New York home to rock's greatest, the best and the worst of all worlds lie under its roof.

Printed in Eye Magazine May 1968Article written by Lillian Roxon Illustration by Michael Foreman

Moby Grape (and general)

As recounted in Roadwork: Rock & Roll Turned Inside Out by Tom Wright, Susan Van Hecke, in which an entire chapter is devoted to the Hotel Albert:

Chapter Sixteen: The Albert

New York City’s Albert Hotel was a secret. Muddy Waters could tell you about it. Bob Dylan could tell you about it. The Moby Grape could make a mini-series on it. It was at University Place and 11th, pretty big, just a short walk from Washington Square Park, about thirty blocks from classy hotels and about ten blocks from the really shitty ones. The Albert was about fifty years past her prime; at one time posh, when I got there it was rundown and cheap. It had roughly twenty floors and didn’t really look that bad from the outside, all granite and stone. It was the seedy characters wandering the sidewalk that gave it away.

Bob Dylan used to practice there, but when I lived there in 1968, after I’d road-managed The Who’s first headlining U.S. tour, it was folk rock singer Tim Hardin in the basement. But mostly it was Moby Grape, the psychedelic rockers from California. They’d play nonstop from ten at night ‘til eight in the morning. I’d fall asleep on the tenth floor and could hear them through my pillow. They were so good you couldn’t sleep, though their god-awful records belied this. They would take a riff and just keep playing and varying it from within, stretching it, expanding it. By the time they got to the recording studio, though, they’d have been up for so many days that they forgot what was good about the song. At the Albert, nobody cared what their records sounded like, because at night, if you got real quiet at your place and lay down, you could hear them in the basement. And nine times out of ten it’d be great, and sometimes it would be the greatest music you’d ever heard. Seriously.

Moby Grape eventually got the ol heave-ho from the basement. One morning around 4 AM, as the all-night rehearsal jam in the bowels of the building was still going strong - and sounding great - the Pakistani desk clerk showed up, stopping one of the Grape’s hour-long song jams in mid-flight. Incensed, Skip Spence, the Grape’s frontman, yanked off his guitar and chased the tiny refugee gripping a flashlight back up the dark wooden staircase to the lobby. On the way, Spence slowed down long enough to smash the glass on a firebox that held an extinguisher and an ax.

Unlike Moon, Spence chose the axe, ripping it from its mooring with his right hand, which was now bleeding profusely, and continued the chase. Just as he reached the lobby, the crazed, stoned longhair clutching a shiny axe dripping with blood ran right into a neighborhood beat cop who’d happened by as the terrified desk clerk fled the building. Spence left in handcuffs after a gaggle of squad cars screeched to a halt in the front of the Albert, the cops expecting a pile of dead bodies. I never heard or saw Moby Grape again.

Since the Albert was in the gray area, it was hard to book. No wandering family of tourists would ever just stroll by, and it was too expensive for bums and people who were actually broke for real. So the management let rooms to selected renegades - certain musicians, hookers (if they were beautiful and discreet), drug salesmen, artists, gangsters. It was a long process to get in. I moved in with Geoff, the Blues Magoos drummer. It’d taken a month of cajoling, but we finally got the “presidential suite”: three bedrooms, a sitting room, kitchen, two bathrooms, a banquet room, plus a living room with a fireplace for $700 a month. We moved in and repainted everything, had the whole place recarpeted.

The Who were off touring the U.K. yet again. For the time being, I was stuck in New York, getting some work as a fashion and rock photographer. At the Albert, I built a massive darkroom in the master bedroom and bathroom, and put in a fifteen-foot stainless steel sink that’d come out of a restaurant resale place. I wood-paneled the other bathroom with used oak flooring until it looked like an uptown outhouse right in the middle of Manhattan. The big living room with the fireplace became my photo studio. I fogged the huge windows with white spray paint, so from ten in the morning ‘til early afternoon I had natural studio light - that soft, Paris skylight feel.

Since the Blues Magoos were booked for a bunch of college dates in New England, I didn’t feel comfortable leaving all my stuff alone at the Albert. Geoff said he knew a session drummer who’d stay in the fixed-up suite for sixty bucks and a case of beer. Problem solved.

I returned to New York to find my apartment broken into, furniture ripped up, radios, record players, and telephone all gone. Twenty guitars were smashed, and what hadn’t been destroyed had been stolen. Everything I owned was gone.

From Unknown Legends Of Rock ‘N’ Roll: Psychedelic Unknowns, Mad Geniuses, Punk by Richie Unterberger:

It seems that Spence [in 1968], after a gig at New York’s Fillmore East, went off with a woman - sometimes described as a witch of sorts - who fed him some particularly potent acid. Spence flipped out, and took a fire axe to the Albert hotel in search of Moby Grape drummer Don Stevenson (whom he thought was possessed by Satan), breaking down the door to the room Stevenson shared with Grape guitarist Jerry Miller. Finding it empty, he went into the studio, where producer David Rubinson disarmed him. The incident culminated in Spence being committed to New York’s notorious mental institution, Bellevue Hospital, for six months.