|Origin||Los Angeles, California, United States|
|Genres||Psychedelic rock, progressive rock, jazz-rock|
|Years active||1967–1973, 1974–1979, 1982–1997|
|Labels||Ode, Epic, Repertoire Records, Mercury, Rhino, Beggars Banquet, Line Records|
Spirit was an American rock band founded in 1967 and based in Los Angeles, California. Their most commercially successful single in the United States was "I Got a Line on You". They were also known for their albums, including their self-titled debut album, The Family That Plays Together, Clear, and Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus.
The original lineup of the group evolved from a Los Angeles band, the Red Roosters, which included Randy California (born Randy Craig Wolfe; guitars, vocals), Mark Andes (bass) and Jay Ferguson (vocals, percussion). With the addition of California's stepfather Ed Cassidy on drums, and keyboard player John Locke, the new band was originally named the Spirits Rebellious (after a book by Kahlil Gibran), but the name was soon shortened to Spirit. Before returning to his native state, California previously played with Jimi Hendrix as a member of Jimmy James and the Blue Flames in New York City's Greenwich Village in 1966. Hendrix gave Randy Wolfe the nickname "Randy California" to distinguish him from Randy Palmer, whom Hendrix named "Randy Texas".
Cassidy was recognizable by his shaved head (hence his nickname "Mr. Skin", later the title of a Spirit song) and his fondness for wearing black. Born in 1923, he was about twenty years older than the rest of the group. Although his earlier career was primarily in jazz (including stints with Cannonball Adderley, Gerry Mulligan, Roland Kirk, Thelonious Monk and Lee Konitz), he had served as the founding drummer of Rising Sons, an early blues rock vehicle for Taj Mahal and Ry Cooder.
Early demo recordings by the band were produced by their Topanga Canyon roommate Barry Hansen, later known as the radio host Dr. Demento. In August 1967, the record producer Lou Adler (known for his work with The Mamas & the Papas and The Grass Roots) signed the band to his label, Ode Records. 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 number 31 on the Billboard 200 and staying on the chart for seven months. The album had jazz influences and used elaborate string arrangements (not found on their subsequent recordings) and is the most overtly psychedelic of their albums. A song from the album, "Fresh Garbage", was included on the CBS sampler album The Rock Machine Turns You On, released in 1968 in the UK, Europe and South Africa, and was the UK's first introduction to the band.
The band 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 number 25 on the charts (number 28 in Canada). The album matched its success, reaching number 22. In December, they appeared at the Denver Auditorium, with support band Led Zeppelin, who soon after interpolated parts of Spirit's song "Fresh Garbage" in an extended medley based around their cover of Bob Elgin and Jerry Ragavoy's "As Long As I Have You" (initially popularized by Garnet Mimms) during their early 1969 concerts. Spirit also appeared with Led Zeppelin at two outdoor music festivals in July 1969. Jimmy Page's use of a theremin has been attributed to his seeing Randy California use one that he had mounted to his amplifier. Guitar World magazine stated that "California's most enduring legacy may well be the fingerpicked acoustic theme of the song 'Taurus', which Jimmy Page lifted virtually note for note for the introduction to 'Stairway to Heaven'." The Independent noted the similarity in 1997. In 2014, Mark Andes and a trust acting on behalf of Randy California filed a copyright infringement suit against Led Zeppelin in an attempt to obtain a writing credit for "Stairway to Heaven". Page denied copying "Taurus", and the suit was unsuccessful. The verdict was overturned on appeal in September 2018. On March 9, 2020, the Ninth Circuit re-instated the original jury verdict.
After the success of their early records, 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.
"The notes identify them as 'pioneers' of 'topical lyrics that were realized by the production of the song,' which makes me think again about the way the first two cuts, '1984' and 'Mechanical World,' shift texture and tempo. By the stars, I do believe these fellows helped invent art-rock. This is not an unmixed distinction, but it could be worse: the topicality is a notch above ordinary rock sci-fi (they have a sense of humor), the derivations more jazz than classical. The big plus here though, is that great shining 2:39 of hard rock guitar, Randy California's 'I Got a Line on You.'"
—The Best of Spirit review in Christgau's Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies (1981)
After the release of Clear, the group recorded the song "1984", written by California and produced by the group on their own. After being released in February 1970, it placed at No. 69 on the Billboard charts and No. 66 on the RPM charts. The song would finally see general release on The Best of Spirit in 1973.
In 1970, Spirit started working on their fourth LP Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus. The band chose frequent Neil Young collaborator David Briggs as the producer at the recommendation of the singer-songwriter, an acquaintance from the Topanga Canyon scene. It was a prolific time for the group's writers, and the album was released in late 1970, peaking at No. 63 in early 1971 in the USA, and No. 49 in Canada. The album included Randy California's "Nature's Way", a minor hit (No. 111) which was written in an afternoon during an engagement at the Fillmore West in San Francisco.
