More cuts from some of Spirit's finest works Chosen LP cuts!
The original lineup of the group evolved from an earlier 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 (drums), and keyboard player John Locke the new band was originally named the Spirits Rebellious (after a book by Khalil Gibran) but was soon shortened simply to Spirit. Randy California had also played with Jimi Hendrix (then known as Jimmy James) in Jimmy James and the Blue Flames in 1966.
Cassidy was instantly recognizable by his shaven head (hence his nickname "Mr. Skin") and his fondness for wearing black. He was around twenty years older than the rest of the group (born in 1923). 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.
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 #31 on The Billboard 200 and staying on the charts for over eight months. The album displayed jazz influences, as well as using elaborate string arrangements (not found on their subsequent recordings) and is the most overtly psychedelic of their albums.
They 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 #25 on the charts (#28 in Canada). The album matched its success, reaching #22. They also went on tour that year with support band Led Zeppelin, who were heavily influenced by Spirit—Led Zeppelin played an extended medley during their early 1969 shows that featured "Fresh Garbage" among other songs, Jimmy Page's use of a theremin has been attributed to his seeing Randy California use one that he had mounted to his amplifier, and it is now widely accepted that Page lifted the descending guitar figure from Spirit's instrumental "Taurus" for Led Zeppelin's signature tune "Stairway To Heaven".
After this success, 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 #55 on the charts. Spirit were offered the spot right before Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock, but they were advised to turn it down and concentrate on a promotional tour for their third album. Record company managers felt that the festival would not be significant, as it did not seem so at that time, and so they missed out on the massive international exposure that the festival and the subsequent film documentary generated.
After the release of Clear, California was called upon again to give the group a hit single. With the group producing the record on their own, they recorded a song California had written called "1984". It looked at first as though it would be the group's biggest hit yet. Soon after being released, it placed at #69 on the Billboard charts.
In retrospect, no one is sure why the single had such a brief chart life, but there are several possibilities. It is no secret that Lou Adler's alliance with Epic Records was uneasy at best, and at the time that the single was released, Adler's distribution deal with Epic came to an end. He had been eager to move distribution of the label to A&M Records, which he did as soon as the deal with Epic ended, which might have killed the commercial availability of the single (though Adler ended up giving Spirit's contract to Epic in the process). It has also been said that there was a tip sheet distributed to radio stations outlining the song's supposed political and social views, and opining that it might not be appropriate for air play. The song would finally see general release on The Best of Spirit in 1973.
In 1970, Spirit started working on what is widely considered to be their best LP, Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus. On the recommendation of Neil Young the band chose David Briggs as the producer. It was a prolific time for the group's writers and the album was finally released in late 1970. Especially memorable was Randy California's poignant "Nature's Way," which was written in an afternoon when the group was playing at the Fillmore West in San Francisco.
Epic released an early mix of "Animal Zoo" as a single, but this only made it to #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.