A True Spirit and Guitarist Extraordinare
has befallen another rock 'n' roll hero. On January 2, 1997, Spirit
guitarist and guiding light Randy California, born Randy Craig Wolfe,
drowned off the coast of Molokai, Hawaii.
was on vacation visiting his mother Bernice Pearl, prior to a planned
European tour by the rejuvenated and revamped Spirit. California encountered
insurmountable while swimming with his 12-year-old son, Quinn. Fortunately,
he was able to push his son towards the shore, but sadly could not save
himself from the strong undertow that swept him away.
only is Randy California's loss immeasurable to his family and friends,
but will surely be felt by millions of fans worldwide that have been
touched by his songs and the music of Spirit for the past three decades.
He was a songwriter of immense talent who wrote with substance (Nature's
Way, 1984, Toy Guns, Give a Life Take a Life, I Got A Line On You).
His original material often had strong social and political commentary
as well as strong spiritual overtones.
was also a guitarist among guitarists. He could play like Hendrix or
Clarence White, Roger McGuinn or Wes Montgomery and did so often within
the framework of the same song.
important than his incredible music talents, Randy California was a
fine human being. He never pandered to the whims of record company executives
that crave "commercial material" and never succumbed to the
passing fads and trends that could easily of led him to super stardom.
Instead, he stuck to his eclectic and visionary musical ideas and, as
a result, leaves behind a musical legacy that few can match.
was fortunate enough to get to know Randy through the numerous interviews
I have done over the past 20 years. Having been a Spirit fan for much
longer, I was in awe when I first met him at a show at Colchester University
in England in May of 1978. Spirit had just played a dynamite set that
elicited a number of encores. After the show, California and band graciously
sat and talked to fans while they signed autographs. This was something
that California did often over the years. Although he portrayed an outgoing
stage persona, he was surprisingly shy and wary of the media in general.
late December of 1996, I heard thru the grapevine that Spirit had a
new album due out. A quick phone call to Spirit's office resulted in
a message on my answering machine from California, who said it was good
to hear my voice again and that he'd send me the album. A few days later,
we talked and I found Randy to be in a very positive and affable mood,
perhaps more so than at any other time I can remember. He spoke enthusiastically
about the new Spirit lineup, which included Matt Andes (x-Jo Jo Gunne
and Spirit member in the past) on guitar, Andes' daughter Rachel on
vocals, founding member Ed Cassidy on drums and Steve Loria on bass.
I told him I wanted to interview him for a feature in Relix that would
celebrate Spirit's 30th anniversary. California explained that he was
off to visit his mother for a few days in Hawaii, but that I should
call him there. For some reason I put off making the call, although
I'm not sure why. The album arrived in the mail January 2. Inspired,
I called to interview him and learned from his mother the devastating
news of Randy's sad demise. As a farewell tribute to this major talent,
a short appreciation and brief history of his life follows.
California grew up surrounded by musicians, as his uncle owned the noted
Los Angeles club, the Ash Grove. As a result, all kinds of people stayed
at his house. Randy received free lessons from blues greats such as
Mance Lipscomb and Sleepy John Estes. He also took an official lesson
from the late great Clarence White during White's days with the Kentucky
story of Spirit really took shape in 1965 with the Red Roosters, which
included future Spirit members Mark Andes and Jay Ferguson. At that
time, California's mother was married to jazz drummer, Ed Cassidy, and
when the family moved to New York the group split.
in New York, 15-year-old Randy California had a chance encounter with
a guitarist at Manny's Music Store. This guitarist turned out to be
Jimi Hendrix and before he knew it, he was gigging with Hendrix and
his band, Jimmy James and the Blue Flames, at Cafe Wha. It was in fact,
Hendrix who coined the name Randy California. There were two Randy's
in the band and Randy Wolfe was from California so the moniker stuck.
Hendrix was then discovered by Chas Chandler and went off to England
and much fame. Shortly thereafter, Randy's family moved back to Los
Angeles. The influence of those days with Hendrix, however remained.
