Spirit Drummer Ed Cassidy Dies at 89

Nicknamed "Mr. Skin," he led the eclectic band with his stepson, guitarist Randy California, and brought jazz influences to the 1960s group famous for "I Got a Line on You" and "Nature's Way."

Ed Cassidy, the drummer who teamed with his stepson, guitarist Randy California, to lead the eclectic 1960s Los Angeles rock group Spirit, has died. He was 89.

Cassidy died Thursday of cancer at an assisted living home in San Jose, Calif., according to reports. 

Born in Chicago on May 4, 1923, Cassidy was considerably older than his bandmates. When their first album, the Lou Adler-produced Spirit, was released in January 1968, he was 28 years older than the 16-year-old California.

Cassidy, who came from a jazz background, could have been the world's oldest surviving rocker. He always wore black, performed the occasional solo with his bare hands and was nicknamed "Mr. Skin" for his shaved head (the band recorded a terrific horn-infused song with that title off their acclaimed 1970 album Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus.)

The original Spirit lineup, which lasted four years and four albums, also included singer Jay Ferguson, pianist John Locke and bassist Mark Andes.

Andes paid tribute to Cassidy in a Facebook post Thursday, writing, “RIP Ed Cassidy, one the world's greatest drummers … loved you Cass."

With a mixture of rock, pop, folk, blues, classical and jazz, the highly regarded Spirit charted 11 albums in the U.S. between 1968 and 1977 and had such notable singles as "I Got a Line on You," "1984," "Fresh Garbage," "Animal Zoo" and the haunting "Nature's Way."

When Led Zeppelin played their first gig in the U.S. in 1968, they opened for Spirit. Many have noted the similarities between California's "Taurus" licks from the first album and the intro to Zeppelin’s "Stairway to Heaven," which did not appear until 1971.

Cassidy was a founding member of The Rising Sons with Taj Mahal and Ry Cooder and had jammed with such jazz greats as Dexter Gordon and Chet Baker before he met and married California's recently divorced mother.

"Rock 'n' roll music really saved my bacon musically," he told the Los Angeles Times in 1991. "What I wanted was a band with no categories that could attempt anything, any style, and make it their own."

California -- who stuck with that nickname, given to him as a teenager by Jimi Hendrix -- and Cassidy stayed together even after the drummer was divorced from California's mother, Bernice Pearl. They performed under the Spirit banner until California, then 46, drowned in Hawaii in 1997 while saving his 12-year-old son, Quinn. The boy survived.