Through The Times With Randy California And Spirit A Historical Discography, by Steve Robey In January 1997, the music world received the heartbreaking news that Randy California, longtime guitarist, songwriter, and leader of the band Spirit, was reported missing after saving his son from drowning off the coast of Hawaii. He is presumed dead. We have all felt that moment of remorse, loss, and shock we get when we first hear that such a talented musician has passed on. Randy spent nearly thirty years of his short life writing and recording beautiful, understated, and honest music that refused to concede to mainstream appeal yet kept thousands of fans around the world following his every move and savoring every note he played. This article pays tribute to the band he led for so many years, through a historical overview of Spirit's vast and diverse discography. We thus dedicate this piece to the memory of Randy California, a true original. Spirit have been one of California's most loved and long-lived rock groups, from their debut in 1967 up until the present day. Mass success always eluded them: they wrote occasional (great) pop songs but were generally too "weird" to be embraced by a large audience. As such, most people remember Spirit for two songs alone, the timeless "I Got a Line on You" (a hit in 1969) and the beautiful "Nature's Way" (a hit from about two years later). The rest of their massive recording output deserves attention, and that is the reason for this feature. The untimely and sad death of founding guitarist Randy California affords us the chance to pay homage to this trailblazing band that pushed its musical limits to the extremes of rock, jazz, blues, and classical music. Ironically, we at Exposť had already planned this career retrospective even before California's passing, inspired by the recent re-release of Spirit's first four albums on CD with greatly enhanced sound and amazing bonus tracks. Each of these will be reviewed in detail. The Origins of Spirit Guitarist Randy California was a child prodigy in the right place at the right time, artistically speaking. His uncle ran a jazz and blues club, and the young Randy learned his licks firsthand from greats such as Lightnin Hopkins, Doc Watson, Jesse Fuller, and Sleepy John Estes, who would routinely pay visits to Randy's family between gigs. When he was 15 years old and living in New York City, Randy befriended Jimmy James (soon to move to England and record as the Jimi Hendrix Experience) and played in his band, Jimmy James and the Blue Flames, for three months. In the meantime, a seasoned jazz drummer, Ed "Cass" Cassidy, had not only begun gigging with Randy, but had married Randy's mother, effectively making their musical partnership truly a family affair (which was to last until Randy's death). The initial line-up of Spirit was thus born. Combining the diverse talents of blues musicians (Randy California on guitar and Mark Andes on bass), two jazz musicians (Ed Cassidy on drums and John Locke on electric piano), and a classical buff with a knack for songwriting (vocalist Jay Ferguson), Spirit had all the ingredients necessary to make truly eclectic, genre-defying music. Although this lineup was only together for four years, their recorded output remains astounding and way ahead of its time; few bands in history have ever pulled off such an accessible yet challenging fusion of song-oriented rock and jazz (Phish and Steely Dan come to mind). The First Four Albums (1967-1970) Many regard Spirit's first four albums (the only ones with the original lineup) to be the definitive work released by the band, and it's hard to disagree. Each successive release points to directions rarely traveled by rock bands, much less rock bands with an eye on the charts. In the wake of the overhyped Summer of Love, the members of Spirit retreated to a house in Topanga Canyon, and laid the groundwork for their debut album. This album is definitely in the running for their best album ever, with a quietly brilliant hybrid of jazz/blues/folk/classical that has rarely, if ever, been equaled. Vocalist Jay Ferguson is the focus of the album, writing the majority of the material, which consists of odd, seemingly slight short songs (such "Fresh Garbage" and "Straight Arrow") which veer suddenly into brief, jazz-inflected jams without notice. Although Randy California mainly plays a supporting role on this album (in contrast to later on), his ringing, heavily sustained guitar presence is felt on the bizarre "Mechanical World" (ironically, their first single, written about Andes' fear of death when he was suffering from the flu), John Locke's 10-minute jazz instrumental "Elijah" (featuring solos by all the instrumentalists), and the sublime instrumental break in "Gramophone Man." He also lends a delicate touch on the acoustic guitar on his own composition, the pastoral instrumental "Taurus", complete with a great string arrangement (by Marty Paich) and harpsichord. Legend has it that "Taurus" directly