As anyone who has ever seen Randy play "Hey Joe" or "All
Along The Watchtower" knows, he never imitated but rather added
his own versatile qualities to those songs while paying homage to one
of his mentors.
formed the band Spirit's Rebellious (taking the name from a book by
Kahil Gibran). Within a year, this group evolved into the legendary,
Spirit. In May, 1967 the lineup included Randy California, vocalist
Jay Ferguson, bassist Mark Andes, keyboardist John Locke and drummer
Ed Cassidy. In three years Spirit recorded four epochal albums, the
self-titled Spirit, The Family That Plays Together, Clear, and the pinnacle
of its achievements The 12 Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus, long believed to
be one of the best rock albums of all time.
band's fusion of jazz, rock, folk, blues and psychedelia has never been
matched for its intensity, originality and consistent quality.(Fans
of Phish are urged to check out these albums to really discover what
"eclectic" means) Luckily, all four of these albums have been
reissued on CD in high-quality, extended versions by Legacy/Epic. Ironically,
at the height of it's musical accomplishments, the original band split.
Andes and Ferguson went off to form the excellent, albeit more basic,
rock 'n' roll band, Jo Jo Gunne.
this time, California had an accident in which he fell from a horse.
Exhibiting erratic behavior, he left the band. The newly recruited bassist,
Al Stahaley, along with Locke and Cassidy continued briefly as a trio
before recruiting J. Christian Stahaley as lead guitarist. This lineup
released the mediocre Feedback in 1972. California resurfaced with a
Hendrix-inspired solo album, Kapt. Kopter And The Fabulous Twirlybirds.
Cuts included tenacious workouts of the Beatles "Day Tripper"
and "Rain", Paul Simon's "Mother and Child Reunion"
and several stunning originals namely "Rainbow" and "Downer".
Before long a new Spirit with California, Cassidy and bassist Larry
"Fuzzy" Knight emerged. The group recorded the legendary cult
classic Potatoland, which Epic deemed too non-commercial to release,
although a trimmed down version with some different material was eventually
released in 1981.
the early 70's, California also did part of a tour with Deep Purple
when it's guitarist, Ritchie Blackmore was taken ill. Throughout the
late 70's and 80's, various incarnations of Spirit released a slew of
fine and varied albums, including a reunion of the original band for
the 13th Dream, the polished, Farther Along, the excellent double set
The Spirit of 76, and the bizarre Future Games. More recent efforts
have included the much underrated Tent of Miracles and Live at La Paloma,
as well as the latest California Blues. (see reviews)
also made several excellent solo albums in Europe, Euro-American and
Shattered Dreams. He was a focal point and spiritual leader for many
big name guitarists that toured as The Night of the Guitar roadshow,
which featured such luminaries as the Door's Robbie Krieger, Ten Years
After's Alvin Lee, Wishbone Ash's Ted Turner and Andy Powell, Yes's
Steve Howe, Mountain's Leslie West and the Climax Blues Band's Peter
Haycock. This collaboration resulted in an excellent video and a live
CD. Prior to his death, Randy had been compiling material for a Kpt.
Kopter Volume 2 release.
to the Spirit website http://kspace.com/spirit, a memorial gathering
was held on Jan. 18 in Ventura, which was attended by his family, friends
and band members. Acoustic music was performed, including a song Mark
Andes wrote for his long-time friend and cohort. One of the bonus cuts
from California Blues, a poem that Randy wrote upon hearing of the death
of John Lennon in 1981, applies with equal compassion to it's author.
man, Questioning one. Always searching for the reason, You let us visit
into your mind, your private world for a time, and what you gave will
never die and I will never stop believing in you. We'll never stop believing
your dream can come true....imagine."
California's musical genius will be sorely missed, but his Spirit will
always live on.
Copyright 1997 Relix Magazine 1439 E. 37th st. Brooklyn, NY http://www.relix.com.
Used with permission.