This is a new series that’ll summarize bands, I think, deserve more attention.
California was the place for psychedelic music in the 1960’s. A lot of bands came out of the area and just some of them really made it. By 1968, there was a new band called Spirit. The band was formed by guitarist Randy California. California was just a teenager when he started playing the guitar. When he was 16, he joined a band formed by Jimmy James, better known as Jimi Hendrix. Hendrix gave California his last name as he had two different Randy’s in his band at that time. By 1966, Hendrix had barely formed the Jimi Hendrix Experience so California was out by then.
California and his step-father drummer Ed Cassidy formed Spirit. The band also consisted of singer Jay Ferguson, bassist Mark Andes, and keyboardist John Locke. The band was signed to Epic Records and released their self-titled debut album in 1968. For the band’s first tour, they played with Led Zeppelin. Zeppelin liked Spirit so much that during sound checks, they would play “Fresh Garbage”, the opener for the Spirit album. As a result of touring together, guitarist Jimmy Page gets blamed for plagiarizing California’s guitar instrumental “Taurus”. In this song, California plays a chord-progressing solo. The intro-solo to Led Zeppelin’s much more famous “Stairway to Heaven” in 1971 sounds as if Page had copy-and-pasted California’s playing! Page has denied copying California but there is no rest for some Spirit fans.
Later in 1968 the band’s second album, The Family That Plays Together, was released. The album earned the band a hit single with “I’ve Got a Line on You”, which reached #29 in the charts. The band released their third album, Clear, the year after. Spirit were invited to play at the 1969 Woodstock Festival. Ironically, they were offered the spot right before Jimi Hendrix closed the three day festival. The band was forced to decline as the band was already touring in promotion for Clear and management thought that Woodstock wouldn’t be significant. Things got worse as tensions flowed during the recording of the band’s fourth album, Twelve Dream of Dr. Sardonicus, released in 1970. By 1971 after the tour in support for the album, Ferguson and Andes left and formed their own band, Jo Jo Gunne. California also left to pursue a solo career. Cassidy and Locke stayed, with brothers Al and John Staehely leading. This line-up released Feedback in 1972. Locke and Cassidy left leaving the Staehely brothers touring the band without any of the original members before breaking up in 1973.
In 1976, Randy California and Ed Cassidy reformed Spirit with ever-changing line ups and three more albums. A reunion with Ferguson, Locke, and Andes was in place in 1978 but fell apart after California pushed Neil Young off the stage, thinking Young was a drunk. Another reunion was attempted in 1984 but it did nothing. California and Cassidy kept going on as Spirit until 1997. On January 2, 1997 Randy California was killed in a riptide in a successful attempt at saving his son, Quinn. In 2006, keyboardist John Locke passed away.
The members of Spirit have done other projects over the years. Mark Andes is still playing here and there. Jay Ferguson attempted a solo career and when that failed, he started composing movie and television soundtracks. Ferguson composed the theme song for the hit NBC sitcom, The Office. Jo Jo Gunne reunited in 2005 a released an album. As for Ed Cassidy, he’s still writing and keeping in touch with fans.
Recommended albums: Spirit, The Family That Plays Together, Clear, and Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus
Personal view on albums: Of those four, I think Twelve Dreams is the one to get first. I think it’s one of the greatest albums ever made and I’m not the only one who thinks this!
Recommended Songs: Nature’s Way, Mr. Skin, Animal Zoo, Fresh Garbage, I’ve Got a Line on You, Aren’t You Glad, 1984, Prelude/Nothin’ to Hide, Dark Eyed Woman
Recommended Compilation: 1973’s Best of Spirit is very basic song wise. If you want more songs, Time Circle is good.