SPIRIT: What happened?

Bob Smith provides an answer

The members of Spirit all had successful careers that began long before the incarnation of “Spirit”. Drummer Ed Cassidy had been a part of some very noteable acts prior to the formation of Spirit, performing with Ry Cooder, Taj Mahal, in addition to several giants of jazz.

Following years on the road Cassidy began exploring the idea of forming his own group and thus his girlfriend/future wife’s teen son Randy Wolfe soon became set in his sights. The young Randy Wolfe was a very good guitar player and at age 13 he would begin playing with Cassidy’s group “The Red Roosters” .

Wolfe’s uncle owned a blues club where the youngster learned from performers playing there, a very remarkable schooling for the young man. The Red Roosters would be rounded out in time by the addition of Jay Ferguson and bassist Mark Andes.

An abrupt end of the group came about prompted by Cassidy and Wolfe choosing to relocate to New York City taking the young guitar prodigy Randy with them, effectively ending the Red Roosters. For now..

1966 would turn into a remarkable year for the young Randy Wolfe. Randy Wolfe would join a group called “Jimmy James & The Blue Flames” led by a relatively unknown guitarist by the name of Jimi Hendrix.

Randy Wolfe inadvertently met and befriended one of the worlds most famous guitar players at the ripe old age of fifteen years with Hendrix taking the young teen under his proverbial wing and teaching him guitar licks and more. Randy Wolfe met Jimi Hendrix one day in a guitar store ( go figure) and the two became fast friends.

Wolfe of course being a quick study would then go on to teach guitar lessons for others to play. One of Randy Wolfe’s early students was one of his neighbours, Walter Becker, of Steely Dan. Of course this was before Becker became a part of Steely Dan but quite the butterfly effect….

Wolfe remarkably enough , had an opportunity to travel overseas with the Hendrix group but he remained behind with his family, who would soon opt to leave New York.

Wolfe now operating under the name Randy California , a name bestowed on him by Hendrix to avoid confusion with another Randy began to perform with his old group, The Red Roosters but under a new name “Spirits Rebellious” which became shortened to “ Spirit” not long after.

The group would blend jazz, rock, folk into their own style of music and well as history has shown they failed to make much headway with the public with their music. Living in California communally with many sharing a house, one Barry Hansen, whom would later become known as Dr Demento, used his contacts to get the group signed to Ode Records.

The band would see their first album in 1968, the self titled “Spirit” followed later that year by "The Family that Plays Together". From the start the music was eclectic compared to most popular music of the era , setting the group on a musical path all their own.

The group would have it’s dedicated following but they were simply too diverse for mainstream audiences despite having a hit with the song “ "I Got A Line on You". The band would continue on in relative obscurity releasing a total of fifteen albums over the ensuing years.

Despite a wealth of material produced by the group Spirit remained near invisible to the general public until the Led Zeppelin controversy regarding Spirits song “Taurus” and “Stairway To Heaven”.

Back in 1968 a virtually unknown Led Zeppelin would open for Spirit and well, the start of the controversy as Led Zeppelin appear to have a history of borrowing from the songs of others. The group apparently frequently used the riffs from Spirits song "Fresh Garbage" in their early shows so early on a precedent of sorts was set by the band.

2014 would see Spirit launch a legal battle against Led Zeppelin regarding their song “Taurus” bringing the band into the public’s consciousness for the first time in a very long time. Spirit was ahead of their time as they would become considered pioneers in the prog rock genre over time, with the lawsuit bringing the band to the public attention once again.

Randy Wolfe/ California would die of a drowning death in 1997 and with him Spirit died that day also. Regardless the music lives on .

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