Randy California (Randy Craig Wolfe; February 20, 1951 – January 2, 1997)
"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, Ed Pearl, was famous as the founder of the Ash Grove. 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 The Blue Flame 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 (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’s parents did not allow him to go 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 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—originally Spirits Rebellious, after Khalil 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, a month before 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 suggested that Jimmy Page borrowed California’s guitar part from “Taurus" on the first Spirit album when he wrote Led Zeppelin's “Stairway to Heaven”. Led Zeppelin was the opening act on the road for Spirit in 1968, which has further fueled this controversy. In 1996, in the liner notes for the reissue of Spirit’s first album, California stated “people always ask me why ‘Stairway to Heaven’ sounds exactly like ‘Taurus,’ which was released two years earlier. I know Led Zeppelin also played ‘Fresh Garbage’ in their live set. They opened up for us on their first American tour”. Since “Fresh Garbage” is a song from the same album that includes the song “Taurus”, this only adds to the controversy that Led Zeppelin was at least aware of the song.
Spirit was invited to open for Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock. 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 Monterey Pop Festival, where Hendrix premiered in the U.S.—opposed it because the band was busy 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 dear 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” plus a slew of authentically Hendrix-like tracks (also featuring former Experience bassist Noel Redding, AKA ‘Clit McTorius’). In 1972 the album was released at virtually the same moment as Jo Jo Gunne’s first, eponymous album that featured “Run, Run Run” and a Spirit album called Feedback that was recorded by Cassidy and Locke (who were Spirit’s jazz influences) and guitarist/bassist brother duo Al and John Staehely, who wrote and sang most of the material on the LP.
In 1974 California legally acquired the band name Spirit. From then on, he and Cassidy (who is the only musician who appeared on all Spirit albums) stuck together. That year, they signed with Mercury Records.”