❉ This well-curated set is a great collection of overlooked material writes James R Turner.
“There were a lot of bands who’d been massive during the late ‘60s/early ‘70s, and who struggled to keep up when musical tastes changed, and Randy California & Spirit: The Euro-American Years showcase a musical talent that is looking to redefine their sound and relevance in the new decade..”
For music fans of a certain era the name Spirit evokes a period in the ‘60s/early ‘70s when American guitar prodigy Randy California (nicknamed as such by Jimi Hendrix) and his stepfather, drummer Ed Cassidy, made a number of highly acclaimed psychedelic rock albums culminating in The Twelve Dreams of Dr Sardonicus, their highly acclaimed fourth LP.
After a mixed late ‘70s, California toured under both the Randy California Band and Spirit monikers, as well as spending time recording the Euro-American album that was released in 1982, the two different sides summing up Randy’s approach to songwriting, with the American side being harder edged, and the Euro aspect being more diverse.
Compiled by Mark Skidmore, and with full access to the Randy California Archive (courtesy of the Randy Craig Wolff Trust), this well-collated and curated six-disc boxed set collects the entire album, plus associated studio recordings, reconfiguring the original 2007 box and expanding it into a set including two discs of previously unreleased live material and alternative studio mixes.
Four discs are live recordings of both Spirit in 1980-81, and the Randy California Band in 1979 (supporting Gillan) 1981 in North Carolina and the complete sets from 1982’s Reading and Glastonbury Festivals, much of this previously unreleased. The latter two come direct from the soundboard, so aren’t necessarily up to contemporary sonic standards, but are far stronger than any old bootleg.
Across the four live discs there’s a lot of duplication (blistering versions of Hey Joe, Wild Thing, Like a Rolling Stone are all great covers while Spirit classics like 1984 and Killer Weed get multiple outings), but the band never fail to put together a great show, and despite the duplication they are worth revisiting, the Reading and Glastonbury sets are particularly fine.
Of far more interest is the first two discs, the complete Euro-American album and all associated recordings, across discs 1 and 2 (recordings that originally snuck out in Germany under the title Shattered Dreams) and these are a real treat for fans of Randy and Spirit. There were a lot of bands who’d been massive during the late ‘60s/early ‘70s, and who struggled to keep up when musical tastes changed, and despite a heavy touring schedule within and without Spirit, these two studio discs showcase a musical talent that is looking to redefine their sound and relevance in the new decade.
Disc one opens with a selection of recordings made in London in 1979 which didn’t make it onto the album, such as the rocking California Man and Song for Laura, both of which were expanded on as they became essential parts of the live set.
Before we get into album proper there’s a handful of recordings from LA in 1981: Reeling in the Night and Rock of Ages from the French edition of Euro-American, and Shattered Dreams and Magic Wand (issued as a free single with the original UK pressing of Euro-American). All of those tracks fit perfectly with the sound and feel of Euro-American, with the contemporary sounding blending nicely with California’s traditional rock aesthetic (which is why the band fitted in perfectly with Gillan on their 1979 tour) and are a strong introduction to the album proper.
Stand-out tracks include Toy Guns (with its anti-gun rhetoric running against the grain of consensus American thinking at the time), a blinding run through of the classic Wild Thing (reminiscent of the Hendrix version, but updated and brought to the contemporary rock sound of the early ‘80s) and some wonderful album tracks like Calling You and Five in the Morning show that California had not lost any of his songwriting ability, however the star of the album is his unique and sublime guitar work, which is showcased throughout this set.
Disc Two continues with the anti-war theme with a remade version of Toy Gun released on single as Hand Guns, as well as Man at War; whilst a homage to his old mentor and friend Jimi Hendrix is present in the fantastic reinterpretation of Jimi’s cover of Dylan’s All Along the Watchtower, channelling his inner Hendrix whilst putting his own unique guitar stamp all over it.
Add the classic original version of Killer Weed (a nod to their psychedelic past) and the epic Childhood’s End, this is a great collection of overlooked material that wouldn’t normally get a look-in when Randy California and Spirit are discussed.
This fab box is pretty much the definitive collection of Randy California & Spirit material recorded during a period when bands from the ‘60s weren’t in vogue, and it shows that despite changing times and scenes California’s songwriting, guitar work and stunning live performances kept him in the public eye and ensured that his timeless style didn’t get lost within the changing scenes of the new decade.
The live discs are fun to dip into and worth revisiting occasionally, however the essential material is held within the studio works and are worth replaying.
Another great Randy California/Spirit box from Esoteric.
❉ Randy California & Spirit: The Euro-American Years (Esoteric Recordings ECLEC62734) is available from Esoteric Recordings/Cherry Red Records, RRP £29.99. Click here to order directly from Cherry Red Records.
❉ James R. Turner is a music and media journalist. Over the last 25 years he has contributed to the Classic Rock Society magazine, BBC online, Albion Online, The Digital Fix, DPRP, Progarchy, ProgRadar and more. James’ debut book is out in September and he is head of PR for Bad Elephant Music. He lives in North Somerset with his fiancee Charlotte, their Westie Dilys & Ridgeback Freja, three cats and too many CDs, records & Blu-Rays.