(Read all about Spirit after the video)
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 (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 simply 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.
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. His earlier career was primarily in jazz and included stints with Cannonball Adderley, Gerry Mulligan, Roland Kirk, Thelonious Monk, and Lee Konitz. He was a founding member of Rising Sons with 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.
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'." Page may have reworked a riff from "Taurus" while composing "Stairway to Heaven"; The Independent noted the similarity in 1997. In 2014, Mark Andes and a trust acting on behalf of Randy California filed an unsuccessful 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.
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.
"1984" and the Sardonicus era
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. The song would finally see general release on The Best of Spirit in 1973.
In 1970, Spirit started working on their LP Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus. On the recommendation of Neil Young, the band chose frequent Young collaborator David Briggs as the producer. 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. The album included Randy California's "Nature's Way", a minor hit (No. 111) which was written in an afternoon when the group was playing 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, 1970, which almost ended with a fist-fight.
Bass player 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. Bass player Al Staehely was recruited by Locke and Cassidy, and they toured briefly before deciding that they had to add a guitar player 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. The tour for Feedback proceeded very well for much of that year, but with musical roots that went different directions, eventually both Cassidy and Locke left the lineup. The Staehely brothers recruited Stu Perry to play drums. While the tour was well received critically, Spirit disbanded in mid-1973. The brothers would release their own album, Sta-Hay-Lee, in 1973.
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 Noel's band Road, as "Henry Manchovitz"), and Cassidy, the album had a hard rock sound. After launching a brief tour to support the album, a follow-up album (The Adventures Of Kaptain Kopter And Commander Cassidy In Potato Land) was recorded with Cassidy. Although Locke made a guest appearance, it was not intended as a Spirit album at the time. However, Epic rejected the completed album. Thereafter, California moved to Molokai, Hawaii.
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 would earn the band's only RIAA gold certification in 1976. That same year, Epic also issued a compilation album The Best of Spirit, as well as releasing 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.
The Mercury years (1974–79)
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 working with the group Firefall at the same time. Andes was replaced by former Frank Zappa sound engineer Barry Keene.
In early 1975, the group was supposed to be the opening act for Ten Years After at a show in Florida, but when Ten Years After 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, their manager at the time, 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.
First full reunion
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. Disaster struck, however, when an inebriated Neil Young walked onto stage to join the band during the final show's encore of "Like a Rolling Stone." California would later claim that he didn't 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 a host of music and film luminaries, including New Hollywood director Hal Ashby, had been hanging out with 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. The audience stood, stunned at the scene that was playing out before them. After finishing the song, the band members argued backstage over what had unfolded. The damage had been done, and the reunion ended that night.
Undaunted, California assembled what was basically a solo album as a Spirit album under the name Future Games: A Magical Kahauna Dream. Mercury released it in early 1977, but the experimental album (which included a Hendrix-influenced cover of "All Along the Watchtower" and underpinned science fiction 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).
Now down to a trio with new bassist Larry "Fuzzy" Knight, the group toured extensively throughout 1978; an English leg saw the band headline a triple bill that included post-punk ensemble Alternative TV and The Police. This lineup 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.
The 1980s and beyond
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. It was released 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, Nile, Locke, Monahan, and George Valuck on keyboards) toured extensively in support, the album failed to return them to the charts. California, Cassidy, and Nile continued to tour as a power trio, and self-released 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. Though they would release very few albums of new material during the decade, 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.
Though Cassidy played a few dates with some former 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.