Ed Cassidy, Spirit and a Led Zep Conspiracy Theory
Blog: Music For Old(er) Folks
December 7, 2012
I mentioned the other day that Ed "Mr. Skin Cassidy, co-founder and drummer for the '60's/'70's psych band Spirit passed at the age of 89. Ed's story is a bit unique when it comes to rock and roll (a 45 year old drummer in an industry pitched at stoned 20 somethings), as is that of the band he co-founded with his son. Thought I'd get into it a bit here.
Cassidy was born in 1923, moving to California in the early 30's, and started performing professionally in '37. After a stint in the armed forces during WW II, and through the 50's was involved in the California jazz scene, working with the likes of Cannonball Adderly, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Art Pepper, Gerry Mulligan and others, making a name for himself as a valuable session man.
Now here's where it gets interesting. In 1965, Cassidy got together with Taj Mahal, Ry Cooder and Gary Marker to form Rising Sons, a folk-rock-blues outfit. There's only one single available with Cassidy on it.....
.....who left the band (he had broken his hand) just before they recorded their only LP. Cassidy had the knack (and reputation) that allowed him to be surrounded by excellent musicians, and in that vein, gathered his stepson Randy California, Jay Ferguson (who went on to form Jo Jo Gunne and have the Top-40 "Thunder Island"), and bass player Mark Andes (who eventually joined Ferguson in Gunne before playing with Firefall and Heart), forming the short lived Red Roosters in 1965. In 1966, they added John Locke on keyboards and became Spirit.
1968 brought the band's first LP, appropriately titled Spirit, with the single "Mechanical World".
The single didn't sell very well, but the LP hit the mid 30's on the Billboard Top 200 and remained on the charts for 8 months, mostly due to FM airplay of both the single and (what I think is) the best cut on the LP, "Fresh Garbage".
You can hear Cassidy's jazz backround all through both this cut and the LP, giving them a bit of a unique sound. Late '68's The Family That Plays Together was a smash for the band. Challenged by his stepfather to write a Top-40 hit, California came up with this gem.....
....which did the job, yet didn't detract from psych gems like "Jewish" and "Silky Sam".
I was not a big fan of 1969's Clear, a mistake on my part, which acted as much as a set up for their next LP, with songs like "So Little Time To Fly"...
....which was covered by Status Quo, and "New Dope In Town."
And the next album was a knockout. 1970's Twelve Dreams Of Dr. Sardonicus is generally considered Spirt's best LP. Produced by David Briggs, it was probably Sprit's lowest selling LP on it's release, but through continued sales, the only Spirit LP to go Gold. No wonder. With songs like Jay Ferguson's "Mr. Skin"....
and California's "Nature's Way" (the designated 45 on the LP)....
....the LP his the mark in all ways, to the point that it has been compared with "Dark Side Of The Moon" as a classic "art rock" LP.
Alas, it didn't sell really well on initial release, and the band began to fall apart. Furgeson and Andes went off to form Jo Jo Gunne, 1972's Feedbakc, although solid, was not spectacular, as was 1975's Spirit Of '76. At that point, I lost interest. The band, always with Cassidy and California, would every so often get back together, recording and touring, but never with the force or creativity they had in those first 4 albums.
California drowned in an accident in 1997, effectively ending the band as a touring operation, and although Cassidy worked with other artists, most notably Merrell Fankhauser....
....but with Cassidy's passing, the final chapter of a really good, very underapreicated band is over.
And yes, I know I mentioned a conspiracy theory in the open. Give me a couple days....this blog ran a little (?!) long, but there's a solid connection between Spirit and Led Zeppelin. Turst me.