Sunday, September 26, 2010

If the Spirit moves you...

Give us an 'S'!  Give us an 'I'!  Give us a 'P'!  What's it spell?  Another sip of Sundays at the Sanctuary by our man Shelor!  Why?  Because the man has Spirit!

By Wayne Shelor

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Early on, Spirit was one of my favourite bands. The jazz-influenced, America prog rock group had a couple of LPs in everyone’s record collection, and Spirit songs were a staple of one of the most popular local cover bands. For me, the mix was what defined the sound of Spirit: elegantly constructed, guitar-driven, lyrically hooked songs with a soft padding of strings, Theremin and Moog music.

Spirit was formed in Los Angeles around teen prodigy Randy California, who, at age 15, was in a band with Jimi Hendrix -- Jimmy James and the Blue Flames. (Hendrix, you should know, named Randy Wolfe “Randy California” when he found one too many Randys in that band).

In the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, Spirit songs such as “I Got a Line on You” “Nature’s Way,” “Fresh Garbage,” “1984” and “Mr. Skin” got a lot of airplay; this is a less-familiar song called “Taurus,” and reveals clearly the writing style and the crisp, distinctive guitar work of Randy California.

You may not recognize this song at first, but surely you know the guitar progression, there – right at the 45-second mark …minor, descending … yep, you knew it straight away; almost everyone knows several parts of this song.

Randy recorded “Taurus” in November 1967 and released it in the spring of ‘68 on Spirit’s self-titled first album. At about that same time, an up-and-coming rock band from England was the opening act for Spirit in concert. A band called Led Zeppelin played any number of concerts with Spirit before the soon-to-be Heaviest Band On Earth ascended to its rightful place in the firmament. Three years later, the band released “Stairway to Heaven” on side 2 of its fourth (untitled) album. It’s one of the most famous and popular songs of all time.

Randy California, who drowned in 1997, just before his 46th birthday, never got much worked up about the similarities, and I don’t figure it warrants anyone else doing so, either. Further, I’d like to believe Zeppelin's Robert Plant acknowledged Jimmy Page’s major lift of a minor chord progression with the “Stairway To Heaven” lyric “There's a feeling I get/when I look to the west/And my spirit is crying/for leaving.”

There’re all sorts of guitar gods in the constellations of rock ‘n’ roll. Some you can see with the unaided eye, others you need a special lens to find.

Now that you know who wrote one of the most instantly recognizable guitar riffs in the history of popular music, it might make you feel like you did when you found out Duane Allman – not Eric Clapton – wrote and played those seven sterling notes that introduce “Layla.”

But that’s another story …


  1. Put Randy California and Spirit into the hall of fame.
    Sign the petition at

  2. Spirit's, "I Got a Line on You," is one of my all time favorite...early...instrumentals. There was always the Ventures to fall back on but their rock was more pop. Let's not forget Jefferson Airplane's "Embryonic Journey." Not the longest instrumental journey, but a lot of covers since, including Leo K. Thanks for the memories Strumbum.