Listening Club

Spirit’s fourth album, “Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus” is The Listening Club’s featured record Monday at 6 p.m. at Telluride Music Co. Local music buff and KOTO DJ, Suzanne Cheavens is leading the discussion. (Courtesy photo)

A few good things came out of the pandemic. For lovers of music played specifically in the vinyl format, Wilkinson Public Library’s (WPL) The Listening Club, a book club for albums, has happily endured even as the COVID-19 tide has receded. The next edition of The Listening Club will feature music aficionado and KOTO DJ Electric Angel aka Suzanne Cheavens, as she leads listeners through Spirit’s 1970 album, “Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus.” Register at telluridelibrary.org for the Monday session, which takes place at Telluride Music Co. at 6 p.m. Pizza will be served.

The Listening Club was hatched by WPL’s Laura Colbert and, by pandemic necessity, was strictly via Zoom. Since the pandemic’s most isolated months, the once-a-month (most months) gathering has taken place either on the library’s outdoor patio, or at Telluride Music Co. The Music Co. donates a copy of the featured album in a raffle for those in attendance. As the program spins into its third year, the range of genres covered has expanded, as classical music, folk, funk, indie and rock have swelled the list of records discussed.

Monday’s discussion will be the third one Cheavens has led, adding to previous talks on Stephen Stills’ “Manassas,” and “Blue,” Joni Mitchell’s deeply personal thought piece on love. She chose Spirit’s fourth record for the same reason many of the presenters made their choices — it’s personal.

“I think it easier to talk about music if it’s made an impact on your life,” she said. “Music can be life-changing, or at least provide a touchstone for your life at that moment in time. This particular record has everything to do with opening up my awareness of environmentalism.”

The song, “Nature’s Way,” delivers a deceptively simple but powerful message.

“When they sing ‘it’s nature’s way of telling you, dying trees,’ it’s like a prayer or a lament,” Cheavens said. “It made me look beyond my then-limited worldview and realize that even back in 1970, artists were aware of and concerned about human impacts on the earth. That was a mind-blowing realization for me.”

Only 13 in 1970 and still “very Beatle-y,” Cheavens said she wasn’t exposed to the record until college, 1975-79. She worked at the Record Co-op at University of Maryland where her musical horizons were vastly expanded by co-workers with varying tastes.

“There were old heads there that would very seriously declare this record or that a ‘stone cold classic,’ and say you knew nothing if you didn’t have it in your collection,” Cheavens said. “I was a sponge and took it all to heart. A decent employee discount, plus all the freebies we’d get meant that my armload-sized collection blew up to five or so Peaches crates in four years of college life.”

“Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus” didn’t sell well. The Los Angeles-based band had the hit “I Got A Line on You” under their belts at the time and their first two records enjoyed much better success. But the album, critically acclaimed for its thematic underpinnings, finally achieved Gold status for sales in 1976. In fact, “Twelve Dreams” is considered one of the earliest examples of art rock for its explorations of environmental issues and considerations of the human experience.

“What I love about this record is how it hangs together,” Cheavens said. “It isn’t a concept album necessarily, but with really smart track arrangement and the band’s fixation on the health of the planet, it sure could be called one.”

Spirit was unique in that guitarist Randy California’s stepfather, Ed Cassidy played drums, a rare father-son band line-up. The two came to Spirit already established as superior musicians. California played with Jimi Hendrix’s band Jimmy James and the Blue Flames. It was while playing with Hendrix Randy Wolfe became California, Hendrix’s way of differentiating the two Randys in that band. Cassidy was a jazz drummer, and his influence on Spirit’s sound is notable. When he joined his stepson’s rock-blues-psychedelic group, he had on his resume stints with Cannonball Adderly, Roland Kirk and Thelonious Monk, as well as having served as founding drummer for Rising Sons, a Taj Mahal and Ry Cooder project. The stars were aligned for excellence with John Locke on keyboards, lead singer Jay Ferguson and Mark Andes on bass.

None other than esteemed music critic, Robert Christgau, weighed in on the band with his review of “The “Best of Spirit.”

By the stars, I do believe these fellows helped invent art-rock,” Christgau wrote in “Christgau’s Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies.” “This is not an unmixed distinction, but it could be worse: the topicality is a notch above ordinary rock sci-fi (they have a sense of humor), the derivations more jazz than classical. The big plus here though, is that great shining 2:39 of hard rock guitar, Randy California’s ‘I Got a Line on You.’”

And who, you might wonder, is Dr. Sardonicus?

“At this very moment I do not know, but I’ll do my best to get to the bottom of that by Monday night,” Cheavens said.

The Listening is Monday at 6 p.m. at Telluride Music Co. and is free. Register at telluridelibrary.org so organizers can determine how much pizza to order. Attendees are entered into a raffle for a copy of Monday’s featured album.