Spirit was an American jazz/hard rock/progressive rock/psychedelic band founded in 1967, based in Los Angeles, California. Their most commercially successful single in the US was "I Got A Line On You", but they were at least as well known for their albums including The Family That Plays Together, Clear, and Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus.
The original lineup
The original lineup of the group evolved from an earlier Los Angeles band, The Red Roosters, which included Randy California (guitars, vocals), Mark Andes (bass) and Jay Ferguson (vocals, percussion). With the addition of California's stepfather Ed Cassidy (drums), and keyboard player John Locke the new band was originally named the Spirits Rebellious (after a book by Khalil Gibran) but was soon shortened simply to Spirit. In 1966 Randy California had also played with Jimi Hendrix (then known as Jimmy James) in his band, Jimmy James and the Blue Flames.
Cassidy was instantly recognizable by his shaven head (hence his nickname "Mr. Skin") and his fondness for wearing black. He was around twenty years older than the rest of the group (born in 1923). His earlier career was primarily in jazz and included stints with Cannonball Adderley, Gerry Mulligan, Roland Kirk, Thelonious Monk and Lee Konitz. He was a founding member of Rising Sons with Taj Mahal and Ry Cooder.
The group's first album, Spirit, was released in 1968. "Mechanical World" was released as a single (it lists the playing time merely as "very long"). The album was a hit, reaching No. 31 on The Billboard 200 and staying on the charts for over eight months. The album displayed jazz influences, as well as using elaborate string arrangements (not found on their subsequent recordings) and is the most overtly psychedelic of their albums.
They capitalized on the success of their first album with another single, "I Got A Line On You". Released in November 1968, a month before their second album, The Family That Plays Together, it became their biggest hit single, reaching No. 25 on the charts (#28 in Canada). The album matched its success, reaching No. 22. They also went on tour that year with support band Led Zeppelin, who were heavily influenced by Spirit—Led Zeppelin played an extended medley during their early 1969 shows that featured "Fresh Garbage" among other songs, Jimmy Page's use of a theremin has been attributed to his seeing Randy California use one that he had mounted to his amplifier, and it is now widely accepted that Page lifted the descending guitar figure from Spirit's instrumental "Taurus" for Led Zeppelin's signature tune "Stairway To Heaven".
After this success, the group was asked by French film director Jacques Demy to record the soundtrack to his film, Model Shop and they also made a brief appearance in the film. Their third album, Clear, released in 1969, reached No. 55 on the charts. Spirit were offered the spot right before Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock, but they were advised to turn it down and concentrate on a promotional tour for their third album. Record company managers felt that the festival would not be significant, as it did not seem so at that time, and so they missed out on the massive international exposure that the festival and the subsequent film documentary generated.
"1984" and the Sardonicus era
After the release of Clear, California was called upon again to give the group a hit single. With the group producing the record on their own, they recorded a song California had written called "1984". It looked at first as though it would be the group's biggest hit yet. After being released in February 1970, it placed at No. 69 on the Billboard charts.
In retrospect, no one is sure why the single had such a brief chart life, but there are several possibilities. It is no secret that Lou Adler's alliance with Epic Records was uneasy at best, and at the time that the single was released, Adler's distribution deal with Epic came to an end. He had been eager to move distribution of the label to A&M Records, which he did as soon as the deal with Epic ended, which might have killed the commercial availability of the single (though Adler ended up giving Spirit's contract to Epic in the process). It has also been said that there was a tip sheet distributed to radio stations outlining the song's supposed political and social views, and opining that it might not be appropriate for air play. The song would finally see general release on The Best of Spirit in 1973.
In 1970, Spirit started working on what is widely considered to be their best LP, Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus. On the recommendation of Neil Young the band chose David Briggs as the producer. It was a prolific time for the group's writers and the album was finally released in late 1970. Especially memorable was Randy California's poignant "Nature's Way," which was written in an afternoon when the group was playing at the Fillmore West in San Francisco.
Epic released an early mix of "Animal Zoo" as a single, but this only made it to No. 97 on the charts. Like The Who's Tommy and Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon, Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus is critically regarded as a landmark of art rock, with a tapestry of literary themes about the fragility of life and the complexity of the human experience, illustrated by recurring lyric "life has just begun", and continued the group's pioneering exploration of environmental issues in their lyrics (cf. "Fresh Garbage"). The album is also notable for its inventive production and the use of a modular Moog synthesizer.
