As of 2007, ten years had passed since the accidental death of singer/songwriter and guitarist Randy California, the primary musician in Spirit. California left behind an extensive, if disorganized, cache of unreleased live and studio recordings that producer Mick Skidmore has been working through ever since, emerging periodically with albums of previously unheard material. Salvation...The Spirit of '74 is a three-CD set that, as Skidmore notes in his annotations, helps to fill in a gap in the band's history. The original quintet of California, drummer Ed Cassidy, bassist Mark Andes, keyboardist John Locke, and singer/songwriter Jay Ferguson splintered in the early '70s, after which various configurations, including one that featured none of them, toured the country. California, who had left the group for a solo career, rejoined Cassidy for a European tour in 1973, then left again. In 1974, the two reconnected and again performed as Spirit, sometimes adding Andes and occasionally Locke. In May 1975, a trio of California, Cassidy, and bassist Barry Keene finally released a new Spirit album, Spirit of '76. Salvation...The Spirit of '74 chronicles the band's live and studio work during a period of about a year, from the summer of 1974 to the summer of 1975, including preliminary work on a never-completed album intended to be called Spirit of Salvation.
On the first two discs, drawn from live performances given in October and November 1974 (with Andes) and in June 1975 (with Keene), Spirit play some of their familiar songs ("Fresh Garbage," "Mr. Skin," "It's All the Same," "I Got a Line on You") along with covers that emphasize California's debt to his mentor, Jimi Hendrix ("Like a Rolling Stone," "All Along the Watchtower," "Hey Joe"); some songs California probably picked up while hanging around the Ash Grove folk club in Los Angeles as a child ("Old Blue," "Run Sinner Run," "Cripple Creek"); some one-off oddities (seemingly impromptu readings of the Rolling Stones hits "[I Can't Get No] Satisfaction" and "Happy," a version of Canned Heat's "On the Road Again" that apparently was a nod to Andes' brief tenure in that group); and some of the new songs California was writing at the time. More of those new songs, along with novelties and more covers, are included on the third disc, which consists of studio recordings. That all adds up to 56 tracks running more than three and a half hours. It doesn't entirely fill in the gap between the releases of California's solo album Kapt. Kopter & the (Fabulous) Twirly Birds in the fall of 1972 and Spirit of '76 two and a half years later, but California spent much of that period musically inactive or working on the subsequently released Potatoland album, and his return to Spirit, the band he would lead for much of the next two decades, is now well documented here. As Skidmore notes, this is an album for loyal, even die-hard Spirit fans, but it contains enough strong performances to make the case for California and his bandmates as what an MC calls them at the outset: "one the greatest names in the history of rock & roll."