Spirit “Twelve Dreams Of Dr. Sardonicus”

12 Dreams of Dr Sardonicus

Perhaps Spirit’s finest album although some fans champion the psych pop of 68’s The Family That Plays Together.  Twelve Dreams Of Dr. Sardonicus was released by Epic in 1970. Sessions for the album came to a grinding halt when Randy California fell off a horse and suffered a fractured skull. He spent one month in the hospital and because of this it took the group nearly 6 months to complete Sardonicus. On top of this, tensions within the group were mounting. Randy California (guitarist) and Jay Ferguson (vocals) could not agree on the future direction of Spirit; Ferguson wanted to play commerical rock n roll while California favored a loose, experimental approach. This would be the last lp from the original lineup as internal friction would lead to Spirit’s demise. The band split up after the recording of this album, which was subsequently pieced together by producer David Briggs.

If you were to round up all the essential LA/California rock albums from the late 60’s/early 70’s this would be amongst the very best on that list. The songs on Sardonicus are more structured than before, only “Space Child,” a trippy progressive instrumental, has a slight jazz/fusion element that was featured so prominently on earlier albums.  “Animal Zoo” (a psych pop gem), “Mr. Skin” (quirky hard rock with horns), and the gorgeous “Nature’s Way” were all released as singles in 1970.  “Nature’s Way” is one of Spirit’s most popular tracks and a definite highlight on Sardonicus. The vocals and electric/acoustic guitars on this number are positively sublime and create a very intimate mood; it’s the kind of song that’ll stick in your head for years to come. Other great tracks were the moody piano ballad “Soldier” and the psychedelic folk-rocker “Life Has Just Begun,” which features a beautiful chorus.

While the Twelve Dreams Of Dr. Sardonicus contained some of Spirit’s most radio friendly material, the group was still experimenting aplenty.  “When I Touch You,” one of their best hard rock tracks, featured a strong psych influence and a fine vocal performance from Jay Ferguson. Another track, “Love Has Found A Way” is a morass of backwards effects, strange lead vocals, and pristine harmonies. Two other hard rockers, “Prelude – Nothin’ To Hide” and “Street Worm” are full of great guitar work, clever fuzz effects, and killer solos: these tracks cleary explain why Randy California is so highly esteemed by his peers. Despite its clean, commercial production and the fact that it was loved by musicians and critics alike, Sardonicus did not sell.

The Twelve Dreams Of Dr. Sardonicus was as good as any record coming out in 1970, certainly up there with the era’s very best.  And although Sardonicus is progressive and  foward thinking, it never sounds dated or self indulgent, the LP is a true masterpiece. It’s been reissued many, many times and originals on vinyl are easy to find. The best reissues have been put out by Sundazed (vinyl), Epic/Sony (cd) and Repertoire Records (cd). Spirit would soldier on with drummer Ed Cassidy and guitarist Randy California, releasing some fine albums and playing many memorable live shows. Ferguson went on to form Jo Jo Gunne, a commercial hard rock/boogie band that saw success in the 1970s.

In 1997 Randy California tragically died in Hawaii while saving his son from a dangerous ocean wave. It was a sad end to one of rock’s great groups.

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“Why Can’t I Be Free”

:) Vinyl Reissue | Sundazed | buy from sundazed ]
:D CD Reissue | Sony | buy from amazon ]
:) Original Vinyl | Epic | 1970 | search ebay ]
8-) Spotify link | listen ]

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  • jim

    yes this record was a fave growing up in the seventies. and you are right it holds up very well against todays playlists.

  • Luv the Spirit..
    One of my all time favorite bands..
    Saw them twice in the very late 60’s..
    At The Santa Monica Civic & Newport 69,with Hendrix..
    Spirit was a very good live band,too..
    You could actually hear Ed Cassidy’s drums unlike most
    of their LP’s produced by Lou Adler..
    Very sad what happened to Randy California..


  • Deiter

    Loved this album. One of the classic albums of an incredibly classic period. Nature’s Way, Mr. Skin, Animal Farm, Nothing to Hide: Brilliant friggin’ stuff! I have the two disc Time Circles compilation, which is highly recommended to anyone who wants a good to start. I still have my copy of TTDoDS on vinyl.

    Bands of this period were especially eclectic, probably due the culture of the time where folk, blues, and jazz were practically mainstream. Also, most of the significant bands of this period had keyboardists integral to their sound (Doors, Ten Years After, Deep Purple, Mountain, Animals, etc), something that got lost in the later 70s. I’m not talking about that fey synth crap of the late 70s and 80s, but guys who play two hands! Before keyboards became a bad word.

    Thanks for posting. Great stuff!

  • Pete

    A fine review of a great album. One small correction, though: the third track is called “Animal Zoo,” not “Animal Farm.”

  • mark

    Thanks for provoking the memory: college dorm rooms, communal sessions with guitars and cheap amps, endless cups of tea et al… This is a great album! Although Spirit achieved more commercial success with The Family that Plays Together, Sardonicus is more consistent and whole.
    A fine review!

  • Bruce

    I agree w/ Michael- one of my all time favorite bands. I still sing “Fresh Garbage” off their first album to my wife. I really liked the album “Clear” too, although I hated it when I first got it. But it really grew on me. It is in my mind one of the best jazz/rock fusions ever

  • Steve Dunn

    Truly a great band. I saw them before they were popular (if they ever were) in Philadelphia’s Spectrum (now gone). They were the opening act for Chambers Brothers on Feb 14, 1978(I think)

  • fantastic sounds in 70s.dr sardonicus fresh carbage great rock tracks.

  • Tony

    Cuts from 12 Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus — particularly Mr. Skin and Nature’s Way — got repeated airplay on WSHE in Miami in the 70s and into the 80s. I had owned the album for some time and always wondered why it was not more well known. A classic, a masterpiece and truly innovative. I still listen to it to this day. Thanks for the details in your post, some of which I was not familiar with. I’ll be looking up producer David Briggs to see what if anything else he worked on.

  • Greg Tekavec

    This is one of my all time favorite albums. I started listening to it in college in 1971. I know every song, and when we have college get-togethers yet today we still listen to it and try to do our best singing it. It was an inspiration and generates deep feelings and emotions, which came from experimenting with various products of the day.

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