After the group undertook a promotional tour to support the album Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus, Ferguson and Andes left the group, forming Jo Jo Gunne.
Bass player John Arliss initially took Andes' place, and California was still in the line-up, but he had suffered a head injury from a horse riding accident and was unable to tour. Bass player Al Staehely was recruited by Locke and Cassidy, and they toured briefly before deciding that they had to add a guitar player to do the music justice. Al's brother, John Christian Staehely auditioned for the band, and was quickly brought on board, with John departing the seminal Texas rock group "Krackerjack." Brothers John and Al, Cassidy and Locke, recorded the 1972 album Feedback in Columbia/Epic's Hollywood studios. It was a different turn for the group, showing more of a country-rock influence pervading their jazzier tendencies, but it also met with a mild commercial response, reaching No. 63 in the charts (the same position, ironically, that Sardonicus reached). The tour for Feedback proceeded very well for much of that year, but with musical roots that went different directions, eventually both Cassidy and Locke left the lineup, with the Staehely brothers recruiting Stu Perry to play drums. While the tour was well received critically, Spirit disbanded in mid-1973. The brothers would release their own album, Sta-Hay-Lee, in 1973.
California, meanwhile, had recorded and issued his first solo album, Kapt. Kopter and the (Fabulous) Twirly Birds, in late 1972. It featured appearances by Noel Redding (as 'Clit McTorius'), Leslie Sampson (the drummer from Noel's band Road, as 'Henry Manchovitz') and Cassidy and had a hard rock sound. After launching a brief tour to support the album, a follow-up album was recorded with Cassidy, entitled The Adventures Of Kaptain Kopter And Commander Cassidy In Potato Land. Though Locke made a guest appearance, it was not intended as a Spirit album at the time. Epic however rejected the completed album, and California moved to Molokai, Hawaii.
Epic Records decided to re-issue the group's first and third albums as a two-fer, entitled Spirit in 1973, in response to Sardonicus continuing to sell well, despite being off the charts. They also issued a compilation album, The Best Of Spirit, that year, as well as releasing the Sardonicus track "Mr. Skin" as a single. Surprisingly, "Mr. Skin" became a minor hit, and the two-fer hit the charts (along with The Best Of Spirit), and there was new demand for the group. Cassidy decided to capitalize on this, and put together an entirely new group for touring purposes, which lasted throughout the year.
The Mercury years (1974-1979)
In 1974 Cassidy made it a point to find and re-establish contact with Randy California. He eventually persuaded California to return to the mainland and give the band another shot. Andes worked with the duo for a while, but never intended to stay, as he was in the process of working with the group Firefall at the same time. Sound engineer/bassist Barry Keene, who had been a personal sound engineer for Frank Zappa, joined the band as its bass player.
In early 1975, the group was supposed to be the opening act for Ten Years After at a show in Florida, but when Ten Years After backed out at the last minute, Spirit was granted permission to take over the theatre for the evening. After going around to local radio stations to promote the show and setting a low ($3) ticket price, Spirit managed to sell out the 3,000 seat theatre. Using the profits from the show, they blocked out as much time as they could at a Tampa studio, "Studio 70".
After recording a huge amount of material at the studio, their manager at the time, Marshall Berle (the nephew of Milton Berle), offered the material to Mercury Records. On the basis of the material, the group was offered a contract, and a double-album entitled Spirit of '76 was culled from the material and released in May 1975. The album garnered a bit of FM airplay, so they quickly followed it up with Son of Spirit, released early the next year and featuring many songs taken from the same sessions.
For the tour in support of Son of Spirit, Locke re-joined the group. Eventually, Andes returned to the line-up as well, and though Ferguson declined to participate in the group reunion at first, the band (with the addition of Mark's brother Matt Andes as a second guitarist) recorded an album entitled Farther Along.
