Take 5: Ed Cassidy

Ed Cassidy was a force of nature. A jazz drummer who fully and enthusiastically embraced rock and roll, he was the co-founder and sole constant member of Spirit from its start in 1967 through its end three decades later. Cassidy was also one of rock’s oldest artists: born May 4, 1923, this year marks 100 years since his birth (he passed away in 2012 at age 89). He cut a memorable figure not only for his excellent and visually arresting playing style, but for his shaved head (an uncommon look in the rock world of the ‘60s).

Cassidy’s work with Spirit (co-led by his stepson, guitarist Randy California) is among his most well-known, but with equal parts power and finesse, the versatile drummer played on many other projects with many other artists. Here are five highlights from the celebrated musical career of Ed Cassidy.

Rising Sons – “Statesboro Blues” (1966) – For a variety of reasons (one likely being that its lead singer was a Black man – the record company didn’t really know what to do with the Rising Sons. The Los Angeles group had talent to burn, with drummer Cassidy, guitarist Ry Cooder and vocalist Taj Mahal, each soon to find well-deserved fame on their own and with other projects. But in ‘66, neither this reading of a blues classic or their excellent version of “Take a Giant Step” (soon to be popularized by the Monkees) convinced their label, and the songs went unheard and/or unreleased for years. Ed Cassidy was already 43 when he recorded this song.

Rainbow Red Oxidizer – “Elevator Girl” (1980) – This catchy slice of new wave/power pop comes courtesy of Rainbow Red Oxidizer, a group populated with rock veterans. In addition to Ed Cassidy on drums, the group included Dennis Edmonton aka Mars Bonfire, the composer of Steppenwolf’s “Born to Be Wild.” The 1980 LP Recorded Lies would be the only release from the band. Cassidy was 57 when he cut this track.

Randy California – “The Prisoner” (1988) – On this instrumental track featured on the 1988 compilation Guitar Speak, Cassidy collaborated with his stepson Randy (born Randy Wolfe, and given a new stage surname by Jimi Hendrix). The record also included ace tracks by other celebrated axe slingers Alvin Lee (Ten Years After), Eric Johnson, Leslie West (Mountain), Yes’ Steve Howe, Rick Derringer, Steve Hunter, The Doors’ Robby Krieger and Shadows guitar hero Hank Marvin. A reunited Spirit would cut another version of this song – this time with lyrics – in 1989. Cassidy was 65 when he recorded the track for Guitar Speak.

Merrell Fankhauser – “Psychedelic Dreams” (1998) Leader of collector- and cult-favorite bands Fapardokly and Mu, Fankhauser has never truly broken out of his underground status. But he’s a player’s player, and for many years hosted his own Tiki Lounge cable television program, featuring many of his better-known musician friends. One such pal was Ed Cassidy, who would collaborate frequently with Fankhauser on recorded projects. The title of this track has the word psychedelic in it, though the tune’s character is closer to roots rock. Cassidy was 75 when he took part in this recording session.

Spirit – “I Got a Line On You” (1968) – No roundup of Ed Cassidy’s work would be complete without including this, the best-known song from Spirit’s deep catalog. Released in 1968 when the drummer was 45 years of age, the song was ahead of its time then; it still sounds fresh and exciting today. A true rock classic, “I Got a Line On You” was a successful single (Billboard #25) taken from the band’s second long player, The Family That Plays Together.