Spirit – It Shall Be, The Ode & Epic Recordings 1968-1972

Spirit – It Shall Be, The Ode & Epic Recordings 1968-1972

This 5CD clamshell box set, reissued by Esoteric Recordings this year, consists of one of the most legendary bands to come out of the West Coast psychedelic scene, Spirit. Formed from the Red Roosters in 1967, Spirit often flew under the radar and were regularly overlooked in the late ‘60s, but contained the late great Randy California in their ranks, just 16 years old when he played with Jimi Hendrix after first meeting at Manny’s Music in New York. California also made a guest appearance on Peter Hammill’s third studio album, The Silent Corner And The Empty Stage, on a track called Red Shift.

Alongside Randy California, the band featured Ed Cassidy on drums (Randy’s stepfather), John Locke on keyboards, Jay Ferguson on vocals and Mark Andes on bass guitar. Spirit were signed in late 1967 to Lou Adler’s Ode Records which was just starting up.

Now on to the discs. The first contains the self-titled debut album and original 1968 stereo mix of The Family That Plays Together; the second disc consists their score for Jacques Demy’s Model Shop and Clear; the third disc is The Twelve Dreams Of Doctor Sardonicus and Feedback; the fourth is the 1968 mono mix of their self-titled debut album, sessions, and mixes from the Time Circle compilation; and the fifth continues Time Circle with additional sessions and singles.

Let’s take a look at some of the centrepieces that go beyond the psychedelic sound, with folk, jazz, and classical influences that was also part of the Spirit sound. The catchiness of Mr. Skin, which Juicy Lucy covered on their 1971 album Get A Whiff Of This, has a swampy groove featuring horn section, bass, vocals, organ – and of course some cowbell. The song title came from Ed Cassidy’s nickname because of his shaved head.

Nature’s Way is both an acoustic and electric ballad. I almost felt a tug towards Buffalo Springfield, the song dealing with the preparations for a dystopian universe that Randy describes in the song. It’s a mournful and emotional song with an already doomed Earth, one person screwing it up for everybody and it has gone horribly wrong.

Fresh Garbage is a great way to start the box set with a bang. You have the midsection walking ballad-waltz in a Thelonious Monk style, Mark’s bass riff intro, Randy’s pre-Amon Duul II guitar rhythm, Ed’s drums, and Jay’s vocals singing about the environment, describing the futuristic atmosphere and the effects of pollution on Taurus (I’m not going to talk about the Led Zeppelin court case) with its haunting string section. The exquisite playing between Randy and John Locke make this a spiritual retreat.

The Girl In Your Eye is Spirit taking a Raga-Rock approach featuring sitar and looking for questions and answers, along with the mystery of who the girl in the song really is and if you can trust her or not, while the classic I Got A Line On You, which has been covered by Alice Cooper, Jeff Healey Band, Max Webster’s Kim Mitchell and Blackfoot, is a song that refuses to die. It reached number 25 in the Top 100 in the States and number 28 in Canada. You have the funk guitar/piano riff that is revved up in a journey to unbelievable locations. Chelsea Girls sees Spirit moving away from their psychedelic approach and into the country rock sound. Al and John Christian Staehely replaced Jay Ferguson and Mark Andes who formed Jo Jo Gunne, shortly before Randy’s departure to pursue a solo career.

Al successfully nails those soul-like vocals, as if he’s riding down the highway as J. Christian follows suit with some hard approach on his guitar, and on Cadillac Cowboys I can hear Al tugging towards the straightforward ‘70s blues rock style of Paul Rodgers of Free and Bad Company fame, and the Welsh group Man. It is a Vaudeville meets rock style, thanks to Ed’s drumming introduction.

Spirit then goes into the Motown mid-‘60s sound that has its essence in the intro of Marvin Gaye’s I Heard It Through The Grapevine on Mellow Fellow. And then we get a psychedelic conga melody in the style of Ray Charles as Randy slides into some incredible improvisations that shows that he’s more than just an incredible guitar player as he opens the doors for the listener to embark on their next journey with the band.

1984 is a nod to George Orwell and the nightmarish doors opening to take over the rest of the city. The bass and guitar riffs set up the wasteland, Big Brother watching your every move. California himself describes what will happen next, it is not going to be easy but go ahead and plan to get out of there as soon as possible.

The 10-minute Elijah gives Spirit a chance to bring in a jazz rock sound, showing their chops from a ballad-like waltz into some mind-blowing improvisations, Randy going through a mad guitar workout, John Locke adding some Guaraldi-esque keyboard work as Andes’ bass modulates.

There are moments when the band are in pre-Soft Machine’s Third mode, ‘Igginbottom’s Wrench, the Peanuts gang, and Coltrane thrown in for some free-jazz momentum. They take turns creating improvs by going up the spiral staircase as Ed takes over on his drum kit. He embraces the essence of Buddy Rich and Elvin Jones as he brings the energy before the band hit the crescendo waltz-like finale.

While Randy, Ed, and John have passed on into the afterlife, Spirit was ahead of their time. This box set gives an insight into this overlooked band that deserves the recognition they are finally getting. This is a set that comes highly recommended if you are new to the music of Spirit and ready to discover more than just the big names of The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Cream and The Doors.

The 20-page booklet contains archival interviews with Ed Cassidy and Randy California, along with pictures of the band, a poster of Demy’s Model Shop, album artwork, and a history of the band by Malcolm Dome. So, it’s time to go back and listen to one of the most important yet underrated bands to come out of the West Coast scene.