inspired Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven", with its similar mood and identical opening acoustic guitar figure - the fact that Led Zeppelins opened for Spirit on their first US tour in December 68 makes that connection even more certain. The re-release of Spirit's first album is notable mostly for its four superb bonus tracks, a couple of which nearly surpass the tracks on the original release. The extended jazz instrumental "Elijah" is represented here in an alternate take that nearly puts the original to shame (especially in the guitar and bass solos performed by California and Andes, respectively). The other three bonus tracks further highlight the jazzy element of the band, emphasizing instrumental interplay over songs; imagine the Soft Machine circa 1970 (say, "Slightly All the Time" or "Esther's Nose Job") with Hendrix-like guitar instead of sax, and you'll get a feeling for what's going down. On the down side, the re-release tries a bit too hard to brighten the sound, and is a bit top-heavy on the frequencies. The added emphasis on the cymbals and tambourines can be a bit wearing after a while. The guitar sounds better that ever, though. The Family That Plays Together. The title says it all. This was probably the "happiest" period in Spirit's history, and this superb album is a testimony to the sheer joy of creation (notwithstanding the somber tone of many of the songs). Not only does it contain much of their best music, but it yielded a massive hit single in "I Got a Line on You" (penned by Randy California, an assertion of his increased presence as a songwriter). The remainder of the album is split between California's and Ferguson's songs, and nearly all of it is excellent. Avoiding stagnation, the material has been stripped of its overt jazz tendencies, opting instead for a more subtle hybrid of styles. "It Shall Be", co-written by California and Locke, combines a fluid electric piano riff with flute, an orchestral arrangement, and a beautiful vocal melody. Ferguson's "Drunkard" features one of the best orchestral arrangements (for a rock song) in recent memory, and his "Dream Within a Dream" reaches heavenly peaks as well. The album rocks too, with the concert favorite "It's All the Same" and the joyous "Aren't You Glad". The re-release of The Family That Plays Together is one the truly great works of remastering I have ever heard. The bass sounds absolutely perfect. The impeccable attention to detail makes the great songs even better, and sheds new light on the lesser tracks. This album, and particularly this re-release, is highly recommended to all readers out there. Spirit's unique approach is accessible while paying so much attention to nuance and detail. To boot, the re-release contains 4 bonus tracks, one of which (Ferguson's "Now or Anywhere") ranks as one of my favorite Spirit songs. Now things get a bit more complicated. Having declined an invitation to open for Hendrix at Woodstock (and regretting it afterwards), Spirit's spirit began to decline. Their third album Clear consists partly of instrumentals intended for soundtrack material (some were used in the film "The Model Shop"), with the balance filled in with rock songs which were odd but impressive, displaying Spirit's increasingly wide stylistic range. Despite the scattershot nature of the album's contents, just about every track is great, especially "Dark Eyed Woman", their hardest rocker yet (though a single of it failed to chart), "New Dope in Town", with its tough piano riff and dramatic middle section, and the bluesy Clapton-like "I'm Truckin'". Two concert favorites "Apple Orchard" and "So Little Time To Fly" are included, as well as the title track - a beautiful classical guitar piece by California. And it's hard to argue against the quality of Locke's jazzy instrumentals "Ice" and "Caught", both of which display a finesse lacking in the works of their contemporaries. The reissue of Clear has appropriately clear (no pun intended) sound, and includes another single ("1984" / "Sweet Stella Baby") as bonus material. Written by Randy California, "1984" (which charted briefly in December 69 before being jettisoned by radio tip sheets) now seems rather dated with its awkward and controversial lyrical content (it's remained a concert favorite, though, and still has a certain edge in live performance as an energetic rocker), and its B-side by Jay Ferguson is a throwaway. "Fuller Brush Man," another bonus track (by Ferguson) is a real winner though: Spirit at its weirdest. As good an album as Clear is, it gave little indication of the wide-eyed brilliance which was to distinguish their next release. The Twelve Dreams Of Dr.Sardonicus is considered by many to be the quintessential Spirit album, and the only one which has remained in print in the US throughout the years. At this point, Spirit decided to pull out all the stops, and make an album that would finally put their creative energies in the limelight. The sound and production values of this album are so