cream of the crate: cd review #42 – spirit: twelve dreams of dr. sardonicus
cream of the crate: cd review #42 – spirit: twelve dreams of dr. sardonicus
CD Cover – [CLICK to enlarge]

 

This review was originally posted on the first Toorak Times web site where publications ceased on that site in March 2017. The old site will be permanently closed in 2020 and these reviews are being re-published in order to preserve them on the current Toorak Times/Tagg site.

 

 

 

"A Blockbuster." - (Nick Tosches - Rolling Stone) _ "If you ever find 12 Dreams, buy it." - (Anthony Nownes - Music Columnist Metro Pulse)

Cream Of The Crate Reviews 1 to 50 were vinyl album reviews.  
The following fifty reviews (51 - 100) were originally marked as CD Reviews 1 - 50
and this numbering has been kept to keep consistency with the published CD reviews.

 

This is number forty two in the series of retro-reviews of Cd albums in my collection.

The series is called, “Cream of The Crate (CD’s)”, and they represent CD albums that I believe are of significant musical value, either because of their rarity, because they represent the best of a style or styles of music or because there is something unique about the group or the music.

The name of the group is Spirit and the CD is Twelve Dreams of Doctor Sardonicus.

It was released on the Epic label in 1989 and its code is CDEPC 32006.

cream of the crate: cd review #42 – spirit: twelve dreams of dr. sardonicus
Cd label from the latest release – [CLICK to enlarge]

 

The Cd is a reissue of the original vinyl album released in 1971. This version of the Cd mirrors the track listing of the vinyl album and has 12 tracks, mirroring the twelve dreams.

More recent re-re-releases on Cd have 4 more bonus tracks.

I originally purchased the vinyl album not long after it was released and it was played to death back in the shared house that I lived in, in Prahran. There is a good reason for this, it is a most excellent album and was very much an album for the “head”.

The music of Spirit has been labeled with more varieties than almost any other group.

Variously described as jazz rock/ hard rock / progressive rock / psychedelic and head music – the truth of the matter is, that all these labels are fairly worn!

The group had its formation in LA and the year was 1967. Randy California is credited in bringing together the initial four other members that made up Spirit.

There is no doubt that the heart of the group was indeed Randy California. He was a man immersed in music from a very young age and who indeed, grew up surrounded by music, as his uncle Ed Pearl, owned The Ash Grove – a music venue in Los Angeles.

cream of the crate: cd review #42 – spirit: twelve dreams of dr. sardonicus
Young Randy

 

Spirit was initially made up of:

Randy California / guitars, vocals
Jay Ferguson / vocals, percussion, keyboards
John Locke / piano, keyboards, moog synthesizer
Ed Cassidy / drums, percussion
Mark Andes / bass, vocals

cream of the crate: cd review #42 – spirit: twelve dreams of dr. sardonicus
Locke, Andes, Cassidy, California & Ferguson



The following gem of info came from an obituary written after Randy died in 1997 by Pierre Perron. “In 1966, when only 15, the precocious Californian Randy Wolfe met Hendrix in a New York music store. They got talking, played some slide and soon Hendrix was adding the nickname “California” to Randy’s name and asking him to sit in with his band, Jimmy James and the Blue Flames, at the Cafe Wha? in Greenwich Village.

The following three months (and five sets a night) had a lasting influence on both players; Hendrix was spotted the Animals’ bass-player Chas Chandler (who became his manager and brought him to London) while the under-age Randy eventually headed back to the West Coast and formed the psychedelic outfit Spirit, successfully merging jazz, blues and rock to create a truly progressive sound.

Yet he never tried to emulate Hendrix, he didn’t need to he had his own “genius”.

After his death, his step-father and Spirit drummer, Ed Cassidy said of California, “I consider Randy a genius. As a player, he was totally unique. He never tried to be Jimi Hendrix, or anything like that.

He played his thing, in his way.”

Following the release of the album, the Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus (aka Dr. Sardonicus), membership changed, and changed constantly.

Another 16 musicians lay claim to being members of the band right through to 1997.

Although leaving the band for short periods, only California and Cassidy were in the first and last incarnations of Spirit. In 1974 Randy California gained control over the group name “Spirit“.

The group produced 14 studio albums, 4 live albums and a massive 10 compilations, along with 7 singles.

Their first release was the 1968 self titled album “Spirit“, reached #3 in the US album charts.

