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Ed Cassidy, of Spirit fame, dead at 89

Ed Cassidy the drummer for the 1960’s rock band Spirit plays drums in the Tiki Lounge in 2007. Cassidy died Thursday.

Ed Cassidy, the drummer for the jazz-influenced 1960s and ’70s rock band Spirit and a more than 10-year Arroyo Grande resident, died Thursday in San Jose after battling cancer.

Cassidy was 89, and continued to play drums until recently. He was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s oldest performing rock ’n’ roll drummer.

Services had not been announced at press time, but his longtime friend and fellow Arroyo Grande musician Merrell Fankhauser said Cassidy’s wish was to be cremated and his ashes taken to the mountains.

“I’m so glad I got to spend over 20-some years playing live and recording with Cass,” Fankhauser said. “Cass was my guru for his perseverance and his dynamic drumming style that continued into his late 80s.

“I was sorry he didn’t live to see our last two recordings released.”

The two musicians recorded several albums as the Fankhauser Cassidy Band and created videos for Fankhauser’s “Tiki Lounge” local cable TV show, some episodes of which are posted on YouTube.

“The fact that he could still play drums into his late 80s still amazes me,” Fankhauser added. “He will be missed by many. His Spirit lives on in the music.”

Cassidy lived in an Arroyo Grande extended care center since breaking his leg in a fall more than a year ago.

Fankhauser said that as Cassidy’s cancer advanced, his ex-wife moved him to a facility in San Jose, where she lives.

Cassidy, who was some 25 years older than the other members of Spirit, wasn’t always a rock ’n’ roll drummer.

He began playing backup for blues musicians in the late 1930s, then played jazz with big-bands in the 1940s and ’50s, and jazz remained his lifelong love.

Many people recall seeing him at night, bathed in a pool of light, headphones on, surrounded by vinyl albums as he played jazz for a low-watt radio station in a small studio on West Grand Avenue in Grover Beach.

He was also seen driving his black-and-white 1957 Chevrolet around the Five Cities area, a flat-brimmed golf cap covering his shaved head.

Spirit had two hits, “I Got a Line on You” in 1968 and “Nature’s Way” in 1971.

Cassidy is credited with lending Spirit its jazz-influenced sound, although most of the band’s songs were written by other members, including Cassidy’s stepson, Randy California.

Originally Randy Wolfe — he was given his alternative last name by Jimi Hendrix — California drowned in 1997 on Molokai, Hawaii, while saving his 12-year-old son from a rip current.

It was a loss that Cassidy never stopped grieving.

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