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Humble student
Joined: 06/12/05
Posts: 1,579
Humble student
Joined: 06/12/05
Posts: 1,579
08/04/2010 10:44 pm

Lashed together in an almost haphazard and fortuitous fashion under a haze of patchouli, light shows and the rumblings of the peace and love mantra that characterized the 60's Southern California sound, Spirit rose from the psychedelia to become, for a time, an iconic band that embodied the end of an era. They became darlings of the period's music critics and remain an oft-cited influence of many bands that followed. With their seriously eclectic mix of styles, everything from blues, country, folk, psychedelic and jazz fusion, Spirit remains a band that is difficult to categorize and yet their sound, clawing its way out of the past, remains fresh and interesting.

Music for musicians.

Spirits story actually begins at the Ash Grove, a famous L.A. night club. The owner of the club had a habit of taking performing artists home to meet his nephew, a very young and talented guitar player named Randy Wolfe. As a young man, Wolfe met artists as diverse as Lightnin' Hopkins, Brownie McGee and Sonny Terry and the Carter Family; the perfect inspiration for an exceptionally talented novice guitarist. As fate would have it, Randy's mother, a divorcee' raising Randy on her own, met and married jazz/blues drummer Ed Cassidy. Cassidy had been a regular at The Ash Grove and had played behind artists like Thelonius Monk, Cannonball Adderly and Roland Kirk. At the time he married Randy's mother, he had helped form and was playing behind another famous Ash Grove act, The Rising Sons (featuring Ry Cooder and Taj Mahal) but had to leave the band after injuring his wrist in a rather ambitious and extended drum solo. (One of Cassidy's trademarks was playing his solos without drumsticks; rather he would rip into his breakneck solos, hitting the drum skins with his bare hands)

While in high school, Wolfe had formed a folk band called The Red Roosters (with guitarist Jay Ferguson, who had a brief moment in the sun with his single 'Thunder Island') and by the end of 1965, Cassidy was sitting in with them. The Roosters disbanded in 1966 when the Wolfe/Cassidy clan relocated to New York City. During the move, Wolfe lost his guitar. Certainly devastating but it proved to be a pivotal moment. While shopping for a new guitar at Manny's Music Store in Manhattan, Wolfe met Jimi Hendrix (who at that time was known as Jimmy James). Jimi dubbed Wolfe as Randy California and offered him a spot in his band, Jimmy James and The Blue Flames. The reason for giving him the name Randy California was that the bass player in The Blue Flames was Randy Palmer who hailed from Texas. To avoid confusion, Palmer became Randy Texas and Wolfe became Randy California, a stage name he kept for the rest of his life.

Randy played with Jimmy James and The Blue Flames at Café' Wha during the summer of 1966 and lasted until Hendrix was 'discovered' by Chas Chandler (of The Animals) who subsequently became his manager and invited to move to England to form The Experience. Hendrix asked Randy to come along but Wolfe had to turn him down.

He was 15 at the time.

Shortly afterwards Cassidy moved the family again, returning to California. In the spring of 1967, the pair decided to start another band and formed Spirits Rebellious (named after a book by Middle Eastern mystic and writer, Khalil Gilbran). Wolfe ran into Ferguson and Mark Andres (both former members of their original band, The Red Roosters) who had been playing music in various bands part time while attending UCLA. Wolfe convinced Ferguson, Mark Andres and his guitar playing brother Matt Andres to join up with himself and Cassidy. Their first move as a band was to shorten the name to simply Spirit.

By June, the band was landing gigs and with the help of Barry Hansen (better known as Dr. Demento), produced and cut their first demo. The tape made its way to record producer Lou Adler who brought the band in for an audition. Adler signed Spirit to his small feeder label, Ode Records which had a distribution deal with Epic (a subsidiary of CBS Records) by August of 1967.

Their self-titled debut album was released in January 1968. Although Jay Ferguson penned most of the tracks, California crafted an instrumental titled 'Tarus' which, as legend would have it, was very inspirational for Led Zepplin who essentially played it almost note for note on the opening of their classic 'Stairway To Heaven'. The album trolled in the bottom edge of Billboards Top 40 by April and spent 6 months hanging in the charts. The band hit the road hard in a supporting tour while at the same time preparing their second album. Add to the mix that the band was also scoring a soundtrack for French director Jacques Demy's film Model Shop at the same time, suffice it to say, the band was attempting to make hay while the sun was shining.

In October, 1968, the band released a single from their second album (The Family That Plays Together- released in December, 1968), 'I Gotta Line On You' (written by California) and it became the only certified hit for the band, settling in at the 25th spot on the Hot 100 charts by March, 1969. The album charted quickly based on the strength of the single.

