1997 – Spirit guitarist Randy California drowns off the coast of Hawaii

Randy California

1997 – Spirit guitarist Randy California drowns off the coast of Hawaii’s Molokai Island trying to save his 12-year-old son from the undertow. He was 45.

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 Hollywood nightclub, the Ash Grove. He was fifteen years old when they moved to New York and he met Jimi Hendrix in 1966. He played in Hendrix’s band Jimmy James & the Blue Flames that summer. 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 Chas Chandler, Randy was not allowed to go (by his parents) and so missed out on what became the Jimi Hendrix Experience.

Together with his stepfather Ed Cassidy, California founded the band Spirit in 1967 and wrote their biggest hit, 1968’s “I Got a Line on You.” Spirit’s other big hit was “Nature’s Way.” The band’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” 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 for a while has fueled the controversy. Randy California left Spirit in 1971 to begin a solo career, but periodically returned to various reincarnations of the group over the years. On January 2, 1997 he drowned in the ocean while rescuing his twelve-year-old son from a rip current near the home of Randy’s mother 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 .

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