Finally, I am back to blogging about Vinyl! This LP is one of the gems I pulled out of the garage sale mother lode. I think it is a real treasure.
Let’s go back to Los Angles California in 1967 to experience the spirit of Spirit. Spirit was formed by Guitarist Randy California and Drummer Ed Cassidy (a.k.a. Mr. Skin). Ed Cassidy was actually the Step Father of Randy California. Ed Cassidy had been a major jazz drummer and had played with Cannonball Adderly, Gerry Mulligan, Roland Kirk, Thelonious Monk, and Lee Konitz. In addition he had played with blues musicians like Taj Mahal and Ry Cooder. Right before Randy California formed Spirt with his step father he had been playing with Jimi Hendrix in a band called Jimmy James and the Blue Flames. (circa 1966). Additional members of the band were Bass player Mark Andes, Lead Vocals, percussion player Jay Ferguson, and keyboard player John Locke.
Their self titled first LP was released in 1968. It contained two hits that are on this “Best of” LP. The first hit they had was “Mechanical World.” Their first LP also contained their biggest hit “I Got a Line On You.” “Mechanical World” reached #31 on the Billboard 200 and “I Got a Line On You”. The album was a huge hit and stayed on the charts for over eight months. Their second Album was called “The Family That Plays Together” Their third album was released in 1969 and it was entitled “Clear”. Due to Randy California’s personal connection with Jimi Hendrix the band was offered the spot before Hendrix at Woodstock. Their record company executives advised them not to participate because the festival was not going to be significant and so it would benefit the band more to concentrate on their own tour and promoting their new album. I can’t help but think that this band would be so much more well know if they had played Woodstock instead!
This band was heavily influential to so many other musicians. Many guitarist held Randy California in high regard. Jimmy Page worshiped the ground Randy California walked on. Led Zeppelin was the opening act for Spirit at the beginning of their 1969 tour. Randy California introduced Jimmy Page to the Theremin. The Theremin was synthesizer that reacted to heat and the motion of the body. You may recall seeing Jimmy Page use this on stage with Led Zeppelin in the movie “The Song Remains the Same.” Jimmy would wave his hand through the antenna area of the Theremin and make all kinds of strange noises with it. Randy California had one that he mounted to the amplifier of his guitar. During the 1969 tour of Led Zeppelin they even did a medley of songs by Spirit that included the hit song on this “Best Of” LP called “Fresh Garbage”. Spirit is considered to be one of the chief architects of Psychedelic Art Rock. Their masterpiece album is considered to be Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus. It is as revered as Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. This album contains my favorite song by Spirit Nature’s Way. Spirit also was one of the earliest bands to use brass and strings in their music. You can hear how they influenced bands like Blood, Sweat, and Tears, Chicago, Earth, Wind and Fire, War, The Animals, and the list could go on and on and on.
So listen to the music and then I will wrap up the strange ending to Randy California and the amazing band Spirit.
1. 1984: This song never appeared on a Spirit album until this one. Prior to the release of “The Best of Spirit” in 1973 the song was only available as a single. The Band had challenged Randy California to write another hit like I Got a Line On You. At first it looked like he had done it and the song rose up the charts. But it stagnated at #69 on the Billboard chart. It’s still a really great song. I had forgotten all about it till I heard it again. The song is almost symphonic. It has that very dramatic opening. It’s a great cut to start their “Best of ” LP with. It also features a great psychedelic lead guitar solo by Randy California.
2. Mechanical World: This is the song that started it all for Spirit. It was released in 1968 and got to #31 on the charts. It was a very long song for radio at that time. It clocks in at over 5 minutes when most songs that made it on the radio at that time were only 2 to 3 minutes. This song sounds like it could have been a song by Jim Morrison and The Doors. It underscores a great gift of this band. They had a great ability to make lyrics an integral part of each song. Note the strings in this song. It is interesting that they were used so successfully on their first album but they never went back to that sound on any other LP they ever made. Great Fuzz guitar work again on this cut. Also, great keyboard work from John Locke. Jay Ferguson is probably the most under appreciated lead vocalist in Rock n Roll history.
