California 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. His uncle, Ed Pearl, was 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 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, whom 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.
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. Christopher Cross covered "Nature's Way" on his 1994 album "Windows." 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.
Jimmy Page may have reworked California's guitar riff from "Taurus", an instrumental song from the first Spirit album, when he wrote Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven". Led Zeppelin was on the same bill as Spirit on several American concert dates in 1969. 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". The fact that "Fresh Garbage" was a track from the same album that includes the song "Taurus" further fueled the belief that Led Zeppelin was at least aware of the song. In 2014, a copyright infringement and injunction lawsuit against the reissue of Led Zeppelin IV started with the lawyer saying, "The idea behind this is to make sure that Randy California is given a writing credit on Stairway to Heaven."
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.
Because guitarist Ritchie Blackmore disliked "When a Blind Man Cries", Deep Purple never played the song live during his stay with the band, with the exception of one occasion, on April 6, 1972 in Quebec, Canada, when Blackmore was ill, and Randy California stood in for him.
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. ClearartFanartBanner User Comments