The band released their third album, Clear, in July 1969 and the band found themselves foundering a bit. California and Ferguson attempted to strike gold again with the single 'Dark Eyed Woman', another scorcher based on the same mold of 'I Gotta Line On You' but the record never caught. The album also contained tracks that the band had done for Demy's film that, not surprisingly, sounded awkward and out of place on the record.

In December of 1969, the band released another single, '1984' which began a steady climb up the charts, reaching the 69th spot by May, 1970 before running into a snag. Radio executives became increasingly reluctant to play the track and its heavy and paranoid lyrics (the song was a passing nod to the dystopian novel '1984' by George Orwell). The single staggered and eventually fell off the charts, not a terrible shock without any real radio support.

Adler left CBS and headed to A&M Records and part of his deal included leaving Spirit behind on the larger CBS label. The band brought in producer Dave Briggs who had met with some success producing some of Neil Young's earliest recordings. The band was determined to get back into the public consciousness and went to work on their most ambitious recording. Like all grand schemes and dreams, there were setbacks, the most serious was an injury sustained by Randy. Falling from a horse, California sustained a head injury and was confined to bed for a month. But in November of 1970, the band released The Twelve Dreams Of Dr. Sardonicus, which many rock critics and writers gladly name to their list of the most influential rock recordings of the 60's and 70's.

Although Dreams was and remains a very solid record, it failed in the respect that it never had a proper single to release and the album made it to number 63 on the charts before heading back down to the basement. By February, 1973, both Ferguson and Andes quit the band to form up another fringe rock band, Jo Jo Gunne, along with Matt Andres and drummer Curly Smith. Shortly afterwards, California quit to give a shot at a solo career. Cassidy and Locke remained and brought in brothers Al Stehely (bass) and Chris Stehely (guitar) to give Spirit another shot. The band immediately launched into production for their next effort. Feedback was released in February of 1972 and met with the same fate as Dreams, peaking at 63 on the charts and disappearing quickly after that. Shortly after, both Cassidy and Locke left Spirit, leaving the Stehely brothers with the name.

While the band imploded, Dreams began to make a minor resurgence. Even without a solid single, the record became a mainstay of the young FM radio market and a constant seller. The record actually garnered gold status in 1976.

Despite his prodigious talent, Randy California's solo career never really took off. His initial offering was 1972's Kapt. Kopter & The Fabulous Twirly Birds failed to make a mark despite an uncredited appearances from Jimi Hendrix's rhythm section of Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell. (California did not release another solo record until 1982's Euro-American which was only released in Europe) Shortly after Kapt.Kopter, California and Cassidy reunited, hired bassist Larry 'Fuzzy' Knight and toured Europe as Spirit in 1973. After their label rejected their next project, a concept album, California dropped out of music and moved to Hawaii.

Epic opted to release The Best Of Spirit and included the song 'Mr. Skin' from Dreams (which was a sly nod to Cassidy's shaved head). The band was again in demand. Cassidy, through some deft legal maneuvering, secured the name Spirit back from the Stehely brothers, grabbed up Knight once again and hit the road as Spirit on a yearlong tour through 1974.

Once the tour was completed, Cassidy went to Hawaii to seek out California. The pair reunited with the remaining members and Spirit was together again, although by this point, the supporting line up changed almost as often as the shapes floating in a lava lamp. The band continued to record and release albums through the 70's and into the 80's, despite dissolving and reuniting several times in the interim.

The 90's saw resurgence in interest in the band. California worked on re-mixing and re-releasing the first four Spirit albums and the band contributed a track to a benefit CD for the now defunct magazine, Ptolemaic Terrascope.

Any thoughts of Spirit continuing on came to a tragic end on January 2, 1997. Randy California and his twelve year old son Quinn were swimming off the coast of Hawaii when they became swept up in a rip-tide. Randy managed to get his son to shore but was unable to escape the tide himself. He was swept out to sea.

His body was never recovered.

The fact remains, despite his tragic end, Randy California remains one of a very few guitarists of his generation who came so close to matching Hendrix skill for skill. Yet despite his enormous talent, California never quite made it to the level of fame he truly deserved. Rather he was relegated to being an 'almost' legend, a guitarist that is spoken of in glowing terms by other musicians, band mates and discerning guitarists everywhere and yet barely noticed by the record buying public.

But for the fact that the band Spirit never really hit it as big as they should have, they remain an iconic west coast band of the 60's and 70's. In their way, Spirit truly did define the free spirit of American rock and roll at that time. Freewheeling, eclectic, superbly talented and just laid back and tightly grooved enough that the music still holds up today.

Spirit added a layer to that historic American rock and roll sound that remains undeniable.
[FONT=Tahoma]"All I can do is be me ... whoever that is". Bob Dylan [/FONT]