Thursday, November 12, 2015

twelve dreams of dr. sardonicus

Spirit had nothing to hide as they went rollin' and flowin' through an animal zoo of styles until something went wrong in this satirical psychedelic pyrrhic perfection .   In two years, the group had put out three albums  (Spirit  in 1968  and  The Family That Plays Together  and  Clear  in 1969)  and recorded the soundtrack to Jacques Demy's film  Model Shop  (which would remain unreleased for decades) before producing the single "1984" on their own.  It would be their final recording for Lou Adler's Ode Records.

Randy California would express the growing dissension between himself and Jay Ferguson:   “Jimi [Hendrix] instilled freedom and spontaneity in me – be loose and electric. But Jay always wanted tight, controlled sets. We were pitching for Woodstock, but since we couldn’t agree on anything it fell through. That was the beginning of the end for the original band.”

Jay Ferguson says:   "It started to splinter that point. I remember up 'til then, Lou Adler had been the rallying point-he'd settle the arguments- and suddenly he was gone and we were by ourselves and everything kinda came out. Randy wanted his things his way and I wanted my things my way. There were quite a lot of fights, but there was co-operation to the point where we got the record done and there were a lot of good ideas. I remember Randy came up with some great ideas for my songs and I think I tried to help his, too."

The group signed with Epic Records and got an advance to work on their next project; but they didn't have a producer.  Neil Young suggested David Briggs.  Mark Andes remembers Briggs as “a gruff, tough guy with shades and a black hat who hung with a biker-type crowd. Randy loved him because he gave him room to express himself, but it felt like divide and conquer. Briggs was also the ‘sleep with your girlfriend’ type. We went on the road and he shagged my girlfriend. He was a complete rogue. I’m like, ‘The producer’s fucking my girl?’ Did it bother me? Yes it did!...He was unobtrusive in the studio, but he didn’t have any vision.  I thought he over-produced us. He had intuition, I guess. Now I agree – yeah, Sardonicus is Spirit’s masterwork. At the time, I didn’t.”

Produced by David Briggs with project director Adam Block, the sessions featured  Jay Ferguson on vocals, percussion, and keyboards;     Randy California on bass, guitar, and vocals;   John Locke on art direction, piano, keyboards, and moog synthesizer;   Ed Cassidy on drums and percussion;   and   Mark Andes on bass and vocals.   David Blumberg did the horn arrangements and Vic Anesini did the mastering.

Ferguson reveals:   "I brought the name of the album to band, I guess I was responsible. There's a grade 'D' movie series in the US, just a very cheap shot, called "Dr. Sardonicus" - the Amazing Doctor Sardonicus - he lived in a basement and his thing was that his face had frozen to this ghostly grin, this horrifying grin. Anyway, I liked that name and when we were recording the album, somehow it turned into "The Twelve Dreams..." because I wanted to conceptualise the record in the title without making it too rigid...I remember bringing it out and everybody thinking it was funny, and it never left, it kept sticking around 'til we said 'That's a good name, let's use it.' Then we went to New York and found this crazy photographer who'd just come back from whirling like a Dervish in Tunisia for six months and we shot the cover shots and soon it became very dreamlike...we did wanna make a concept album (laughs), but the name a bit of a cheat because it hints the record-buyer that 'Here's a concept album,' and you can sort of follow it in that way because the songs go into one another, but there's no great nessage in it."

California would consider:    "That was involved over a long period of time:   a lot of rehersals. and a lot of songs were re-written, written in the studio too, while we were doing it...That's the first album that we went in the studio and basically produced ourselves with an engineer...All the other albums, we'd go in, cut the tracks in two weeks, come back three weeks later:  they'd add their strings on and horns and stuff on the album and say 'here's your album.'   But this album we sat there and did all the vocal parts.   We made the decisions:  Let's do this again.  Let's do that again.   We sat there through all the mixing, had our hands in the pan pots, making the things go from side to side (laughs)...That was the first album that we had enough studio knowledge to really contribute. " 

Ferguson:   "There weren't a lot of arguments as much as people stopped listening to other peoples ideas For instance, When we we did "Nature's way", Randy really didn't want to hear about any of my ideas for that song. He had a set pattern - and it turned out he was right 'cause that's a great cut. But it was insulting to me, I felt left out, and then it was probably the same way with him - we began losing trust in each other. It was just a bad time. He and I were strong personalities, both creative, and both overly sensitive about that - and probably acting a lot like children." 

Ferguson:   "So we finished the album, the album came out, did terribly in the charts, looked like our biggest burn yet, went on tour, did some dates, it seemed like excitement for the band was waning, had some giant fights on the road - one in particular over a tour of Japan which Randy cancelled just because he didn't want go, on the eve of departure. It just seemed like it wasn't a sane career building at this point. The album didn't go gold until three or four years after we'd split up, but the sales picked up and picked up and refused to die and they're still selling. And it's interesting, because if "Sardonicus" had come out to acclaim and if we'd done a successful tour, and the album had gone gold right away, then perhaps we might not have broken up. We might have said, 'It's worth sticking it out.' But when you looked at the situation, which didn't show much promise, then looked at the fights we were going through, there wasn't a lot of incentive to stay together."

'Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus' reached number sixty-three in the US and twenty-nine in the UK.  California looked back on the negative reviews for the album:    "It had an emotional effect on me, because we had spent six months on the album--it was our baby. Critics--you know how they are--they have to criticize. It hurt me. It was very depressing. Back then, Rolling Stone was a big deal, and since they were in San Francisco, they didn't like any bands from L. A. They said L. A. bands are "plastic," and L. A. is smoggy all the time and it stinks--that kind of stuff. But when I wrote "Nature's Way," I was sitting outside at a hotel right on the Bay in San Francisco, and this huge smog bank came drifting over--that's why I wrote that song."

Ferguson:    “I saw that album as a quantum leap.  We made it at Studio B Sound City, and the talk was of making our own Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake, or a Sgt. Pepper thing. Nobody else thought it that special. It got no airplay, terrible sales and shocking reviews, apart from in England where you thought it was the highlight of our career. That’s where it gained the reputation that eventually saw it go gold many years later. It was our pinnacle...It was expensive enough.  A real Frankenstein thing. We had the ability to be like a Grateful Dead jamming group but I insisted on some structure. Randy blew up on that record as a writer. He was magnificent. It’s no wonder that we’ll always be known for Sardonicus.”

"Nature's Way"

"When I Touch You"

'Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus'

full album:

All songs written by Randy California except noted:

Side one
1.Prelude -- Nothin' to Hide-00:00
2.Nature's Way-03:42
3.Animal Zoo-06:22 (Ferguson)
4. Love Has Found a Way-09:33 (California, Locke)
5.Why Can't I Be Free?-12:15
6.Mr. Skin-13:20 (Ferguson)
Side two
7.Space Child-17:21 (Locke)
8.When I Touch You-20:46 (Ferguson)
9.Street Worm-26:33 (Ferguson)
10.Life Has Just Begun-30:06
11.Morning Will Come-33:36
Bonus Tracks
13 Rougher Road-39:19
14 Animal Zoo (Mono Single Version) -42:37
15 Morning Will Come (Alternate Mono Mix)-45:47

16 Red Light Roll On -48:38

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