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  • Writer's pictureJay EuDaly

Cognitive Dissonance Incarnate

Updated: Jan 16

My encounter with Randy California and Ed Cassidy


One day in early 1981 I got a call from my friend and fellow musician Rick Chael. Rick sings and plays guitar and piano.


Me & Rick Chael in April of 1977

"How would you like to put together a little duo set with me and open for Spirit at the Uptown Theater?"


"Ok" I said, without really thinking it through. I thought it would be awesome to meet Randy California!


For those of you who don't know:


Spirit was a late-sixties rock band that had several hits - both singles and albums. Songs I remember from that era would be, "I Got a Line on You," "Nature's Way" and "1984" as well as the album "Twelve Dreams of Dr Sardonicus."


Wikipedia says,


"According to AllMusic, Spirit was an "Ambitious and acclaimed West Coast psychedelic band that fused hard rock to jazz, blues, country, and folk." ...Spirit "had an eclectic musical style in keeping with the early days of progressive rock" and they "seemed determined to out-eclecticize everybody else on the California psychedelic scene, with [their] melange of rock, jazz, blues, folk-rock, and even a bit of classical and Indian music." Robert Christian wrote that Randy California was, "the rock equivalent of the cool, progressive jazzman of the '50s".


I wasn't that much of a Spirit fan; I fanatically followed Cream and Hendrix during the late sixties, but I was aware of the band and the songs mentioned above.


Speaking of Hendrix, I knew that Randy California, who was the guitarist, singer and main creative force of the band had, at age 15, been in New York playing with Jimmy James and the Blue Flames, which was Hendrix's band at the time that he was discovered by Chaz Chandler, who extracted Hendrix from America to England, and the rest is history.


Even the stage name "Randy California" (real name was Randy Craig Wolfe) was given to him by Hendrix to distinguish him from another Randy in the band, Randy Palmer, whom Hendrix dubbed "Randy Texas".


So...I was going to get to meet Randy California, and be 2 degrees of separation from Jimi Hendrix - one of my all-time favorite guitar heros - even though he had been dead for over 10 years, not to mention being one degree of separation from Randy California himself!


Randy California in 1969
Randy California, 1969 (Image credit: Paul Natkin/Getty Images)

It was when I showed up to play the gig that I began to have second thoughts, but it was way too late by then.


With no band, Rick and I had worked up an acoustic set. Me on guitar and singing, and him on guitar, piano and vocals. I remember maybe doing some originals, James Taylor and Van Morrison covers and whatnot. Pretty laidback and mellow. And here we were, getting ready to play to a packed house, full of people who were there to hear psychedelic rock fusion!


I had the sudden and disturbing realization that the potential for a crash-and-burn was pretty high.


To top it off, my encounter with Randy California was less than stellar.


We played our set and got through it ok. Nobody booed and there was polite applause as we left the stage.


Heading back to our dressing room, I literally ran into Randy in a narrow backstage stairwell. I stuck out my hand and said,


"Hey man, it's good to meet you!"


His countenance was very dark and withdrawn; he didn't shake my hand, he wouldn't make eye contact and a scowl and a grunt was his only response as he squeezed by me. He struck me as being neurotically antisocial.


Well...I was a little dejected, sitting in the dressing room with Rick after our set. At least we weren't booed off the stage and it wasn't my fault that Randy was a douche. Actually, I kinda had some compassion for the guy because I had noticed the band was traveling in a van and a U-Haul trailer. Not even an old tour bus.


That's quite a downgrade from just a few years before. I'd be in a bad mood too.


Anyway, me and Rick are sitting in our dressing room after our set and in bursts this old bald guy like a tornado, with the biggest, thickest drumsticks I'd ever seen. The dude was amped 220; he was banging on the door, chairs, walls, the mirrored table and talking a mile-a-minute, bouncing off the walls!


"Hey man! I'm the drummer for Spirit! You guys were amazing! Talk about balls, man! You walked out there with nothing but an acoustic guitar and piano and held that rock crowd for 45 minutes, man! They were actually quiet and listening! You guys got some fuckin' cajones right there! Way to go!" - and on and on.


I began to feel better about our performance.


"It's nice to be affirmed by somebody in the big leagues!" I thought, "Maybe it wasn't so bad."


