Ed Cassidy: Drummer and mainstay of the LA psychedelic band Spirit
Wednesday 30 January 2013
With his bald head, black clothes and unusual kit – incorporating two huge parade bass drums – Ed Cassidy was the instantly recognisable drummer with Spirit, the Los Angeles psychedelic group fondly remembered for the infectious, harmony-heavy, 1969 US hit "I Got A Line On You" and the FM radio favourite "Mr Skin", a 1970 tune his nickname inspired. For three decades he was a mainstay and the spiritual leader of the many incarnations of the band he formed in 1967 with his stepson, the guitarist Randy California.
They were LA contemporaries of Arthur Lee & Love and, like them, embodied the freedom of the hippie era. "What I wanted was a band with no categories that could attempt anything, any style, and make it their own," he said. However, their distinctive blend of rock, pop, Latin, jazz and classical influences often proved too esoteric for the mainstream, though their 1970 album Twelve Dreams Of Dr Sardonicus has gone on to sell 500,000 copies, while the cult release Potato Land made the British charts in 1981.
Born on an Illinois farm in 1923, he grew up in Bakersfield, California, to where his family moved during the 1930s depression. His father died when he was young; his stepfather played the fiddle and instilled in him a love of all kinds of music, from country & western to Dixieland and big band jazz. He turned professional, though his career as a big band drummer was interrupted by two years in the Navy during the Second World War.
He took odd jobs before returning to music, at one time playing 282 consecutive one-nighters in 17 states in and around the Midwest with a showband. He also had a short stint with the San Francisco Opera before enrolling in a State Teachers College in 1950. Realising that teaching was not for him he moved to Los Angeles, where he worked with Gerry Mulligan, Art Pepper and Cannonball Adderley.
He became tired of his jazz-sideman role, and in 1964 he joined the Rising Sons – "Ry Cooder was on guitar, Taj Mahal played guitar and sang."By late 1965 he was dating, and eventually married, Randy Wolfe's recently divorced mother, Bernice Pearl, and formed the Red Roosters with Wolfe, vocalist Jay Ferguson and bassist Mark Andes. They won a talent show and played a few gigs, but in 1966 the Cassidys moved to New York. It was there that Jimi Hendrix gave Randy his "California" sobriquet, but failed to convince his mother and stepfather to let the 15 year-old accompany him to London. The next year Cassidy, his new wife and California returned to Los Angeles, where they recruited pianist John Locke before teaming up with Ferguson and Andes again.
Originally known as Spirits Rebellious, after a book by the mystic Kahlil Gibran, a favourite of the flower-power generation, they had become Spirit by the time they signed to Ode Records, the label started by Lou Adler. He produced Spirit's eponymous 1968 debut album, which made the US Top 40 and contained the atmospheric, finger-picking instrumental "Taurus", which inspired "Stairway To Heaven" by Led Zeppelin, who shared the bill with Spirit several times in 1969. The success of "I Got A Line On You" helped The Family That Plays Together, the second album, whose title referenced the Cassidy-California relationship and the fact that the group lived communally in Topanga Canyon, into the Top 30.
Spirit then participated in the film Model Shop, directed in the US by Jacques The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg Demy, who had seen Spirit in a club and considered them ideal for his attempt to capture the aftermath of the Summer of Love. But he spoke no English, the group no French. The fraught project failed to capitalise on the star pairing of Anouk Aimée, the leading lady of Claude Lelouch's Man And A Woman, and Gary Lockwood, fresh from 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Spirit's mostly instrumental score was only issued in full in 2005. Nevertheless, Clear Spirit, their third album, and the ominous single "1984", made the US charts and they enlisted Neil Young producer David Briggs for Dr Sardonicus, arguably their finest and most focused release.
Ferguson and Andes left to form Jo Jo Gunne in 1971, and after California had a horse-riding accident Cassidy and Locke added Al and John Staehely and recorded the much-maligned Feedback. In 1972 Cassidy and California worked on the Kapt Kopter And The (Fabulous) Twirlybirds album, touring Europe and appearing on The Old Grey Whistle Test in 1973.
Now a power trio with bassist Barry Keene, they recaptured former glories on the critically acclaimed 1975 albums Spirit of '76 – which included Hendrix and Bob Dylan covers – and Son Of Spirit, before reuniting with Locke and Andes for Farther Along, their last release to make the US charts. Cassidy and California recorded a further six albums and remained a popular concert draw in the US, Germany and Britain. The guitarist drowned in 1997 while rescuing his son from a riptide off an Hawaiian island.
From the mid-'70s, when Cassidy wasn't gigging, hosting drum clinics or lecturing about the perils of the music industry, he acted, appearing in the TV series General Hospital and films like 2010. He died of cancer.
Edward Claude Cassidy, drummer, songwriter and actor: born Illinois 4 May 1923; twice married (one daughter); died San Jose, California 6 December 2012.
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