Disc One
01. Fresh Garbage (3:11)
02. Uncle Jack (2:43)
03. Mechanical World (5:15)
04. Taurus (2:37)
05. Girl in your Eye (3:15)
06. Straight Arrow (2:51)
07. Topanga Windows (3:36)
08. Gramophone Man (3:49)
09. Water Woman (2:11)
10. The Great Canyon (2:46)
11. Elijah (10:42)
12. I’ve Got a Line on You (Original 1968 Stereo Mix) (2:36)
13. It Shall Be (Original 1968 Stereo Mix) (3:02)
14. Poor Richard (Original 1968 Stereo Mix) (2:28)
15. Silky Sam (Original 1968 Stereo Mix) (3:48)
16. The Drunkard (Original 1968 Stereo Mix) (2:27)
17. Darlin’ If (Original 1968 Stereo Mix) (3:39)
18. All the Same (Original 1968 Stereo Mix) (4:47)
19. Jewish (Original 1968 Stereo Mix) (2:48)
20. Dream Within a Dream (Original 1968 Stereo Mix) (3:02)
21. She Smiled (Original 1968 Stereo Mix) (2:24)
22. Aren’t You Glad (Original 1968 Stereo Mix) (5:34)

Time – 79:46

Disc Two
01. The Moving Van (1:56)
02. Mellow Fellow (2:50)
03. Now or Anywhere (4:39)
04. Fog (2:25)
05. Green Gorilla (2:13)
06. Model Shop I (2:22)
07. Model Shop II (4:09)
08. The Rehearsal Theme (1:11)
09. Song for Lola (5:47)
10. Eventide (3:56)
11. Coral (4:22)
12. Aren’t You Glad? (Demo) (5:28)
13. Dark Eyed Woman (3:08)
14. Apple Orchard (4:05)
15. So Little Time to Fly (2:49)
16. Ground Hog (3:03)
17. Cold Wind (3:24)
18. Policeman’s Ball (2:21)
19. Ice (5:49)
20. Give a Life, Take a Life (3:21)
21. I’m Truckin’ (2:26)
22. Clear (4:09)
23. Caught (3:12)
24. New Dope in Town (4:23)

Time – 83:21

Disc Three
01. Prelude – Nothing to Hide (3:43)
02. Nature’s Way (2:40)
03. Animal Zoo (3:10)
04. Love Has Found a Way (2:42)
05. Why Can’t I Be Free? (1:05)
06. Mr. Skin (4:01)
07. Space Child (3:25)
08. When I Touch You (5:37)
09. Street Worm (3:43)
10. Life Has Just Begun (3:29)
11. Morning Will Come (2:50)
12. Soldier (2:47)
13. Rougher Road (Bonus Track) (3:21)
14. Chelsea Girls (3:29)
15. Cadillac Cowboys (3:57)
16. Puesta del Scam (2:01)
17. Ripe and Ready (3:52)
18. Darkness (4:47)
19. Earth Shaker (3:54)
20. Mellow Morning (2:22)
21. Right on Time (2:47)
22. Trancas Fog-Out (2:37)
23. Witch (5:21)

Time – 77:33

Disc Four
01. Fresh Garbage (Mono Mix) (3:12)
02. Uncle Jack (Mono Mix) (2:44)
03. Mechanical World (Mono Mix) (5:13)
04. Taurus (Mono Mix) (2:35)
05. Girl In Your Eye (Mono Mix) (3:06)
06. Straight Arrow (Mono Mix) (2:49)
07. Topanga Windows (Mono Mix) (3:32)
08. Gramophone Man (Mono Mix) (3:51)
09. Water Woman (Mono Mix) (2:08)
10. The Great Canyon Fire in General (Mono Mix) (2:47)
11. Elijah (Mono Mix) (10:44)
12. Versuka (2:51)
13. Free Spirit (4:27)
14. If I Had a Woman (3:12)
15. Elijah (Alternate Take 2) (9:42)
16. I Got a Line on You (Time Circle Mix) (2:48)
17. It Shall Be (Time Circle Mix) (3:28)
18. Poor Richard (Time Circle Mix) (2:29)
19. Silky Sam (Time Circle Mix) (4:12)

Time – 76:03

Disc Five
01. Scherozode (Time Circle Mix) (2:13)
02. All the Same (Time Circle Mix) (4:41)
03. A Dream Within a Dream (Time Circle Mix) (3:01)
04. Aren’t You Glad (Time Circle Mix) (5:35)
05. Eventide (Time Circle Mix) (4:22)
06. Model Shop Theme (Time Circle Mix) (2:58)
07. Green Gorilla (Time Circle Mix) (2:19)
08. Rehearsal Theme (Time Circle Mix) (1:14)
09. Fog (2:26)
10. So Little to Say (3:01)
11. Mellow Fellow (3:49)
12. Now or Anywhere (4:23)
13. Space Chile (6:26)
14. Fuller Brush Man (3:21)
15. Coral (2:04)
16. 1984 (3:39)
17. Sweet Stella Baby (2:58)
18. Animal Zoo (Mono Single Version) (3:05)
19. Red Light Roll On (5:44)
20. Morning Will Come (Mono Mix) (2:50)

Time – 70:21

Total Time – 387:04

Randy California – Guitar, Vocals (discs 1-5, disc 3 tracks 1-13)
Ed Cassidy – Drums, Percussion (discs 1-5)
Jay Ferguson – Vocals, Percussion, Keyboards (discs 1-5, disc 3 tracks 1-13)
Al Staehlely – Bass Guitar, Vocals (disc 3 tracks 14-23)
John Christian Staehely – Guitar, Vocals (disc 3 tracks 14-23)
John Locke – Keyboards (discs 1-5)
Mark Andes – Bass Guitar (discs 1-5, disc 3 tracks 1-13)

Record Label: Esoteric Recordings
Catalogue Number: ECLEC 52619
Date of Release: 16th March 2018

Spirit – Info at Cherry Red Records