It was 21 years ago today that we lost Randy California. Some of you may not be…

Written by on January 2, 2018

It was 21 years ago today that we lost Randy California.

Some of you may not be familiar with Randy, so here is a little background on him.

His birth name was Randy Wolfe. When he was 15 years old when his mother Bernice Pearl and 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 and the Blue Flames that summer. California, Cassidy and Pearl lived in an apartment building in Forest Hills (Queens), New York called the Balfour, 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, Randy Palmer, who Hendrix dubbed “Randy Texas”. When Hendrix and California were invited to come to England by Chas Chandler, former bassist of British Invasion band The Animals—who became Hendrix’s manager and producer—Randy’s parents refused to allow him to go, insisting the 15-year old stay and finish high school. By some accounts, Chandler wanted Hendrix as the only guitarist for the band and nixed California’s going to England. Hendrix invited Randy anyway, 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 (band).

Spirit was on the bill of Led Zeppelin’s first couple of concerts in the US which had Vanilla Fudge as the headliner. Zeppelin liked Spirit so much that they covered Spirit’s song “Fresh Garbage”. Apparently they also like the song “Taurus”. Their has been a lawsuit filed claiming that Jimmy Page used Randy’s guitar riff from “Taurus” for Zeppelin’s “Stairway To Heaven”.

On Jan. 2, 1997, California drowned in the Pacific ocean in at the age of 45 while rescuing his 12-year-old son Quinn from a rip current near the home of his mother, Bernice Pearl, at Molokai, Hawaii. He managed to push Quinn (who survived) toward the shore.

RIP Randy. The things we know you would have done.

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