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SPIRIT

Spirit

 

Proto-Prog

3.53 | 91 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

siLLy puPPy
4 stars Rising out of the ashes of a prior band called The Rising Sons centered around The Ash Grove venue in mid-1960s Los Angeles, a new band emerged from many bands that frequented that same establishment. The members included percussionist Ed Cassidy, lead vocalist Jay Ferguson, bassist Mark Andes and guitarist Rnady California. The like minded musical misfits started a folk rock band called Red Roosters where they managed to score the odd high school dances and small venues around L.A. but after taking a hiatus and a cross-country trip to New York City Randy California had the chance to briefly play with Jimi Hendrix in Jimmy James and the Blue Flames but ultimately was denied moving with the band to London by his parents due to his tender young age of 15. Slightly dismayed he had to head back to California to reform his prior band and with the addition of keyboardist John Locke, he and the other Red Roosters team opted to change their name to Spirits Rebellious and that's when the true magic started to gel.

Joining in on the "Summer Of Love" hippie scene after a trip to Griffith Park, the members of the band rented an entire house in Topanga Canyon and lived together with significant others, children, pets and pretty much everything else. This is the time where the inspiration for SPIRIT's eponymously titled debut album came from. After truncating their name to simply SPIRIT, the band started to make waves by having an utterly unique sound that took the disparate styles of 60s folk and psychedelic rock and married them with the more progressive jazz-fusion styles that were emerging. The band hit upon the right sound and found success with their debut which hit #31 on the Billboard chart and found a significant amount of FM radio play as well. Likewise they were successful on the touring circuit because of not only their unique sound but their oddball appearance due to drummer Ed Cassidy's skinhead look which set him apart from the long-haired hippie scene of the era.

While SPIRIT's debut is probably better known 50 years later as the album that Jimmy Page stole the beginning riffs of "Stairway To Heavena," the irony is that in their humble beginnings, Led Zeppelin actually opened up for SPIRIT and it has been determined that Page also was inspired in many other ways as well including using the theremin mounted to his amplifier as well as some of the progressive out-of-the-box ideas that SPIRIT deftly utilized. Unfortunately despite the similarities of "Stairway To Heaven's" opening arpeggiated riff with that of SPIRIT's "Taurus," a copyright infringement suit was unsuccessful in a legal sense but in retrospect has gained SPIRIT some sort of publicity albeit in a roundabout way which is better than nothing i suppose. The court of public opinion seems to have sided the other way around however it has also been claimed that the riff originated in 1659 in a classical composition called "Sonata di Chittara, e Violino, con il duo Basso Continuo" by Italian composer Giovanni Battista Granata.

Listening to SPIRIT's debut album and thinking of them touring with Zeppelin seems like an odd match. While Zeppelin rocked the house with ballsy bluesy bravado, SPIRIT is much more subdued with an earthy folk and even psychedelic rock feel that gentle flows with a more sophisticated jazz-rock compositional approach sort of like a proto-style of Steely Dan if you will. While the tracks are diverse, they pretty much follow a strange yet pleasant path down a mellow folk tinged vocal style where Ferguson does his best Byrds impersonation while Locke on keyboards and Cassidy provide a more jazzified rhythmic groove. California's guitar straddles somewhere in between folky blues and jazz. While most tracks side on the folk rock aspects, the final near eleven minute track displays some of the most progressive oriented rock of 1968 with the closer "Elijah" which unleashes the full on jazz-fusion and time signature freak outs. This track has been a staple in live settings where the band would take turns improvising solos. There are parts in this one that make me think Golden Earring developed "Radar Love" from this one as well.

SPIRIT was an amazing band that didn't really get their just dessert. While achieving minor success during their heyday, it seems that they were more successful in inspiring other artists than actually achieving greatness themselves. Their debut was really ahead of its time and despite the critics lauding words of praise, they failed to attract the masses in droves to their musical cause. SPIRIT delivers a subtle but powerful sort of sound. It never really rocks the house but rather wriggles around a strange jazzy lounge lizard labyrinth of chord progressions with idiosyncratic intricacies and therefore isn't one of those albums that is instantly catchy but rather demands a little time to let it sink in unless the listener is well-steeped in progressive rock and jazz-fusion constructs. Personally i find SPIRIT to be an unsung hero of the 60s as i hear all kinds of juicy tidbits that seem to have inspired future artists in the 70s who took them to the next level. While SPIRIT's future releases would get more adventurous, the debut is a nice gentle mix of a classic 60s feel with subtle complexities. A very nice mix indeed.

siLLy puPPy | 4/5 |

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