The album returned the group to the U.S. charts one last time, peaking at No. 179. For a few shows at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, Ferguson re-joined the group. Disaster struck, however, when an inebriated Neil Young walked onto stage to join the band during the final show's encore of "Like a Rolling Stone". Randy would later claim that he didn't recognize Young, but at the time was angry with Neil for upstaging what he saw as his own comeback to Southern California. Randy immediately moved over in front of Neil and began pushing him backwards, away from the microphone, back past the drumkit and offstage. Neil, along with a host of Hollywood music and film personas, including Hal Ashby, had been hanging out with the band backstage before they went on, and John Locke had invited him to join them in their encore. When Locke saw California pushing Young offstage, he got up from his piano and said that he had had enough and didn't ever want to play with Randy again, and promptly walked off stage. Cassidy initially quelled the situation by leaving his kit and physically pulling both California and Young back onstage to the microphone to close out the song, asking the audience to sing along with them. The audience stood, stunned at the scene that was playing out before them. The damage had been done, and the reunion ended that night.
Undaunted, California assembled what was basically a solo album as a Spirit album under the name Future Games: A Magical Kahauna Dream. Mercury released it in early 1977, but it received no promotion, and it ended what little bit of commercial momentum the group might have regained. It also (initially) ended their contract with Mercury. At the same time, former bandmate Jay Ferguson was having success in his solo career in late 1970s with the hits "Thunder Island" & "Shakedown Cruise".
The group, now down to a trio with new bassist Larry "Fuzzy" Knight, toured extensively throughout 1978, and recorded a live album (1977) that was released (in slightly different configurations) in several countries by different independent labels. It was not a commercial success, and after the tour's end in 1979, California left the group again.
The 1980s and beyond
After Spirit's demise, California put together another group with the intent of restarting his solo career. This was short-lived, but while in England, a fan presented him with a petition of 5,000 signatures, requesting the release of the Potato Land album from 1973. In 1981, California put out a half-hearted version of the album, featuring only part of the original album (and what was there featured overdubbing done after the fact) with the addition of a few unrelated songs that were recorded in the late 1970s. It was released in the U.S. by Rhino Records (being one of the first albums that they released) and in the UK by Beggars Banquet Records, where it actually reached No. 40 in the UK Albums Chart (the only time they would chart in the UK), possibly due to the album being played by BBC Radio 1.
California's second solo album, Euro-American, was released in 1982 by Beggar's Banquet. He would release two more solo albums during the decade.
In December 1982, the original Spirit line-up re-formed and recorded several songs from their first four albums (as well as a few new tracks) live on a soundstage. Though the album Spirit of '84 was initially recorded for an audiophile label, Mercury Records re-signed the band (and gave California a solo deal) and released the album in 1984. Despite the fact that all five original members were on the recording, and MTV played the video, the album was only a moderate success. Some of the original members went to do other projects, but California and Cassidy continued touring with new members Scott Monahan on keys and Dave Waterbury on bass.
California headed to England and recorded his third solo album, the contemporary hard rock Restless, in late 1985. Following a few live dates in England, California returned to the United States and resumed touring extensively with Cassidy, Monahan and Waterbury. There was one more solo album from California; a collection of material entitled Shattered Dreams that was released in 1986.
California then secured a deal for Spirit with I.R.S. Records, and Locke rejoined the band. They recorded an album in 1988 entitled Rapture in the Chambers, but it failed to return them to the charts.
The group self-released Tent Of Miracles in 1990 and embarked on working almost continually for the next six years. Though they would release very few albums of new material during the decade, the group was always either recording or touring. California had his own home recording studio since the early 1980s, though he had been making home recordings for years prior to that. Sadly, this renewed vigor came to an end on January 2, 1997, when California drowned off the coast of Hawaii. He had been surfing with his son, who got caught in a riptide. He managed to push his son to safety but ended up losing his own life.
Though Cassidy did play a few dates with some former Spirit alumni under the name "Spirit Revisited" in 1998, California's death was effectively the end of the group. Locke died of complications resulting from lymphoma in August 2006. Cassidy died on 6 December 2012 in San Jose, California, at age 89.
California's passing, however, did not mark the end of the emergence of Spirit material. Starting in 2000, there have been five collections of previously unreleased studio and live material, four of which were two-CD sets. California had also prepared an anthology of material from the group's first stint with Mercury Records entitled The Mercury Years. The two-CD set was released in early 1997, though it raised the ire of some fans who did not care for the fact that some of the material had been re-edited or featured overdubbing that was not present on the original releases.
