days of Spirit, but he later switched to
Stratocasters, the occasional Les Paul, and
finally Charvel guitars.
In January 1997, California and his son Quinn
were swimming in the ocean off the coast of
Molokai, Hawaii, when they were caught in a
riptide. California managed to push Quinn to
safety, but he drowned in the process and his
body was never recovered.
Photo from the collection of Dick Wagner
amps, he tracked three albums with Steppenwolf
before getting his walking papers in 1969, just
before the release of At Your Birthday Party.
Spirit, which scored medium-sized hits with “I
Got a Line on You” and “Nature’s Way” in the
late ’60s. The group’s eclectic sound incorporated rock, blues, jazz, folk, and Latin influences.
Sparked by California’s thoughtful, forward-thinking guitar work, Spirit was known for their
lively gigs. California was given his moniker by
none other than Jimi Hendrix, who he played
with in 1966 in New York City.
Few guitarists have sustained as rewarding
a career as Detroit native Dick Wagner, lead
guitarist with the Frost, a hard-rock band that
recorded three LPs for Vanguard Records.
Wagner is probably best known as Alice
Cooper’s collaborator, writing partner, and
bandleader, but most guitarists will remember
him as one half of the incredible guitar team on
Lou Reed’s live Rock n Roll Animal LP. Wagner’s
six-string partner was Steve Hunter, and their
playing on that record is a guitar junkie’s dream
come true. If you’ve never heard their twin-guitar work, be sure to check it out.
In the ’70s, Monarch put together a moderately
successful band called Detective with singer
Michael Des Barres, and he has worked for
years with a group called World Classic Rockers,
which includes Denny Laine of the Moody Blues,
Spencer Davis, Randy Meisner of Poco and the
Eagles, and other music-biz veterans.
Monarch, who now favors Stratocasters, has
also released several diverse solo instrumental albums, and he’s done extensive scoring
work for television and movies.
Spirit split up in 1971, while still riding the
success of their album Twelve Dreams of
Dr. Sardonicus. Later, California gigged and
recorded with his stepfather, Spirit drummer
Ed Cassidy, along with numerous bass players. He also released several solo records that
were snatched up by a rabid cult following.
Wagner co-wrote more than 50 songs and
recorded some 19 albums with Cooper,
and their association yielded numerous hits.
Wagner has earned a stack of platinum and
gold album awards, and he has songwriter or
guitarist credits on more than 150 albums. In
the ’90s, Wagner started a record label and
talent agency. He continues to play—usually a
sunburst 1959 Les Paul reissue—and he’s still
a prolific songwriter.
Randy “California” Wolfe will forever be remem-
bered as the guitarist with the progressive band
California played inexpensive Silvertone-
branded Danelectro guitars in the early
Erik Braunn (sometimes known as Erik Brann)
was only 16 when he joined Iron Butterfly
just in time to record the band’s second
album, In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida. The album sold