Randy California (born Randy Craig Wolfe; February 20, 1951 – January 2, 1997) was a guitarist, singer and songwriter and one of the original members of the rock group Spirit, formed in 1967.
Randy was born into a musical family in Los Angeles, and spent his early years studying varied styles at the family's Los Angeles folk club, the Ash Grove. Randy's Uncle was the famous founder of the Ash grove Ed Pearl.
He was 15 years old when his mother Berenice Pearl and his new stepfather Ed Cassidy, (later to become a founding member of the band Spirit, with Randy) moved to New York City in the summer of 1966 because Cassidy had a number of jazz gigs lined up. It was there, at Manny's Guitars, that Randy met Jimi Hendrix.
He played in Hendrix's band, Jimmy James & the Blue Flames, that summer. California, Cassidy and Pearl lived in apartment building whose other residents included future Steely Dan co-founder Walter Becker, who cites California's blues-based guitar style as an influence on his own playing. The stage name "Randy California" was given to him by Hendrix to distinguish him from another Randy in the band (who Hendrix dubbed "Randy Texas").
When Hendrix was invited to come to England by former bassist of British Invasion band The Animals Chas Chandler —- who became Hendrix's manager and producer —- Randy was not allowed to go by his parents, so that he could finish high school. So at that time the 15-year-old guitar genius did not become a member of the Jimi Hendrix Experience. By some accounts, Chandler wanted only Hendrix as the only guitarist for the band and nixed California's going to England. But Hendrix invited Randy, so they could "go find Jeff Beck."
Together with Cassidy, songwriter/front-man Jay Ferguson, bassist Mark Andes (with whom California and Cassidy initially had formed a band called the Red Roosters) and keyboardist John Locke, California founded the band Spirit —- original name Spirits Rebellious, after Kahlil Gibran's poem —- in 1967. The band's demo was produced by Barry Hansen, later to become Doctor Demento.
Their first, self-titled album was released in January 1968, one month prior to California's 17th birthday. He then wrote the band's biggest hit, 1968's "I Got a Line on You" for Spirit's second album, "The Family That Plays Together." He also wrote the single "1984," released in early 1970 and banned from most AM radio stations at that time. He also penned Spirit's other hit, "Nature's Way," for the band's best-selling album "Twelve Dreams Of Dr. Sardonicus."
In addition to their role as the pioneers of jazz/rock-fusion, Spirit's music still stands as a unique sound mixing ethereal notes, hard beats, and a satirical view of the world. It has been said that Jimmy Page plagiarized Randy's guitar part from "Taurus" on the first Spirit album, when he wrote Led Zeppelin's 'Stairway To Heaven' although this is denied by Page. The fact that Led Zeppelin opened on the road for Spirit in 1968 fueled the controversy.
Spirit was invited to open for Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock, which would have catapulted the band into the type of fame that would have matched their musicianship and critical acclaim. However, band manager/producer Lou Adler —- who, ironically, had been one of the founders of the rock festival movement two years earlier, as a partner (with Mamas & Papas lynchpin John Phillips) in the Monterrey Pop Festival, where Hendrix premiered in the U.S. —- because the band was promoting their latest album, "Clear." When Ferguson and Andes left Spirit to form Jo Jo Gunne due to the slow sales of "Sardonicus," and then his friend Hendrix died, a depressed California left Spirit. He recorded "Kapt. Kopter & The Fabulous Twirly Birds," which included California and Cassidy's version of Paul Simon's "Mother and Child Reunion" and a slew of Hendrix-like tracks (also featuring former Experience bassist Noel Redding, AKA 'Clit McTorius') was released virtually simultaneous with the first Jo Jo Gunne album and a Spirit album called "Feedback," hastily put together by Cassidy, Locke, and a guitarist/bassist duo (Al and John Staehely) in 1972.
California repossessed the band name Spirit, and he and Cassidy (the only musician to appear on all Spirit albums) signed with Mercury Records in 1974. They recorded and performed as Spirit until January 2, 1997: that day, Randy California drowned in the ocean while rescuing his twelve-year-old son from a rip current near the home of Bernice Pearl at Molokai, Hawaii. He managed to push his son Quinn (who survived) towards the shore but sadly could not save himself from the strong undercurrent that swept him away.
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