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Raisin Band

Moby Grape
Grape Expectations: Moby Grape in its younger, freer days was the critics' and fans' darlings, but bad management and drug and mental problems tore the group apart before it could achieve its potential.

Plagued by personal and professional problems, Moby Grape pulls it all together for a reunion

By Nicky Baxter

"Being a failure can really do you in," says Moby Grape's Peter Lewis of the perceived risk he and guitarist Jerry Miller and bassist/singer Bob Mosley are assuming by attempting to stage a comeback after some 25 years of mostly inactivity. Hailed by many as the best band San Francisco had to offer during the Summer of Love, the quintet imploded before it had the chance to explode on the charts. Now, after a protracted legal battle over rights to the band's name, the Grape has reunited--more or less.

During their forced sabbatical, Grape members have not fared so well, personally or careerwise. Co-founder and guitarist Skip Spence had for years been plagued by mental illness, and he is not expected to participate in the Grape's current tour plans. Spence wasn't the only accident waiting to happen. Mosley also has been homeless for many years. Indeed, Lewis claims that one of the reasons for the Grape reunion is to get Mosley off the streets and under a roof of some sort. "A lot of people don't know it," Lewis says, "but Bob's been homeless for the past five years. He's a Marine vet, man."

There are other reasons for the band's regrouping. "We want to change the perception of people who think of us in a certain way," says Lewis. "In the end, we'd like to have learned from all that [we've endured] and do it the right way."

In spite of the many highs (perhaps too many) and an equal number of lows, Lewis is blithely optimistic in an endearingly spaced-out '60s sort of way. "We never stopped believing in the music," he says. "Never. And I think people will see that when they come out and see us play. Maybe they can take heart from us--I don't like using this term--survivors of the '60s." Speaking of that hallowed era, Lewis waxes philosophical: "In the end, there was a lesson, but it was more metaphysical than political."

Eventually, the discussion wends its way back to matters more material, like the Grape's future. "The next thing is to start recording," Lewis remarks. "I don't want to just play gigs." Lewis and mates (the reunion show includes original drummer Don Stevenson, plus bassist former Doobie Brother Tiran Porter and guitarist Billy Darnell) do not intend just to trot out their greatest bits, scoop up the loot and run, a la the Eagles.

More to the point, perhaps, Moby Grape was never together long enough to produce any greatest-hits packages. So what can Moby Grape fans and curiosity seekers expect? "We're gonna do a lot of stuff from our [self-titled] first album," Lewis replies. "It's our most optimistic record, I think. Not that I remember. ..."

Given the continuing interest in all things retro, it's a good bet that a lot of people do remember.

Moby Grape plays Friday (9pm) at Palookaville, 1133 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz (454-0600). Tickets cost $11.50 adv./$13 door.

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From the August 8-14, 1996 issue of Metro Santa Cruz

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