Reviewed on this page:
- The Family That Plays Together - Clear Spirit - Twelve Dreams Of Dr. Sardonicus
Spirit formed shortly after California's infamous three-month hitch with Jimmy James and the Blue Blames, the last New York City band Jimi Hendrix fronted before taking off to London in mid-1966.
In fact, "Randy California" was Hendrix's nickname for the teenage guitar phenom (born Randy Wolfe, he'd only recently moved to New York from California).
California's mother had recently married an excellent and open-minded jazz drummer named Ed Cassidy.
By 1967 a lineup had crystallized around California, Cassidy, Andes and Ferguson (who had earlier been in a band with California) and keyboardist Locke.
Signed by the end of the year to Ode records, the group quickly recorded four albums and scored a major Top 40 hit with "I Got A Line On You," released in late 1968.
Despite more-or-less steadily improving with each album and recording one of the greatest records of the entire West Coast acid rock movement on a new label in 1970, the group then split and fell into near-total obscurity, with California and Cassidy putting out assorted solo records, faux "Spirit" records, and occasional bona fide reunion records up until California's recent death.
There are a bunch of cluttered and confusing Spirit web sites; the most informative one I've seen is this unofficial Spirit site in Sweden. (JA)
California drowned accidentally in early 1997.
The Family That Plays Together (1968)
Clear Spirit (1969)
By now Spirit had finally developed a distinctive sound and was much more focused in the studio.
Side 1 has a string of solidly entertaining rock songs: the riffy and energetic "Dark Eyed Woman," propelled by Randy California's blistering wah-wah guitar; the druggy, bluesy "Apple Orchard"; the gorgeously harmonized, uplifting "So Little Time To Fly," one of their best tunes; and "Ground Hog," a bizarre blend of heavy funk and archaic hillbilly influences.
But the rest is uneven, with several second-rate pop tunes (the pretty, but plodding "Cold Wind"; the formulaic acid rocker "I'm Truckin'"); several instrumentals ("Ice" and title
track, with Marty Paich's Sketches Of Spain-style strings; the aimless jazz number "Caught"); and an initially exciting, experimental mini-suite that breaks down in the middle ("New Dope In Town").
It's not nearly as memorable as the next album, but it is a respectable artistic effort that shows the group maturing beyond its California hippy origins.
Produced by Lou Adler, who gets a co-write on the limp, mid-60s
Beach Boys-style pop song "Give A Life, Take A Life."
The new CD release includes their doomed single "1984," a dramatic and cleverly crafted 60s rock anthem that was banned from US radio; it shares nothing with David Bowie's later hit other than a vague connection to Orwell's novel (the B-side, "Sweet Stella Lady," is also good). (JA)
Twelve Dreams Of Dr. Sardonicus (1970)
Sixties addicts like myself have a bad habit of ranting and raving about obscure psychedelic concept albums that turn out to suck.
Well, this one deserves every last rant and rave - it's honestly in the same league as Forever Changes and Odessey And Oracle.
Admittedly, the band's influences are only original when compared to the rest of the West
Coast scene: Beatles-based rock, contemporary jazz, and just a hint of R & B. But in spite of the usual psychedelic gimmicks - panning, backwards tracks, layered overdubs, quasi-mystical lyrics ("Love Has Found A Way") - there's nothing self-indulgent or amateurish about it.
Guitarist Randy California smokes on the few hard-rock numbers ("Street Worm"); it's no coincidence that he had a six-month internship with Jimi Hendrix
back in 1967.
Cassidy and Locke add substantial musical depth.
And even though Ferguson's vocals are pedestrian, they do manage some respectable group harmonies.
All of it comes together on no less than five memorable tracks: the hard-hitting, intricately harmonized "Nothin' To Hide"; the earnest acoustic anthem "Nature's Way" - probably their most enduring song; the good-natured, entertainingly gimmicky "Animal Zoo"; the extra-funky "Mr. Skin," like a grittier, more authentic Chicago; and the irresistably uplifting
"Morning Will Come," with another ballsy horn arrangement.
Produced by Neil Young associate David Briggs.
Spirit's three earlier albums don't appear to be as impressive, but I am planning to review them. The group split immediately afterwards, with Cassidy and California leading "Spirit" through a series of commercially inconsequential records over the next three decades. (JA)
At this point the band had basically completely split up; Ferguson and Andes formed a new group called Jo Jo Gunne, and California left to cut a solo album, leaving just Cassidy and Locke.
But still had a record contract with Epic, so they tried to keep things going by putting out an album with a new lineup. (JA)
Kapt. Kopter & The (Fabulous) Twirly-Birds (California: 1972)
A well-regarded solo album including assorted covers of Beatles and Paul Simon tunes.
Noel Redding guests under a pseudonym. (JA)
Spirit Of 76 (1975)
After pursuing a solo career, California teamed up again with Cassidy and put out a series of long-since out of print "Spirit" records on Mercury.
These records are prized by fans but disregarded by critics and basically impossible to get.
Their first effort was a double album.
I believe that bassist Barry Keene was the third and only other player. (JA)
Son Of Spirit (1976)
Farther Along (1976)
All of original members except Ferguson appear on this one, as does guitarist Matt Andes (Mark Andes' brother). (JA)
Future Games (A Magical Kahauna Dream) (1977)
The last of the four original Mercury records.
Apparently a highly experimental effort that bordered on a Randy California solo album. (JA)
Made In Germany (1978)
At this point a live album was released under three different titles by three different record companies, with slightly altered track listings on each disc.
This is the only widely available version; the other two (Spirit Live and Live Spirit) are utterly obscure. (JA)
Journey To Potatoland (1981)
Apparently most of this derives from an unreleased Spirit album named "Potatoland" that was recorded around 1973 or 1974.
It was released on Rhino Records in the US.
Locke guests. (JA)
Euro - American (California: 1982)
All four of the other original Spirit members guest here. (JA)
Spirit Of '84 (1984)
Most of the track listing comprises re-recorded Twelve Dreams tunes.
In Europe the disc was title The Thirteenth Dream. (JA)
Restless (California: 1985)
Shattered Dreams (California: 1986)
Cassidy and Locke guest.
His third and last solo record in the 80s. (JA)
Rapture In The Chambers (1989)
Locke is a full band member on this one, and Mark Andes guests.
Their most serious effort in more than a decade. (JA)
Tent Of Miracles (1990)
Back to a three-man lineup here, with California, Cassidy, and Mike Nile on bass. (JA)
Live At La Paloma (1995)
This time the bassist is Scott Monahan. (JA)
California Blues (1996)
The group's last album -- with California dying shortly afterwards they won't continue -- featuring California, Cassidy, and a few tracks with Locke.
Covers include "Look Over Yonder" and "Red House" (both by Jimi Hendrix), and "Crossroads" (popularized by Eric Clapton). (JA)