Epic also released an early mix of "Animal Zoo" as a single, but it too 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. California had accused them of plotting to take over the group. Their final gig with Spirit occurred on January 30, 1971, which almost ended with a fist-fight.
John Arliss initially took Andes' place. California was still in the line-up, but he had suffered a head injury from a horse riding accident and was unable to tour. Shortly thereafter, bassist and recent University of Texas School of Law graduate Al Staehely was recruited by Locke and Cassidy to replace Arliss. The trio toured briefly before deciding that they had to add a guitarist to do the music justice. Al's brother, John Christian (Chris) Staehely, auditioned for the band and was quickly brought on board, departing the Texas rock group Krackerjack.
The Staehelys, 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 only met with a mild commercial response, also reaching No. 63 in the charts. While the tour for Feedback proceeded very well for much of that year, Cassidy and Locke lacked an affinity for roots-based music and soon left the lineup. The Staehely brothers completed the critically successful tour with drummer Stu Perry before dissolving the group in mid-1973 and releasing their own album, Sta-Hay-Lee.
California, meanwhile, had recorded and issued his first solo album, Kapt. Kopter and the (Fabulous) Twirly Birds, also on Epic Records in late 1972. Featuring appearances by Noel Redding (as "Clit McTorius"), Leslie Sampson (the drummer from Redding's band Road; as "Henry Manchovitz"), and Cassidy, the album had a hard rock sound. Following a brief tour in support of the album in the Los Angeles area with Cassidy and bassist Larry "Fuzzy" Knight, California toured Europe with this trio under the imprimatur of Spirit amid pressure from booking agents who wanted to capitalize on the band's name and were not interested in his solo work. During this period, a follow-up album (The Adventures Of Kaptain Kopter And Commander Cassidy In Potato Land) also was recorded with Cassidy. Although Locke made a guest appearance, it was not intended as a Spirit album at the time. California moved to Molokai, Hawaii after Epic rejected the completed album.
In 1973, Epic Records decided to re-issue the group's first and third albums as a two-fer entitled Spirit in response to Sardonicus continuing to sell well as a catalog item; eventually, Sardonicus earned the band's only RIAA gold certification in 1976. That same year, Epic issued The Best of Spirit compilation album alongside the Sardonicus track "Mr. Skin" as a single. "Mr. Skin" became another minor hit (peaking at No. 92), and the two-fer also hit the charts along with The Best Of Spirit. Cassidy decided to capitalize on the new demand for the group and put together an entirely new group for touring purposes, which lasted throughout the year.
In 1974, Cassidy made it a point to find and re-establish contact with his stepson. 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 forming the group Firefall at the same time. Andes was replaced by former Frank Zappa sound engineer Barry Keene.
In early 1975, the group was scheduled to open for Ten Years After at a show in Florida, but when the headlining band 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 Studio 70 in Tampa, Florida.
After recording a large amount of material at the studio, manager Marshall Berle (the nephew of Milton Berle) offered the cache of tapes 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 peaked at No. 147 and garnered some 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, released in late 1976.
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. Neil Young created an incident during the final show's encore of "Like a Rolling Stone" when he walked on stage inebriated. California would later claim that he did not recognize Young, but at the time was angry with Young for upstaging what he saw as his own comeback. California moved over in front of Neil and began pushing him backwards, away from the microphone, back past the drumkit and offstage. Young, along with other influential artists including New Hollywood director Hal Ashby, had been visiting the band backstage before they went on, and Locke (a friend of Young) had invited the guitarist 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 California again, walking 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. After finishing the song, the band members argued backstage over what had unfolded leading to the end of the reunion.
Afterwards, California assembled Future Games: A Magical Kahauna Dream with Cassidy and limited assistance from session musicians. Although Mercury approved its release in early 1977, the experimental album (which included a Hendrix-influenced cover of "All Along the Watchtower" and underpinned science fiction-based lyrical themes with many samples from Star Trek: The Original Series in a variant of filk) received no promotion, ending what little bit of commercial momentum the group might have regained. It also (initially) ended their contract with Mercury. During this period, Ferguson was having success in his solo career with the hits "Thunder Island" (1977; No. 9) and "Shakedown Cruise" (1979; No. 31).
In a reprise of the Kapt. Kopter-era trio, California, Cassidy and Larry "Fuzzy" Knight toured extensively as Spirit throughout 1978; an English leg saw the band headline a triple bill that included post-punk ensemble Alternative TV and The Police. Throughout the tour, California doubled on the foot-controlled Moog Taurus to partially compensate for the lack of a keyboardist. The German TV/radio programme Rockpalast recorded and broadcast Spirit's entire show of March 4/5, 1978, including the encore jam where Dickey Betts joined the band. This trio line-up also recorded a heavily-overdubbed live album (also released in 1978) 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.