advanced for their time that it's hard to believe it was recorded in 1970 (I felt similarly on my first hearing of 1973's Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd). The songs run together, often using voices and sound effects as links (not unlike Sgt. Pepper), enhancing the conceptual feel and flow of the album's contents. "Prelude - Nothin' to Hide" kicks off the album in true rocking style, notwithstanding a delicate acoustic guitar intro. Randy California's "Nature's Way" is next, and is simply one of the most poignant, memorable songs of the early 70s. The rest of the album doesn't let up either. Whether through the manic rocking of Ferguson's songs ("Street Worm", "When I Touch You", "Mr. Skin") or through the gentler strains of California's songs ("Soldier", "Why Can't I be Free", "Life Has Just Begun") or the trailblazing experimentalism of John Locke's contributions ("Space Child" and "Love Has Found a Way", two of the earliest compositions to utilize Moog synthesizers), this album hits bullseyes from start to finish. Unfortunately, the rest of the world didn't feel the same way, the album sold only moderately, and the band broke up, frustrated and spent. The re-release of Dr. Sardonicus contains 4 bonus tracks, including alternate mixes of "Morning Will Come" and "Animal Zoo" which are unspectacular but historically interesting. The other two tracks point to the 70s direction of Spirit: more straightforward, simple arrangements fronted by the expressive guitar of Randy California. Post-Breakup: Jay Ferguson and Mark Andes in Jo Jo Gunne Wishing to further explore the hard rock territory hinted at in his contributions to Sardonicus, Jay Ferguson formed Jo Jo Gunne, with Mark Andes on bass and Mark's brother Matt on guitar (Jay played keyboards, rhythm guitar, sang, and wrote the songs). At their best, Jo Jo Gunne was the best kick-ass California boogie band ever. They made 4 albums between 1972 and 1974: Jo Jo Gunne, Bite Down Hard, Jumpin' the Gunne, and So....Where's the Show. The first album gained them their most success, with the hit single "Run Run Run"; the remainder of the album followed suit with steamy boogie running from hot ("Shake that Fat") to cool ("Babylon"). Mark Andes left the band after the debut album, to be replaced by Jimmie Randall, who may have contributed to the band's subsequent increase in amplitude. The third release is a case in point: Jumpin' the Gunne is nothing short of breathtaking, a red hot testimony to the power of pure, basic rock and roll. This album deserves to be a rock classic. The down-and-dirty slower blues-inflected numbers ("High School Drool", "Before You Get Your Breakfast") perfectly complement the fast rockers ("I Wanna Love You", "Getaway", "Monkey Music"). Someday this will come out on CD and you will take it home, put it on, and your fish will stop swimming. It smokes! The last release, "So...Where's the Show?" doesn't quite reach this level of intensity, but it is a fine release nonetheless. It features the guitar of Al Staehely, who joined Spirit for their 1971 album, Feedback (see review below). The four Jo Jo Gunne albums were reissued as 2-on-1 limited edition CDs by Rhino Handmade in 2000 After the breakup of Jo Jo Gunne, Jay Ferguson went on to a successful solo career, recording a number of solid albums (especially great is All Alone in the End Zone, now out of print), and even charting with the hit single "Thunder Island" in the late 70s. Mark Andes was part of the seventies country rock wave in the band Firefall, and joined Heart in time for their 1983 album Passionworks. Post Breakup: Randy California After the departure of Ferguson and Andes, Spirit forged on for a few months as a four-piece adding bassist John Arliss, even adding some new material to their repertoire (songs like "Going Away", "Something You Might Say" and "Tow The Line" are from this period, none of which have ever been released). Ultimately Randy California opted out of continuing with Spirit, and left the music business for a period of time. He returned in 72 with a solo album entitled Kapt. Kopter and the Fabulous Twirly Birds. As the name suggests, this is a whimsical, fun release that rocks hard and showcases California's formidable guitar playing nicely. The opening track, "Downer", is great, as are his versions of "Day Tripper" and "Rain" (both by the Beatles). Working with seasoned sidemen, including Noel Redding (formerly of Hendrix Experience - listed as Clit McTorius on the album credits for contractual reasons) and Cassidy, California is comfortably in control, and he asserts his underrated vocal presence, which would come to full fruition when he rejoined Spirit a couple of years later. In mid-72, California and Cassidy (after the latter had left Spirit after the "Feedback" tour, see below), together with bassist Larry Knight (who had played on the Kapt. Kopter album) began working together again, planning and recording material for what was hoped to be the next Spirit album. After a move