Likewise, nearly all of Spirit's original albums are currently in print on CD. This is thanks to the efforts of Sony Music (with the Epic catalog, though Collector's Choice Music was the first to reissue Feedback on CD in the U.S., following a brief release on disc in France in the late 1990s) and Beat Goes On alongside Edsel, both UK labels (with the Mercury catalog, some of which had made it to CD prior to Beat Goes On and Edsel reissuing all of their Mercury albums). Their later independent albums are available through the group's website. The one album that is unavailable at this time is Rapture In The Chambers, which has not been reissued since the original 1988 release, though it was released on CD at that time.
Spirit has also found its work sampled by modern artists several times. The most notable of these was the "Extra P. Remix" of the song "Resurrection" by Common (which samples "Ice" from Clear) and "Feel Good Time" by Pink (which samples the track "Fresh Garbage").
- Original lineup
- Randy California - guitar, vocals (1967-1972, 1974-1979, 1982-1997)
- Ed Cassidy - drums (1967-1972, 1974-1979, 1982-1997)
- John Locke - keyboards (1967-1972, 1976, 1982-1985, 1988-1989)
- Mark Andes - bass (1967-1971, 1974, 1976, 1982-1985, 1988-1989)
- Jay Ferguson - vocals, percussion (1967-1971, 1976, 1982-1985)
- Later members
Following Sardonicus, many musicians passed through the group's ranks. Most of them did not make a huge contribution to the group's sound, but some did.
The most important of the later group members are listed here:
- John Arliss - bass (1971)
- Al Staehely - bass, lead vocals (1971-1973)
- John Christian Staehely - guitar, vocals (1971-1973)
- Stu Perry - drums (1972-1973)
- Barry Keene - bass (1974-1976)
- Benji - keyboards (1975)
- Matt Andes - guitar, vocals (1976, 1995-1997)
- Larry "Fuzzy" Knight - bass, vocals (1976-1979)
- Terry Anderson - vocals (1976-1977)
- Scott Monahan - keyboards, bass, vocals (1985-1988, 1990-1995)
- Dave Waterbury - bass, vocals (1985-1988)
- Mike Nile - bass, vocals (1990-1993)
- George Valuck - keyboards (1990-1995)
- Steve "Liberty" Loria - bass, vocals (1993-1997)
- Rachel Andes - vocals (1995-1997)
- Walter Egan - bass, vocals (1997)
- Live Spirit (Potato, 1977)
- Made in Germany (1978; live; Randy California, Ed Cassidy, Larry Knight; issued in 1997)
- Live at la Paloma (Live 1995)
- Live at the Rainbow 1978 (Live 1978; issued 2000)
- Live from the Time Coast (Live 1989 - 1996; issued 2004)
- The Best Of Spirit (Epic, 1973) No. 119
- Spirit (Epic, 1973) [ 2 on 1 reissue of "Spirit" (1968) & "Clear" (1969) ]
- The Family That Plays Together/Feedback (Epic, 1975) [ 2 on 1 reissue of 2nd (1968) & 5th (1972) albums ]
- Time Circle, 1968–1972 (Epic/Legacy, 1991); compilation with previously unreleased tracks;
- Chronicles, 1967–1992 (Line, 1992); compilation with previously unreleased tracks;
- The Mercury Years (Mercury, 1997)
- Cosmic Smile (2000; 1st posthumous release)
- Sea Dream (2002)
- Blues From the Soul (2003)
- Son of America (2005))
- The Original Potato Land (2006; reconstruction of the rejected original version of 1972)
- Salvation - the Spirit of '74 (2007; 2 CDs live, plus one CD with unreleased studio cuts from early seventies.)
- Rock and Roll Planet...1977-1979 (2008; 2 CDs live plus one studio.)
- California Blues Redux (2009; 1 CD studio, 1 CD live. Different version of the CB album from 1996.)
- The Last Euro Tour (2010; 2 CD live.)
- Tales From The Westside (2011; 2 CD live.)
- The Original Potato Land (2011; re-mastered, one extra CD with bonus material)
- Two Sides of A Rainbow - Live at the Rainbow, London 1978 (2012; 2 CDs mostly live, second CD includes original 'Live Spirit' album)
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