Their second album, “The Family That Plays Together“, also released in the same year, rose to #2 on the US charts. now the group was gathering a large and dedicated following.

In 1970 the (legendary) Dr. Sardonicus was released and while it only reached #6 in the US charts, it became their first UK charting album, reaching #2.

Although not gaining the chart popularity many say it deserved, it is an album much in the same nature as Tommy, Electric Ladyland and Dark Side of the Moon – that is, an album that clearly broke new ground.

Like the others it added something to the human experience through the tales of the life experiences of the musicians through the compositions.

Three tracks from the album were released as singles but what blew most musicians away was, the lack of response from the public to what were three excellent tracks.

Certainly the use of the Moog synthesiser put the band in to the group of artists that were among the first to use it in a commercial venture, and, it features in When I Touch You, Space Child and Love Has Found a Way.

In regard to the album title, some reviewers have suggested that it was a reference to William Castle’s great 1963 horror flick Mr. Sardonicus. However, given the band had nicknamed their mixing desk, Dr. Sardonicus, I can’t help wondering if this has a more direct connection to the album title.

In 1970, Animal Zoo was released as a single backed up with Mr Skin, and then the following year Natures Way was backed up with a slightly reworked Mr Skin.

The singles reached #6, and #92 respectively.

The album Dr. Sardonicus went gold in June of 1976.

Tracklist

1. Prelude-Nothin’ To Hide – 3:32
2. Nature’s Way – 2:32
3. Animal Zoo – 3:19
4. Love has Found A Way – 2:42
5. Why Can’t I Be Free – 1:05
6. Mr. Skin – 3:50
7. Space Child – 3:25
8. When I Touch You – 5:38
9. Street Worm – 3:43
10. Life Has Just Begun – 3:31
11. Morning Will Come – 2:52
12. Soldier – 2:46

There are almost no known video clips of Spirit in its original form playing live, and so I have broken with my tradition of using four tracks and supplementing them with live video clips, and have chosen six of the tracks on this album, including the three released as singles.

cream of the crate: cd review #42 – spirit: twelve dreams of dr. sardonicus
Cassidy, California, Andes & Ferguson

 

Starting with track #1 Prelude: Nothing To Hide.

This is a ripper of a track, despite the somewhat confusing lyrics.

You can read into them what you want – a song warning about the man-made changes that are negatively affecting this world, or what’s in your pants!

What is undeniable is the guitar playing of California. From acoustic through to electric and, electronic, this is the track which not only opens an album, but opens our ears to a guitar genius.

Another thing to appreciate are the vocal harmonies although what the fuck, the off-the-wall “fuck” hidden in the lyrics is about, escapes me.

Prelude: Nothing To Hide

cream of the crate: cd review #42 – spirit: twelve dreams of dr. sardonicus
John Locke

 

Track #2Natures Way.

This is a definite warning that draws our attention to the fact that even while we set about polluting the planet, (maybe polluting ourselves?), nature has a way of letting us know that things are out of balance.

Any doubts about that are dispelled when as the track fades, we are left with the band coughing and spluttering, reminding us the LA was a city that was very smog driven back in the early 1970’s.

Sure Spirit were not the first group to draw attention to the ecology issues that were beginning to become an issue – hell the Yardbirds back in 1966 spoke of this matter on “Shapes of Things“, but then, no one was listening!

Although the track has a more ballad feel about it, this doesn’t stop Randy California in using his electric guitar skills to present us once again with some sweet licks.

I also really like the use of the tympani to add an extra dimension of drama. No doubt about it, the track fairly wears the title of the “prettiest” track on the album.

“It’s nature’s way of telling you something’s wrong
It’s nature’s way of telling you in a song
It’s nature’s way of receiving you
It’s nature’s way of retrieving you
It’s nature’s way of telling you something’s wrong

It’s nature’s way of telling you, it’s in the breeze
It’s nature’s way of telling you, dying trees
It’s nature’s way of receiving you
It’s nature’s way of retrieving you
It’s nature’s way of telling you something’s wrong

It’s nature’s way, it’s nature’s way
It’s nature’s way, it’s nature’s way

It’s nature’s way of telling you something’s wrong
It’s nature’s way of telling you in a song, oh
It’s nature’s way of receiving you (it’s nature’s way)
It’s nature’s way of retrieving you (it’s nature’s way)
It’s nature’s way of telling you something’s wrong
Something’s wrong
Something’s wrong”

Natures Way

 

Track #3 is Animal Zoo.