to England in early 73, a British tour, and some session work with Van Der Graaf Generator main-man Peter Hammill (you can hear Randy featured on "Red Shift" from Hammills Silent Corner of the Empty Stage LP), the record company (Epic) who had initially agreed to release the new album (see Potatoland, below) began backpedaling and in the end rejected it. This took its toll on California, who ultimately suffered a nervous breakdown, and as a result, dropped out of Spirit again. However, renewed interest in the band, as well as unfulfilled touring obligations led Cassidy and Knight to assemble a new fake Spirit, featuring Steven Lyle (vocals & keyboards), Steve Edwards and Scott Shelley (both vocals & guitar). Post-Breakup: Ed Cassidy and John Locke After the departure of California in 71, Cassidy and Locke continued recording under the Spirit name, and assembled a band which included Texan brothers John and Al Staehely (on guitar and bass/lead vocal, respectively) to release Feedback in the last days of 1971. In retrospect, this album doesn't really fit in with the rest of Spirit's recorded output, with mainstream guitar rock only occasionally punctuated with Locke's keyboard genius. Only Cassidy's presence, excellent drumming, and musical direction maintain any of Spirit's former identity. A couple of all-too-brief Locke penned instrumentals "Puesta Del Scam" and "Trancas Fog-Out" are the albums high points. A single was released - the unabashed rocker "Cadillac Cowboys" backed with Lockes "Darkness", but it failed to chart. The Cassidy/Locke/Staehely lineup toured after the albums release, performing a mix of material new and old (the latter including "Elijah" and "Ice"), but both Cassidy and Locke bailed at the conclusion of the tour. The Staehely brothers continued on as Spirit with new musicians for an Australian tour, after which they disbanded. Meanwhile Spirits back catalog was beginning to show new signs of life. A Best of Spirit was released in early 73, followed later that year by a double LP set of Spirit and Clear, released with a new cover. Later another double LP set of Family That Plays Together and Feedback was reissued. As the subsequent years would show, the future of Spirit's sound would lie in Randy California's songs, singing, and guitar stylings. By 1973 he had returned to the studio with Ed Cassidy. The Spirit Lives On (1975-1996): Ed Cassidy and Randy California The first product of California and Cassidy's renewed partnership was an ambitious concept album consisting of whimsical dialogue, catchy, fun songs, and copious amounts of studio experimentation. The album, Potatoland, was not actually released until 1981 (on Rhino Records), but bootleg versions of the original 1974 version circulate as well. Although both versions contain mostly the same songs, the track order is different, and the concept is more fully fleshed out in the 1974 version (the 1981 version only dedicates side two to the Potatoland concept, with side one consisting strictly of songs). The album is a bit flaky at times, but it does contain some great songs ("Turn to the Right", "Fish Fry Road" and others), and the abundant humor makes for some fun listening. The duo's first album proper was the sprawling 2-record set, Spirit of 76 (released in 1975 on the Mercury label). This album is quite extraordinary in that Randy California handles virtually all the instrumental and vocal duties (except for Cass on drums, of course, and Barry Keene helping out on bass, track depending). Aside from sensitive covers of well-known classics ("Like a Rolling Stone", "Hey Joe", "The Times they are a-Changin'", "Happy") California turns in beautiful performances of his own material, ranging from the quietly acoustic to the ominously psychedelic. Standout tracks include "Sunrise", "Joker on the Run", "My Road", and "Veruska", the latter a fiery instrumental that is Randy at his finest (an early version of "Veruska" with the original Spirit lineup recently appeared as a bonus track on the reissue of the first album!). Spirit of 76 is a quiet masterpiece with a lot of atmosphere. A single from the album "America The Beautiful/The Times They Are a Changin" backed with "Lady of The Lakes" was released, and received some FM/College airplay, but ultimately was ignored by mainstream radio. Randy and Cass' next outing, Son of Spirit (released late 1975), continued much in the same vein, with emphasis on acoustic guitar and gentle singing. While containing little of the ambitiousness that distinguished the early records, Spirit during this period had seemed to find a new sound and style that remained consistent, if unspectacular. Whether on acoustic or electric, California continued to harvest a very unique and passionate guitar style; fans of his playing will definitely not be disappointed with this release. Standout tracks include "Circle", the contemplative "Maybe Youll Find", and "The Other Song", a jazz-tinged workout co-written by Cassidy that ranks among their most unique. A