After Spirit's demise, California put together another group with the short-lived intent of restarting his solo career. While in England, a fan presented him with a petition of 5,000 signatures requesting the release of the Potato Land album from 1973. Consequently, in 1981, California released an overdubbed selection of tracks from the original album alongside several unrelated songs dating from the late 1970s. Contrary to the intention of the original sessions, it was released under the imprimatur of Spirit in the United States by Rhino Records (a nascent archival label with ties to Dr. Demento) and in Britain by Beggars Banquet Records, a well-regarded independent label specializing in punk rock and its derivations. Surprisingly, it was the only Spirit album other than Sardonicus to chart in Britain, peaking at No. 40 in the UK Albums Chart and receiving airplay on BBC Radio 1.
California's second solo album, Euro-American, was released in 1982 by Beggars Banquet. It featured a lineup including drummer Preston Heyman. During this period, California performed on the second tier at the 1982 Glastonbury Festival. When the power generator failed—allegedly because the operator had fallen asleep stoned and neglected to refill the fuel—Heyman performed a twenty-minute solo while the situation was rectified.
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. The band was joined by several guests, including Jeff Baxter and Bob Welch. The resulting Spirit of '84 (released internationally as The Thirteenth Dream) was initially recorded for an audiophile label; however, Mercury Records re-signed the band (including a California solo deal) and released the album in 1984. The album was only a moderate critical success and failed to chart. While some of the original members went on to do other projects, California and Cassidy continued touring with new members Scott Monahan on keyboards and Dave Waterbury on bass.
California headed to England and recorded his third solo album, the contemporary hard rock effort Restless, for which Heyman (who played on the track "Jack Rabbit") secured a deal with Phonogram for 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.
In 1988, California secured a deal for Spirit with prominent independent label I.R.S. Records (best known for cultivating R.E.M. and The Go-Go's), leading Locke to rejoin the band. They recorded an album entitled Rapture in the Chambers at the Malibu, California recording studio Nileland, where studio owner/engineer, bassist and vocalist Mike Nile was asked to join the band. Although the group (including California, Cassidy, Locke, Nile, Monahan, and George Valuck on keyboards) toured extensively in support, the album failed to chart. California, Cassidy, and Nile continued to tour as a power trio while self-releasing Tent of Miracles in 1990. Nile contributed heavily to the album, writing songs and sharing lead vocals.
Spirit continued working almost continually for the next six years. Although they only released one album after Tent of Miracles, 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. This 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.
While Cassidy played a few dates with 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 December 6, 2012 in San Jose, California, at age 89.
California's death, 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").
"I Got a Line On You" was most recently covered by Alice Cooper's super group the Hollywood Vampires on the album of the same name, released on September 11, 2015.
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:
|Year||Album||US Top 200||UK Album Chart||Canada||Certification||Label|
|The Family That Plays Together||22||46 |
|1970||Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus||63||29||49 ||
|1975||Spirit of '76||147||Mercury|
|1975||Son of Spirit|
|1981||The Adventures of Kaptain Kopter & Commander Cassidy in Potato Land||40||Rhino|
|1984||The Thirteenth Dream/Spirit of '84 [U.S. Title]||206||Mercury|
|1989||Rapture in the Chambers||I.R.S.|
|1990||Tent of Miracles||Dolphin|
|1996||California Blues||W.E.R.C. C.R.E.W.|
|2005||Model Shop (Soundtrack)||Sundazed|
|Year||Album||US Top 200||UK Album Chart||Label|
|1978||Made in Germany||Kinghat Records|
|1992||Chronicles, 1967–1992||W.E.R.C. C.R.E.W.|
|1995||Live at la Paloma||W.E.R.C. C.R.E.W.|
|2003||Blues from the Soul||Acadia|
|2004||Live from the Time Coast||Acadia|
|2006||The Original Potato Land||Acadia|
|2007||Salvation - the Spirit of '74||Acadia|
|2008||Rock and Roll Planet...1977–1979||Acadia|
|2009||California Blues Redux||Audio Fidelity|
|2010||The Last Euro Tour||Floating World|
|2011||Tales from the Westside||Floating World|
|The Original Potato Land||Floating World|
|2012||Two Sides of a Rainbow - Live at the Rainbow, London 1978||Floating World|
|2016||Live At The Ash Grove 1967 Volume 1||Flashback|
|Year||Album||US Top 200||UK Album Chart|
|1973||The Best of Spirit||119|
|Spirit (reissue of 1st & 3rd albums)||191|
|1975||The Family That Plays Together/Feedback|
|1991||Time Circle, 1968–1972|
|1997||The Mercury Years|
|2005||Son of America|
|"I Got a Line on You"||25|
|1969||"Dark Eyed Woman"||118|
|1972||"Mr. Skin" [reissue]||92|
|1975||"Lady of the Lakes"||Mercury|
|1980||"Turn to the Right"||Rhino|
'Stairway To Heaven', the Led Zeppelin classic, bears more than a passing resemblance to 'Taurus'...