The track, released as a single, is indeed a very commercially sounding one.

Now to call a track “commercial” is not at all a put-down, but does reflect the capability of the group to reach a broad audience. Again the lyrics pay homage to the issues of ecology and pollution, particularly in the “Animal Zoo” – the big city!

cream of the crate: cd review #42 – spirit: twelve dreams of dr. sardonicus
Mark Andes



The track kicks off with some nice conga playing and a simple Randy riff sets up a track that has a melody that really sticks.

Mark Andes bass playing is a feature of the track. I love the way it’s been bought right out in the mix.

Now don’t think these guys were not without humour in their music you just have to note that along with the sarcasm is, at the end, a range of silly voices that suggests that maybe the guys recognised that the message was there, but probably was going to be ignored.

Animal Zoo

 

Track #6Mr Skin.

This is probably the closest thing to a perfect rock track on the album.

Now Mr Skin actually refers to drummer Ed Cassidy and I have to say, the drumming he lays down is most excellent.

As an aside, Cassidy was actually California’s step-father.

Cassidy, came from a jazz background and may have been the world’s oldest surviving rocker, after all, he was about 20 years older than the rest of the band.

He always wore black, performed the occasional solo with his bare hands and was nicknamed “Mr. Skin” for his shaved head.

Sadly he died in 2012 from Cancer.

cream of the crate: cd review #42 – spirit: twelve dreams of dr. sardonicus
Ed Cassidy

 

This track apart from being a real rocker, is quite magnificently infused with some great horn lines.

Mr Skin

The next track that really grabbed me was track #8When I Touch You.

This is indeed a very “spacey” if not “head” track.

Full of drama it kicks off with some tape reverse before a short pause (for dramatic effect), and then the band pours in behind the vocal delivery of Jay Ferguson.

I have enjoyed Ferguson’s voice throughout the album, but its this track that demonstrates his ability to sing both sweetly, and to really stretch his larynx.

Again the guitar work of California is aptly supported solid bass/drums combo, and it has some great effects that were not developed on the Moog, but rather from some very clever engineering.

cream of the crate: cd review #42 – spirit: twelve dreams of dr. sardonicus
Jay Ferguson

 

Having taken us up with the emotion of the music, the group beautifully drops right down, before slowly and surely bringing the track, and us the audience, up to a screaming climax!

What great piece of bass playing, and then the track slowly dies out, finishing with guitar, keyboards and hand-claps.

Whew!!!

When I Touch You

 

The final track for your consideration is track # 10Life Has Just Begun.

A most beautiful example of the collaboration between some beautiful poetry and some very beautiful music.

Yet, it’s not chinsy or sugary – it’s a declaration of life!

Written by California I struggled to find out why the track commences with a mention of Kiowa?

Sure the Kiowa are a nation of American Indians of the Great Plains, but somehow I don’t think this is what California was singing about.

To my knowledge he never married, but it leaves the possibility that he was talking about the mother of his child, Quinn. Certainly the lines about “you’ll be my bride” and “married in the dreams” , suggests this was in fact – what he wanted!

“Oh hey Kiowa, I know your name
Catch me a glancing with one of your eye
So much we are chancing if we said good, Ohh
Softly say you’ll be my bride and
our hopes all sun and feel
Say you’ll always be here my side
With the hopes all constantly ohh
We walked in the dream and we knew it was
Married in the dreams
Strange as it seemed that we knew because
Because life has just begun
Life has just begun, life has just begun
Because life has just begun

Hey Kiowa, I know your name
Hey Kiowa, I know your name
Walking in that sunny hour
I even know your names Atowa
No war on the rocky hour
I meet some people of desire
Walked in the dream and we knew it was
Strange as it seemed that we knew because
Because life has just begun
Life has just begun, life has just begun
life has just begun, life has just begun
Because life has just begun
Because life has just begun”
(Repeat To Fade)

Life Has Just Begun

 

There has been an on-going court case against Led Zepplin on behalf of the estate of Randy, claiming that Led Zepplin “ripped off” the music of Randy, as recorded on the track “Taurus” from that first album – Spirit.