single "Looking Into Darkness" b/w "Holy Man" was released in October, but like the album itself generated little interest. Whether it was poor promotion on Mercurys part, or that Spirits newer material was just too eclectic for the record buying public, the fact was that Spirits post-Sardonicus albums were being largely ignored, and for the first time the bands current album ended up in cutout bins before the follow-up album was released. Things took a somewhat unusual turn with the next album, Farther Along (July 1976). With John Locke, Mark Andes, and Matt Andes joining California and Cassidy, this album is ostensibly a "reunion" album. However, apart from more fleshed out arrangements (horns, pedal steel, and the occasional dance beat as on the questionable "Atomic Boogie"), it's pretty much business as usual. California still dominates, and though the record has its moments (the title track, "Mega Star" and "Phoebe", not to mention a new version of "Nature's Way"), this is not one of Spirit's greater efforts. The title track was released as a single, and received a small amount of FM airplay, but never made the charts. This short-lived reformation came to an end on the last date of the tour at a concert at Santa Monica Civic when California pushed a drunken and off-key Neil Young from the stage, who had joined the band impromptu during the encore of "Like A Rolling Stone". Ferguson (who had rejoined the band for a few of the dates) and an angry Locke walked off stage, vowing never to be part of a Spirit reunion again. Only days later, Locke, Young and California were back on good terms, and the entire incident was soon forgotten by all but the sensationalist rock press. The next album, Future Games (early 1977), is a concept album that returns to the experimentalism of Potatoland and Spirit of 76. Song fragments come and go, all the while conveying a feeling of transience, isolation, and distance. References to Star Trek, CB radio, Hawaii, and Doctor Demento abound...even bits of some TV commercials. Some very unusual tracks here, like "Freakout Frog", the synth-edged instrumental "Gorn Attack" and the Cassidy penned "China Doll". A cover of Dylans "All Along The Watchtower" was released as the single (but went completely ignored, as always). It's not the easiest listening in Spirit's catalogue, but many fans praise Future Games as one of their favorites. California again provides much of the sound, and the album really takes a deep look into his psyche. The closing track, "Ending", is especially affecting: one of the few fully fleshed out songs on the album, it poses a number of troubling questions to American culture, and sums up the album's contents nicely. While I wasn't too fond of this album at first, it has grown on me over time. Spirit released a fine live album in 1978, featuring a tight trio of California, Cassidy, and Larry Knight on bass. Several old Spirit classics are performed, including "1984", "I Got a Line on You", "Nature's Way", and "It's All the Same." Somehow, the newer readings of the old songs (originally recorded with an entirely different lineup, remember) seem a bit thin in comparison to the originals. Still, this album is worth seeking out for the new track "Looking Down" (previously unreleased on album) which is one of Spirit's best post-Sardonicus songs. It returns California and crew to rocking again, which is quite a refreshing after the introspection of the last few releases. To boot, the album also contains the rocker "Downer" (from 1971's Kapt. Kopter album). (Discographer's note: the British, German and US releases of this album have different tracks -- the US version replaces "Downer" and "Wild Thing" with "Rock and Roll Planet" and "These are Words", while the German version is identical to the US version but with the addition of "Rockpalast Jam", a track that was recorded in Germany). A single from the Live album "Natures Way" b/w "Stone Free" (the latter not available on any version of the LP) was released in the UK, a testament to the fact that by the late seventies Spirit was enjoying far more success in Europe than at home in the States. At that point, Spirit had pretty much called it quits, at least as far as recording, though the band was still playing live dates in 79 and 80 as a trio with various bass players. The official release of Potatoland came out on Rhino Records in 1981 (originally recorded in 1974). (Discographers should note that Potatoland was re-released again on CD in 1988 on the Chord label with an expanded tracklist, including many of the cuts that were featured on the original 74 version, but excised on the 81 release.) Aside from that, the only new Spirit recordings for the bulk of the 80s was the reunion album, The Thirteenth Dream (aka Spirit of 84 in the USA). Featuring the original lineup of California, Cassidy, Ferguson, Andes, and Locke, along with numerous L.A. session players, this album contains remakes of many of the original band's most loved songs, along with three new