December 6, 2012 – Edward Claude “Cass” Cassidy was born Harvey, Illinois, a rural area outside Chicago, on May 4, 1923. His family moved to Bakersfield, California in 1931. Cassidy began his career as a professional musician in 1937. He served in the U.S. Navy during World War II, and after his discharge held many jobs before becoming a full-time musician again. At one time in the late 1940s, Cassidy played 282 consecutive one-nighters in 17 states. He worked in show bands, Dixieland, country and western bands, and on film soundtracks, as well as having a brief stint with the San Francisco Opera.
Way back when rock ’n’ roll was countercultural — before the members of the Rolling Stones were anywhere close to 50 years old, much less celebrating their 50th anniversary together — the genre tended to emphasize rather than bridge generational divides.
So when the experimental group Spirit formed in the late 1960s, it was different not just for the way it fused jazz and rock, or the way it mixed psychedelia with a particularly tight backbeat. It was also different because its drummer was the 44-year-old stepfather of its 16-year-old guitarist, Randy California.
By the time Spirit formed in 1967, Mr. Cassidy had already had a notable and diverse musical career. He had played with jazz musicians including Dexter Gordon, Chet Baker, Gerry Mulligan and Cannonball Adderly and had formed a folk-blues group with Taj Mahal and Ry Cooder called the Rising Sons.
While Cassidy was performing with other adults, his young stepson, Randy Wolfe, was becoming a fine musician himself. He impressed Jimi Hendrix when they met in a music store in Manhattan, and it was Hendrix who gave Randy the nickname he went by for the rest of his life, Randy California to distinguish him from bass player Randy Texas (Palmer). Hendrix wanted tot take the kid to London, but that was thwarted by Cassidy and soon enough, stepfather and stepson were playing and touring together.
Spirit released more than a dozen albums from 1968 to 1996, but it was the first work that was the most influential and critically praised. Its biggest hit and only Top 40 single, “I Got a Line on You,” was released in 1968; the band was also celebrated for its adventurous 1970 album, “Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus.” That record included the song “Mr. Skin,” which was the nickname Mr. Cassidy’s fellow band members had given him in honor of his shaved head.
Bob Irwin, the president and owner of Sundazed Records, which has reissued many Spirit albums and also released previously unissued tracks, said the band’s early recording sessions were “kind of like a jazz history lesson” in which Mr. Cassidy nurtured his much younger colleagues.
“Ed always encouraged them to color outside the box, to take chances onstage, to play to the best of and beyond their abilities,” Mr. Irwin said.
Early reviews were usually complimentary, but critics were less positive several years later, after the band’s lineup changed. (Mr. Cassidy and Randy California remained its only constant members.) The critic Robert Palmer, writing in The New York Times in 1976, singled out Mr. Cassidy from what he said was an otherwise unimpressive performance.
“Mr. Cassidy’s drumming is still exceptional — his obligatory long solo at the end of the set was the subtlest, most musical part of the evening,” Mr. Palmer wrote.
Cassidy succumbed to cancer on Dec. 6, 2012 at age 89.