Ed "Cass" Cassidy is probably best known as drummer for the classic rock band Spirit. He was instantly recognizable by his shaven head (hence his nickname "Mr. Skin") and his fondness for wearing black.
Ed Cassidy was born in a rural town outside of Chicago in 1923. Ed began his career at an early age in 1937, after his family moved to Bakersfield, California. He served in the Navy during World War II and thereafter held a series of jobs before returning to music full-time in the 1940s, working steadily in a succession of show bands, country and western acts, and big bands. Ed also worked on film soundtracks and played briefly with the San Francisco Opera.
Ed Cassidy spent the 1950s working primarily in jazz in California, playing with such historically important performers as Art Pepper, Roland Kirk and Gerry Mulligan.
He was around twenty years older than the rest of the group. His earlier career was primarily in jazz and included stints with Cannonball Adderley, Gerry Mulligan, Roland Kirk, Thelonious Monk and Lee Konitz. He was a founding member of Rising Sons with Taj Mahal and Ry Cooder.
He played with Taj Mahal and Ry Cooder briefly in a band called Rising Sons before forming a new group, the Red Roosters, in 1965. That group comprised Cassidy, his stepson Randy California on guitar, Mark Andes on bass, and singer Jay Ferguson.
Changing their name to Spirit with the addition of keyboardist John Locke, that ensemble created a sound that was an amalgam of jazz, hard rock, and psychedelic influences. Signed by 1960s LA music impresario Lou Adler, the group released their self-titled debut album in 1968. They followed it up with 'The Family That Plays Together' later that year, which featured their highest-charting single, I Got a Line on You.
In 1969 Spirit toured successfully with a then-little-known band called Led Zeppelin as their opening act, and their impact on the new group was substantial; Ed Cassidy often performed his live drum solo with his bare hands, which reportedly influenced John Bonham's performance on Moby Dick, while Jimmy Page reportedly began using a theramin to alter the tone of his guitar after seeing Randy California doing it on stage. Many fans and critics have noted the similarities between Spirit's song Taurus and the intro to Led Zeppelin's Stairway to Heaven, which appeared several years after.
After the release of their landmark fourth album, 1970's 'Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus', the original lineup of Spirit fell apart. Ed Cassidy would continue with the group through various lineups over the course of decades until Randy California's untimely drowning death in Hawaii in 1997.
After that Ed continued to play with surf musician Merrell Fankhauser until he retired from performing.
In later years he was also involved in acting, appearing in 2010 and The Escape Artist on the big screen, and in minor roles on the television soap opera General Hospital.
Ed Cassidy died in San Jose, California on Thursday, December 6, 2012 of undisclosed causes. He was 89 years old at the time of his death.