songs (two by Ferguson, one by California). As on the live album, the attempt to recreate past glories inevitably falls a bit flat. Eighties keyboard sounds are often used in place of the warm sounding electric piano on the originals, and even Cass can't keep the tempos from bouncing a little happier than they should. The claustrophobic, moody atmosphere of Spirit's original 60s recordings was a large part of their mysterious appeal, but much of that mood is sadly gone by now. As a piece of nostalgia, however, the album works fine, and longtime fans will enjoy hearing the talented quintet enjoying themselves in the studio again. The entire reunion was also captured on video, but in the end it was decided not to release it (although some of the tracks are on Spirits "Video History" tape). Several singles from it were released in the UK in early 84, including two 7-inchers ("1984" b/w "Elijah" and "Fresh Garbage" b/w "Mr. Skin") and a 12-inch ("1984"/"Elijah"/"I Got a Line On You"), none of which went anywhere. The version of Elijah on these singles was not included on the album. Randy California: The Solo Albums In the meantime, California had been keeping his chops in shape with three solo albums he recorded during the 1980s. The first, Euro American (1982), departs from Spirit's usual approach through increased emphasis on hard-rock guitar stylings. California is joined by some familiar names, including Mark Andes (bass), John Locke (keyboards), Jay Ferguson (backing vocals), and Curly Smith (of Jo Jo Gunne) on drums. This album, along with Randy's other two solo efforts, Restless (1985) and Shattered Dreams (1986), are recommended primarily for die-hard California fans -- the songs are competent but lack the personality that graced the Spirit albums. Perhaps a true working band would have helped -- a problem partially solved by Randy's live set, Shattered Dreams, in which the performances benefit from increased intensity and tighter playing. The collection focuses on Randy's solo albums, but also contains charged versions of "Downer", "Hey Joe", and "All Along the Watchtower" (previously on Future Games). Incidentally, all three albums, as well as the six song EP All Along The Watchtower were only released overseas -- no US releases exist, further underlining Randys (and Spirits) greater popularity abroad than at home. Spirit - The Comeback Randy and Cass re-formed Spirit to release Rapture in the Chambers in 1989, this time working with a tighter power-trio format, utilizing only a couple of guest performers. John Locke is back on board(s), and while his keys are primarily digital, it was nice to have him back. This version of Spirit continues in the vein of Randy's solo albums in some ways, primarily through the heavier guitar sound and echoed drums (Cass' jazz days are way behind him at this point). The biggest improvement is in the band's consistency, as their subsequent prolific output would later prove. Standout tracks include "Thinking Of", "Enchanted Forest", and "The Prisoner" - the latter was even included in instrumental form on the first of three Guitar Speak albums. In particular, Raptures production level is quite high, their new label IRS. seemed to be putting a bit of promotional push behind the new release, and it seemed at the time that this might be the release that put Spirit back in the charts. But it was not to be. The next year, the new Spirit released Tent of Miracles on their own Dolphin label, which featured the solid bass work and songwriting of newcomer Mike Nile, who further deepened the sound and contributed one of the album's stronger tracks in the title song. Several other tracks, like "Zandu", an unusual "Stuttgart Says Good-Bye", the blues-based "Ship of Fools" and the concert smoker "Love From Here" rank among the best of Spirits more recent material. Tent of Miracles is truly a power trio effort, with Randy, Cass, and Mike Nile the only credited musicians, and with all three contributing compositions. Spirit decided this would be a good time to re-cap the band's illustrious history, and released two compilation CDs in the next couple of years. The first, Time Circle, is a double CD that covers the band's first four albums from 1967-1970, along with some previously unreleased material (all of it fantastic, by the way). Still, even with a compilation this strong, there were some glaring omissions (most notably "Elijah", one of only two tracks from the first album which were not included) and Spirit fans had to make do with that until the reissues came out in 1996 (although non-US pressings were available, if a bit pricey for US customers). This minor gripe aside, Time Circle is an excellent introduction to the original Spirit's material, and is highly recommended to those who may be hesitant to shell out the cash for all of the first four albums (though that path is highly recommended too). Shortly thereafter, Chronicles (1967-1992) was released. This compilation is entirely composed of previously unreleased material, some