In particular is the “notable” Zepplin run in Stairway To Heaven. Is it the the most amazing coincidence, given Zepplin Toured with Spirit for a short while, that prior to writing “Stairway”,  Zepplin were exposed to playing Taurus?

Here is that track, you listen and decide for yourself. Pay particular attention to the piece commencing at around 0:45 and 1:37sec.

A section of Taurus


Very sadly Randy California passed away in 1997, doing something he loved with his son.

To celebrate the New Year, Randy and his 12-year-old son Quinn went swimming off the coast of Molokai, in Hawaii.

A tidal wave caught them both but Randy managed to push his son away from the riptide toward the shore before he was himself pulled out to sea.

The guitarist’s body has never been recovered.

cream of the crate: cd review #42 – spirit: twelve dreams of dr. sardonicus
Randy Wolfe (California)



Randy Wolfe (Randy California), guitarist, singer, songwriter: born Los Angeles 20 February 1951; died Molokai, Hawaii 2 January 1997.

So is this a masterpiece of an album?

No! I don’t believe it is.

Those albums are albums such as Sergeant Pepper, Electric Ladyland and The Dark Side of the Moon.

However, it is an excellent album with brilliant moments and is a must in any record collection that includes the music of the 1970’s.

The 1996 re-release has four bonus tracks, but they add little to the overall quality of the album.

A quick check on Ebay revealed that the Cd is available for around $16.00 (free postage), new re-released vinyl albums at about $50,00 (inc postage), and second hand albums for about $25.00 (inc postage).


VIDEOS:

Sadly I could only fine one video clip featuring the original line up of Spirit from the every early years. So I have featured it along with a few other clips with randy California and Ed Cassidy.

 

A 1970 clip – the only one known of featuring the original lineup of Spirit!

 

Natures Way

 

I Got A Line On You


Previous Cream of The Crate Albums:

 

To view/listen the first 50 vinyl album reviews just click the image below –

cream of the crate cd review #2 : robert johnson – the complete recordings

 

Click to open the following CD reviews:

#1. The Fugs: The Fugs First Album

#2. Robert Johnson – The Complete Recordings

#3. Bob Dylan – Biograph

#4. Robin Trower – Essential

#5. Various Artists – Sixties Down Under Compilation

#6. Various Artists – The Big Ol’ Box of New Orleans

#7. Hugh Masekela – African Breeze: 80’s

#8. The Last Poets – The Very Best of the Last Poets

#9. Sister Rosetta Tharpe – Down By The Riversiide

#10. Various Artists – Sixties Down Under: Vol. 2

#11. The Beatles – On Air: Live at BBC Vol.2

#12. The Rolling Stones – Singles Collection: The London Years

#13. Compilation: Girl Groups Of The Sixties

#14. The Byrds – There Is A Season [Boxed Set]

#15. Various Artists – Sixties Down Under: Volume 4

#16. Howling Wolf – The London Sessions

#17. The Who – Thirty Years of Maximum R&B

#18. Thomas Dolby – Hyperactive

#19. Various Artists – Love Is the Song We Sing: San Francisco Nuggets 1965 – 1970

#20. Various Artists: 60’s Down Under – Volume 4

#21. 2nu – Ponderous

#22. The Great Eric Clapton and The Yardbirds [Boxed Set]

#23. The Sue Records Story: New York City – The Sound of Soul

#24. Various Artists – The Encyclopedia of Boogie Woogie

#25. Cam-Pact – Psychedelic Pop ‘n Soul: 1967 – 1969

#26. The Clash – The Singles

#27. Arthur Brown – Fire: The Story of Arthur Brown

#28. Various Artists – Red Hot & Blue: Col Porter Tribute

#29. Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros – Global a Go Go

#30 – Jeff St John’s Copper Wine – Joint Effort

#31 – John Lee Hooker – Boogie Man

#32. Jefferson Airplane – Jefferson Airplane

#33. Various Artists – The Ultimate Guitar Survival Guide

#34. Muddy Waters – The Real Folk Blues / More Real Folk Blues

#35. Dave Hole – The Plumber

#36. Sly & The Family Stone – Stand

#37. The Pretty Things – Latest Writes [The Best of]

#38. Fats Waller – Aint Misbehavin’

#39. The Kinks – The Ultimate Collection

#40. Ross Wilson – Now Listen (The Best of)

#41. New Riders of the Purple Sage – The Best Of