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Tag Archives: Randy California
When I first wrote about the question of Led Zeppelin ripping off Spirit’s song “Taurus” as the basis for “Stairway to Heaven”, I got a number of very heated comments. The opinions split right down the middle of pro and con. Now the question will be settled in court.
The heirs of Randy California (Lead Guitar and founding member of Spirit) are suing Led Zeppelin to gain co-song writing credit for the song “Stairway to Heaven:. The suit alleges that Jimmy Page copied the opening of the Spirit song “Taurus” and used it as the basis of “Stairway to Heaven”. The band’s original bass player has also joined the suit.
There is no doubt that Jimmy Page and Randy California were friends and that Page admired the music and performance ability of Spirit. The instrumental “Taurus” was a staple of Spirit’s live shows. There can be no doubt that Jimmy Page watched Spirit perform the song several times. Zeppelin opened for Spirit on Zep’s first American tour.
The stakes are very high. “Stairway to Heaven” has grossed at least $600 million dollars for the surviving members of Zeppelin.
“Stairway” also bears a striking resemblance to a song by The Chocolate Watch Factory. They had a song called “And She’s Lonely”. Page would have heard this song when “The Watch Factory” toured with his band “The Yardbirds”. The plot thickens… Now the courts will decide.
I’ll keep you posted. If you’d like to make your own comparison, check out my blog from 10/29/2011. You can hear the song “Taurus” and draw your own conclusion.
Radiohead is not only the future of Rock, but maybe even the future of music. I used to tell people that had never head Radiohead that they were the modern Pink Floyd. The real truth is Radiohead is not like anyone else that has ever been. This band is so creative and smart there is no telling where they can take music in the future. Currently the lead guitar player Jonny Greenwood is collaborating with the avantgarde composer Krzysztof Penderecki. They did the movie soundtracks to “There Will Be Blood” and “Norwegian Wood”. They just released a CD on the Nonesuch label. The CD is a compilation of works by both musicians. It was just released on March 13, 2012. I haven’t heard it yet, but I assure you I will purchase it as soon as possible. Needless to say this is not the average rock band. Radiohead is heavily influenced by contemporary “Classical” (for lack of a better word!) composers. Another cool thing about this band is that they regularly employ some of the very first synthesizers ever invented. First is the Etherwave Theremin Kit:
This Synthesizer was invented in 1928 by a Russian Scientist named Theremin. It was first used in Rock-n-Roll by Randy California of Spirit, and Randy introduced it to Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin, who got a lot of mileage out of it during live performances with Led Zeppelin.
The other synthesizer is called the ondes Martenot. This synthesizer was invented in France in 1928. Radiohead owns two ondes Martenots! Here are a couple of pictures of the Martenot. They are very difficult to play and even harder to master.
So on to the show. My brother Joe went with me. He is a highly trained and excellent musician. (If I may be so bold as to brag on my brother…).
I have been a fan of this band for years and have always wanted to see them so needless to say I was very psyched for this show. The opening act was a band called Other Lives. This band was a real pleasure to see live. They sounded like a cross between old Peter Gabriel era Genesis, Kate Bush, and with a little Arcade Fire mixed in. Several of the musicians in the band played different instruments during their 30 minute set. At various times they had a cello, violin, trumpet, and many different kinds of percussion instruments playing. The poor bastards were jammed together in front of the giant pile of equipment for Radiohead. They could hardly move around but they really sounded great! Then to my surprise, when the lead singer introduced the band, he said they were from Stillwater, Oklahoma! I would never have guess that. They sounded English! Here is a photo gallery of Other Lives on stage at American Airlines Center, in Dallas, Texas.
After a brief intermission the main event began. Here’s a taste of what it was like.
They opened their two hour 24 song set with Bloom from their latest CD called King of Limbs and ended their set with Paranoid Android from their CD called OK Computer. From the very first song it was apparent I was in for a very special night. First of all their set included the live debut of two new songs. The first one came about half-way through their initial set. It was called The Amazing Sound of Orgy. The second new song was played during the second encore. (By the way, I’m told that two encore sets from Radiohead is extremely unusual too!) That song was called Skirting on the Surface. Both songs were excellent and bode well for the next Radiohead CD. They also played two other new songs that they have played other places on this tour: Identikit and Staircase. They played almost everything I wanted to hear. Of course they could play all night and I’d still think of a song I wished they had played. The light show was amazing. They had 12 giant flat screened televisions that were hung suspended above the stage. These screens could move up and down and rotate, creating mind boggling effects. Behind the band was an extremely sophisticated wall of lights that really blew me away. Here is a photo gallery of pictures I took at the show with my iPhone:
The most interesting thing about the light show, however, was what was not there. There was not one single spotlight used during the entire show. In all of my life of going to rock concerts (my first show was in 1969) I have never seen a band perform without using spotlights. The message is obvious and a real insight into the mindset of Radiohead. Radiohead is a BAND! The sum is greater than the parts. This band has no Star. They are truly an ensemble performing their joint compositions. Really, that is what I love about them. They are composers not song writers. They are practicing their art on the highest level. They could care less if anyone likes it. They write their music because they have too. Because their art always comes before their popularity it was very gratifying to see a sold out hero worshiping crowd at the AAC that night. The future’s so bright I gotta wear shades!
Here’s the Set List:
Little By Little
Morning Mr. Magpie
The Daily Mail
The Amazing Sounds of Orgy(Live debut)
Climbing Up The Walls
Everything In It’s Right Place(w/True Love Waits intro)
- Encore 2:
Give Up The Ghost
Skirting On The Surface(Full band live debut)
So my Spirit posting last week brought out some great comments from my faithful readers. First my brother brought up the story that Jimmy Page and Led Zeppelin ripped off the guitar intro to “Stairway to Heaven” from Spirits song “Taurus”. I had left this story out because I could not find the song and hear it myself. My brother sent me the song by Dropbox so I’ll share it with you now and let you decide for yourself.
So what do you think? Pretty obvious isn’t it?
Next I received a comment from a reader who goes by the name realgreecer. He is circulating an on-line petition to get Spirit inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I think this is long over due so I signed the petition immediately and I am posting the link to the petition below. Please sign it and tell others you know to do so as well. Let’s get this terrible oversight corrected as soon as possible.
Wouldn’t be funny to have Neil Young be the inductor for Spirit. He and Randy California used to be friends. There is a famous story about one of the reunion tours of Spirit where Neil Young tried to walk out on stage to sing “Like a Rolling Stone” with the band. The keyboard player John Locke had invited Neil to join the band for the encore but Randy didn’t know anything about it. Randy felt Neil was trying to upstage him on his comeback tour so he punched out Neil Young and pushed him off the stage! John Locke got so angry about it that he stood up and announced that he was leaving the band and walked off stage. That ended the 1975 come back tour of Spirit. Last is the synthesizer that Randy California introduced to Jimmy Page called the Theremin. Several readers weren’t sure what I was talking about so I am posting a photo of a Theremin below.
Thanks for all the great comments and keep ’em comin’!
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…