At the same time I thought this guy was way wrong to be playing with Spirit. First of all, he was older than my dad...literally. Secondly, his energy level was waaay over the top. Very disproportionate to the environment. It didn't line up with my idealized concept of the stoned, laid-back hippie ethos. Thirdly, keep in mind that Spirit was a million-selling psychedelic late sixties rock band, trying to adapt right at the beginning of the 80's hair metal thing. Nobody had a shaved head in those days! He reminded me of Uncle Festus in the old Addams Family TV show. This guy was the visual antithesis to everything rock was about - in both eras! He was like incarnated cognitive dissonance.


Spirit with Randy California and Ed Cassidy

Spirit with Randy California and Ed Cassidy

I stood backstage and watched from the wings as Spirit performed. I couldn't have been more wrong about the guy. That drummer, even though he was visually disjunct, was a freak-of-nature powerhouse! Sweat pouring off his body, bald head glistening in the lights, hitting the drums hard with those gigantic, thick drumsticks. He had more energy and stage-presence than anyone else onstage - who were all half his age. He was a monster player!


Ed Cassidy

At the time, I didn't know anything about him; I just appreciated him coming into our dressing room and being so positive and affirming. He had much more of an impact on me than my few moments with Randy California. After all these years, I've never forgotten him, but for some reason I never made any attempt to find out who he was.


In December of 2012 I began to see news articles on the death of Ed Cassidy, the drummer for Spirit, and realized that was the guy who had burst into our dressing room at the Uptown in 1981!


I learned he was Randy California's stepfather. He was one of the founders of Spirit in 1967, along with Randy, who was 17 at the time. He was the only band member who lasted the entire run of the band; even Randy California stepped away for a period of time in 1972, after a horse-riding accident. That's various line-ups of Spirit on almost 20 albums over 30 years. Spirit finally disbanded in 1997 following California's death. He drowned in Hawaii at age 45 while saving his son from a riptide.


I learned even more; Ed Cassidy began his career as a professional musician in 1937. At one time in the late 1940's, he played 282 consecutive one-nighters in 17 states. During the fifties, he played with some of the biggest names in Jazz, including Art Pepper, Cannonball Adderly, Roland Kirk, Lee Konitz and Jerry Mulligan.


I read an interview with him where he said that when, as a jazz player, he first heard rock-n-roll, it was a come-to-Jesus moment; he KNEW that was what he was supposed to do! Makes total sense considering his over-the-top personality.


In 1964 he formed a band called Rising Sons with Taj Mahal and Ry Cooder. In 1965 he formed the Red Roosters with his 14-year-old stepson Randy, and they morphed into Spirit in 1967.


Wish I'd known all that back in 1981 when he burst into our dressing room.


Ed Cassidy died of cancer in San Jose at the age of 89, December 6, 2012.


Ed Cassidy

 

P.S. In trying to pin down the date of that show at the Uptown Theater in Kansas City, I knew it had to be in the eighties. All Rick Chael could come up with was,


"Something like that."


I found a history of shows on the Uptown's website and that show was nowhere to be found. My friend Mark Valentine, who booked the Uptown in the eighties saw the page and said that there was a LOT of shows not listed.


In the midst of all my googling I did find this; a bootleg perhaps? Sounds like a Front-of-House board mix. The song, "1984" recorded live at the Uptown Theater, Kansas City, April 24, 1981:


Randy California with Spirit live at the Uptown Theater, Kansas City 24 April 1981

I also found a history of Spirit shows and personel that ran the whole 30 years. It didn't list the Uptown show specifically, but did show this:

Spirit family tree and performances

The version of Spirit that we opened for was 4 pieces. The previous version was 3 pieces; the following version was 3 pieces, the version after that was 5 pieces.


Putting all this together it seems a reasonable conclusion that April 24, 1981 was the date of the show that Rick and I opened for Spirit at the Uptown Theater.


BTW: see the 1st show in the image above? The show with Morning Star in 1979? I know those guys! I bought a '72 Telecaster from my friend Jerry Chambers, who was the lead guitarist with Morning Star. Jerry passed away a little over a year ago; I wish he was still around so we could swap Ed Cassidy stories!

 

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20 hours ago

Uncle Fester....Not Festus; that's Gunsmoke.

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