3. Natures Way: This is one of my favorite songs. I love everything about it. The use of Tympani Drums by Ed Cassidy is brilliant. It creates a highly dramatic effect. This song echos the great song by Ten Years After “I’d Love to Change the World…” The quite guitar starts out, then the tympani come in, next the cow bell. There is the eerie sound of Randy California’s distorted guitar. The uneasy sound of the overlaid vocal lines as they reprise the message and build to the climax “…it’s natures way of telling you somethings wrong…” The only problem with this song is it’s too short.
4. Animal Zoo: This song is also from “Twelve Dreams of Doctor Sardonicus.” What a very 70’s sounding song. This song was released as a single but never made it past #69 on the charts. Note the use of the Moog Synthesizer.
5. Fresh Garbage: This song is from Spirits first album. This is one of the songs that Led Zeppelin used to cover. The lyrics are part of the overall theme that used to permeate a lot of their songs. Environmentalism. They were pioneers in the use of music to promote environmental issues. I can hear how groups like War, Santana, The Animals, The Doors, Chicago, etc… all were influenced by this great music. I love the jazzy keyboard solo in this song. It’s kind of Ray Manzarek like.
1. I Got a Line on You: This is the best known song of all of Spirits great music. It originally appeared on their second album called “The Family That Stays Together” I love it too. It immediately takes you back to the early 70’s. Can’t you just hear this song blaring out of an A.M. radio? I know I can…I know I did… This song just rocks and makes you want to dance! What else needs to be said?
2. Prelude – Nothing to Hide: This was the first song on the album “Twelve Dreams of Doctor Sardonicus”. Thus the reference to Prelude. This is the prelude of a concept album. Spirit was one of the forerunners of this type of album rock. The song features a wild guitar solo from Randy California.
3. Uncle Jack: This was the second cut on the first Spirit album. It has a very progressive art rock sound. No one sounded like these guys back then. After they made this record a lot of bands started sounding like this. Spirit actually invented a kind of L.A. sounding rock.
4. Morning Will Come: This song was the 11th cut on “Twelve Dreams”. It almost sound like Glam Rock. I love the horns in the background. It just has a great jazz influenced rock sound. Randy California again has a great solo in this song.
5. Dark Eyed Woman: Dark Eyed Woman was the first cut on their album called Clear. It has a moody atmospheric opening. I love Randy’s guitar sound. This should have been a big hit. It is a tightly constructed multi part song. It is somewhat experimental for it’s time. Again this song is too short.
6. Mr. Skin: Mr. Skin is the nick name of Drummer Ed Cassidy. He was famous for his shaved head and, like Johnny Cash; he was famous for wearing black. (Note the two Photos of the Album). Mr. Skin was the sixth cut on “Doctor Sardonicus”. It has great horns on it. It also features great percussion from “Mr. Skin”. This is a very cool sounding song. It swings and is very easy to listen to.
And now the rest of the story…
After the tour in 1973 to promote “Doctor Sardonicus” Ferguson and Andes left the group and formed Jo Jo Gunne. The band went through a lot of personnel changes. Solo projects ensued. And things began to com apart. The band disbanded in 1973. Randy California moved to Hawaii. There were some attempt to reunite in the late 70’s. At a concert in Santa Monica California, Randy California punched out an inebriated Neil Young and the keyboard player (John Locke) said “that’s enough” and walked off stage. That was pretty much it for Spirit. They reformed again in the early 80’s with some minor success but again they all went their separate ways. On January 2, 1997 Randy California was surfing in Hawaii with his son when they both got caught in a rip tide. Randy was able to push his son out of the tide to safety but he could not save himself. John Locke also died in August of 2006 from complications of lymphoma. Ed Cassidy is still playing the drums and performing. He is also an actor. Maybe you know him from his time on General Hospital? Isn’t life ironic…