Ed Cassidy dies at 89; drummer for band Spirit

Ed Cassidy, the drummer whose musical background influenced the jazz-tinged sound of the band Spirit, which emerged in the late 1960s as one of the West Coast’s premier rock groups, has died. He was 89.

Cassidy died Thursday of cancer at an assisted living home in San Jose, said Beverley Cassidy, his ex-wife.

He had already jammed with such jazz greats as Dexter Gordon and Chet Baker before teaming with Randy California, his guitar-playing stepson from another marriage, to form what became Spirit.

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The quintet was known for playing “a challenging, sweeping blend of rock, jazz, blues and other musical strains,” The Times reported in 1991, and had a “power and subtlety” fostered by living communally in Topanga Canyon. Singer Jay Ferguson, pianist John Locke and bassist Mark Andes rounded out the group.

The band was known mainly for its albums, including 1970’s “Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus,” but had a hit single with 1969’s “I Got a Line on You.” When the original lineup played the song at the Santa Monica Civic in 1976, The Times called it “one of the top moments in local rock ‘n’ roll this year.”


Born May 4, 1923, Cassidy was considerably older than the other band members — and relished the musical freedom the band provided.

“Rock ‘n’ roll music really saved my bacon musically,” he told The Times in 1991. “What I wanted was a band with no categories that could attempt anything, any style, and make it their own.”

Spirit quickly developed a significant fan base and a following among other musicians.

“The Doors were all right, but for many rock fans in the late ‘60s, the L.A. band that really mattered was Spirit,” The Times said in 1991.

Jimi Hendrix incorporated Spirit guitar solos into performances and fans took notice of similarities between Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” and Spirit’s “Taurus,” which was released first. When Led Zeppelin played their first gig in the U.S. in 1968, they opened for Spirit.

Despite their quick assent to moderate fame, band members were pursuing independent ventures by the early 1970s. As the musicians reassembled in various configurations over the decades, Cassidy was called “the world’s oldest performing rock ‘n’ roll drummer.” He had long been nicknamed “Mr. Skin” for his bald head.

Spirit’s second album, 1969’s “The Family That Plays Together,” was a nod to stepfather and stepson, who continued to perform together after Cassidy was divorced from California’s mother, Bernice Pearl.

About a month after the band released its final studio album, California drowned off the Hawaiian island of Molokai in 1997. The 46-year-old died while saving his 12-year-old son, who had been caught in a riptide.

The Illinois-born Cassidy had lived on a farm there before moving to Bakersfield with his family in the early ‘30s and later served in the Navy, the Tampa Tribune reported in 1995.

“We just tried to create something of our own with integrity, class,” Cassidy said in 1989 in the Chicago Tribune of the genesis of Spirit. “We didn’t worry as much about perfection as we did about being real — about being ourselves.”

Survivors include a daughter.