of it excellent. Many of the tracks are demo versions of songs that Randy recorded during the 1970s (around the time of Spirit of 76 and Son of Spirit), and these gentle tracks exude a certain charm. Other tracks include the 1967 chestnut "If I Had a Woman" (one of Randy's first Spirit songs; the middle section was later remade into "Jewish" from The Family that Plays Together), and a totally ripping version of "Elijah" (in response to this song's omission on the Time Circle collection). While a bit uneven considering the wide breadth of Spirit's musical styles over the years ("Elijah", "Stuck in L.A.", and "Lake of Love" are the three extremes), this collection is a must for fanatics. Concurrent with Chronicles, a five track CD single was released featuring an outstanding new version of "Natures Way" recorded as a duet with Sara Fleetwood (wife of Fleetwood Macs Mick Fleetwood), along with two other tracks from Chronicles, an unreleased track ("Fallen Hero") and a twenty-three minute interview with California and Cassidy. Inspired by the rekindled interest in the band as a result of these two compilations, Spirit put out their strongest live album to date, entitled Live at La Paloma (1995). California (vocals, guitar), Cassidy (drums), and Scott Monahan (vocals, keyboards, bass) handle nearly all the instrumental chores in heartfelt readings of many Spirit favorites and a few lengthy, spacey jams. Happily, Spirit pulls out a couple of surprises from the back catalog: "Give a Life, Take a Life" dates from the Clear album, and is rendered in a tearjerking acoustic guitar/harmonica version; likewise, the CD opens with a beautiful acoustic version of one of Sardonicus lesser known tracks, the sublime "Life Has Just Begun". Enjoying its most creative period since the late 70s, Spirit released the admirable California Blues in 1996. Matt Andes (slide guitar) is back in the band, and California's writing (by now commercial-sounding but never pandering) makes good use of the two guitar lineup. Also notable is the beautiful vocal work of Rachel Andes (as Spirit has proven, the family that plays together....). Once again using guest musicians, Spirit assembles a hall of fame of sorts for this release: Spencer Davis (whose "Gimme Some Lovin" is covered), Robbie Krieger, and Arthur Barrow all make notable appearances. Several very strong tracks are contained herein, including "Look Over Yonder" (co-written with Hendrix in 66), the bluesy "Song For Clyde", "The River" with its beautiful dual-guitar lead and gospel influence, the acoustic duet "Call On Me", and the rocking title track. Some blues standards like "Crossroads" and "Red House" are covered as well. Surprisingly, the CD includes five bonus tracks of (previously unreleased) older material, three of which were recorded live in 1967! While the sound quality on these bonus tracks leave a bit to be desired, they are a true treat for fans. By the end of 1996, Randy had assembled the contents for Spirit's next compilation, entitled The Mercury Years. Released in early 1997, this compilation finally sheds light on the undernoticed output of Spirit's 70s albums. Disc one is entirely devoted to Spirit of 76; it takes its best tracks (in fact every track from the original double album is included minus one) and ingeniously puts them in an entirely different sequence, in effect re-doing the album with a flow every bit as good as the original album, and with vastly improved sound to boot. Bravo! Disc two concentrates on Son of Spirit and Farther Along, with a few remixed tracks from Future Games included as well. While the material on these albums is inferior overall to Spirit of 76, it too benefits from superior sound and wisely chosen tracks. Sadly, Randy California did not live to see the release of The Mercury Years. His untimely death came as a shock to us all. Our only consolation is that his impressive body of work has once again reached the masses through the many excellent CD reissues and compilations. Goodbye, Randy, and thank you for your honesty, inspiration, and your faith in music. "In the future soon /
Beauty will find you /
And all of mankind /
Together binding you and me /
....It Shall Be....."
("It Shall Be" by California/Locke) [Editors Note: Since this article originally appeared in issue #13 of Exposť, two further Spirit discs have been released: (1) 1984 is a bootleg CD containing all the tracks from the original 1973 Potatoland, Plus additional early live tracks, including the heretofore unreleased concert favorite "You Make Me Jealous". (2) Cosmic Smile is a new disc of studio material (some with Spirit, some Randy California solo) recorded throughout the early nineties.] Thanks to the following persons who helpfully provided information pertinent to several historical details: Johan Bengtsson, Debbie Pollard, John Locke, Nick Moroney, and to Todd Bolton for the photo of Randy. This Article originally appeared in Exposť #13, Page 28
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