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Members include Mark Andes, (b. February 19, 1948, member c. 1967-71, 1975), bass; Matt Andes (member c. 1976-96), guitar; Rachel Andes (member 1996), vocals; Randy California, (b. Randy Craig Wolfe, February 20, 1951, Los Angeles, d. January 2, 1997, drowned, Molokai, Hawaii), guitar, vocals; Ed Cassidy (b. May 4, 1923), drums; Jay Ferguson, (b. John Arden Ferguson, February 5, 1947, member c. 1967-71), vocals; Barry Keene (member c. 1975), bass; Larry Knight (member c. 1973-78), bass; John Locke, (b. September 23, 1943, member c. 1967-72, 1975, 1996), keyboards; Steve Loria (member c. 1970s-96), bass; Al Staehely (member c. 1972), bass, vocals; J. Christian Staeheley (member c. 1972), guitar. Addresses: Record Company--Spirit/W.E.R.C.C.R.E.W., P. O. Box 655, Ojai, CA, 93024.

Beginning in one of the most fertile periods of American rock music, Spirit created some of the most memorable music of the past three decades, outlasting many pop music trends along the way. With its eclectic musical mix of rock, jazz, blues, and folk influences, Spirit was one of the premier West Coast rock bands to emerge during the late 60s. Although the band never reached superstar status, it has maintained a dedicated following. Spirit's musical activities came to a premature and tragic end with the accidental death of leader and guitarist Randy California in 1997.

The story of Spirit began at the folk club The Ash Grove in the early 60s. The Ash Grove hosted traditional artists such as Doc Watson, Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry, Lightnin' Hopkins, and The Carter Family. The owner of the Ash Grove frequently brought artists to the home of his teenaged nephew, Randy Wolfe, an aspiring guitarist. In 1965, Wolfe's stepfather Ed Cassidy was the drummer in another of the Ash Grove's regular artists, the blues band The Rising Sons, which featured Taj Mahal and Ry Cooder.

By the end of the year, Cassidy had left the Rising Sons, and began sitting in with Wolfe's new folk-rock band The Red Roosters, with guitarist Jay Ferguson, bassist Mark Andes, and vocalist Mike Fondiler. The Roosters disbanded in 1966 when Wolfe's family moved to New York City. Wolfe later described losing his guitar during the move as "a stroke of luck", as he met Jimi Hendrix at Manny's Music Store. Hendrix dubbed Wolfe "Randy California" and invited him to join his band Jimmy James and the Blue Flames.

Soon Hendrix went to England to form the Experience, and Randy back to California. At a love-in in Hollywood, Randy and Ed Cassidy ran into former Red Roosters Ferguson and Andes. They reformed, adding pianist John Locke and called the band Spirits Rebellious after the book by Khalil Gibran. They soon shortened the name to Spirit. The band, its musical mentor Barry Hansen {radio DJ Dr. Demento} and families moved into a big yellow house in Topanga Canyon, California to rehearse.

Spirit played clubs around Los Angeles and auditioned for record companies early in 1967. Producer Lou Adler signed Spirit to his new label Ode Records. Spirit's self titled debut album begins with a series of enthusiastic shouts by the band members before launching into the insistent ensemble playing of "Fresh Garbage"; Spirit's sound reflected the many influences of each band member and their abilities to fuse them into a cohesive sound.

While Spirit reached the Top 40 of Billboard's Album Chart, the band needed a hit single. California was up to the task with "I Got A Line On You", the leadoff track to 1968's The Family That Plays Together. An insistent guitar riff propelled the single to number 25 on the Billboard Charts. The album found the band further refining its sound and reflecting its concern for the spiritual well- being of humankind in its lyrics.

Spirit appeared in and scored parts of Jacques Demy's film The Model Shop in 1969. This activity caused the band to lose focus during recording sessions for Clear. Randy California recalls in the Time Circle (1968-1972) liner notes, "The album itself was an afterthought in that we were working on the soundtrack to the movie.... So of all the albums, that was the least concentrated effort of the group..." Despite that humble summation by California, Clear boasted many strong tracks, including "Dark Eyed Woman". The band's fortunes were damaged by a radio tip sheet report that its single "1984" was "too political" for AM radio play, halting its progress in the charts.

Most damaging for Spirit's career in 1969 was a management decision to send the band on a radio promotion tour instead of appearing at Woodstock, right before Randy California's old friend Jimi Hendrix. California recalled in Clear's liner notes, "You can imagine how we all felt watching Woodstock on the 5 o'clock news knowing we should have been there."

Recording sessions for Spirit's fourth album were delayed when California fell from a horse and fractured his skull. After much delay, Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus was released late in 1970. The album featured Spirit's most structured material to date, put together to form a cohesive statement. Disheartened by the lukewarm reception it received, Spirit disbanded in 1971, with Ferguson and Andes forming the group Jo Jo Gunne. After an unsuccessful solo album, California quit the music business and relocated to Hawaii.

Ed Cassidy and John Locke attempted to revamp the group for 1973's unsuccessful Feedback. Eventually California returned to the fold, and Spirit recorded an album, Journey Through Potatoland, that remained unreleased until 1981. Touring enabled the band to finance further recording sessions which led to a contract with Mercury Records in 1975 and the albums Spirit of '76 and Son of Spirit. 1976's Farther Along featured John Locke and Mark Andes for the first time since Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus, while Future Games was a bizarre, science- fiction-inspired solo album.

Spirit continued to record and tour throughout the 1980s. The 90s have seen a renewal of interest in Spirit's early work, culminating in Randy California's assistance with deluxe reissues of the first four Spirit albums. Yet Spirit would not remain a name from the past. The band contributed a new track, alongside the most innovative rock artists, to a benefit CD for the English magazine Ptolemaic Terrascope when it was in financial trouble. California Blues, the most recent Spirit album was released on the band's W.E.R.C.C.R.E.W. label. The lineup features California and Cassidy with guitarist Matt Andes, brother of former bassist Mark, and his daughter Rachel on vocals.

Spirit's career came to a tragic end on January 2, 1997, when Randy California was body surfing in Hawaii with his 12-year-old son Quinn. Caught in a rip tide, Randy was able to push his son to safety but was dragged away by the waves. His body was never recovered.

by Jim Powers

Spirit's Career

Formed c. 1967, in Los Angeles; released debut album Spirit on Ode, 1967; appeared in and scored film The Model Shop, 1969; disbanded c. 1971; reformed c. 1973; formed Potato Records, 1978; formed W.E.R.C.C.R.E.W. Records, c. 1990s; disbanded c. 1997.

Spirit's Awards

R.I.A.A. Gold Album Certification, Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus, c. 1976.

Famous Works

Further Reading

Books

PeriodicalsOnline

Spirit Lyrics

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Visitor Comments Add a comment…

about 9 years ago

I really liked Spirit and still occasionally play them. I met them in Topanga Canyon. If I have it right they lived kind of over the road and back a bit as I remember. There was a house nearby with wooden flowers instead of regular flowers in the garden. It was my second trip to America from England, and was about 1970 or 71. Taj Mahal used to just sit and play for the locals. I'd be very interested to hear from someone who knows their history. My own history is something of a blur back then (as it should be i hear) and as I'm writing my life story I'm trying to piece the dates together. So would anyone know about exactly when they lived in Topanga? I also have in my blur that I went to see them at the Speakeasy in London some years later. In those days the Speak was the place to go. It was expensive and exclusive and for musicians and the like. I made contact and we had a great night there. I'd just like to confirm that it wasn't a dream and try to fit it into a timescale. Can anyone help? Perhaps I can contact the band. Cheers. John

about 9 years ago

Nature's way