’ record played with color footage! What more could a ‘rock geek’ as for? While not perfect in any fashion, for fans of the ‘Grape’ and or San Francisco rock in general this stuff is priceless. Short and sweet but full of magic and well worth 15 or 20 minutes of your rock and roll attention. Until next time…

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