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Kaptain Kopter flies again!

Randy California

- interview by Tony Power in GUITAR MAGAZINE.

"The Randy California who sits in this Portobello café savaging a mozzarella and avocado croissant is a remarkably youthful 44. In the close-together eyes there's a twinkle that speaks of deep madness or big plans. Possibly the latter. There's a blues album on the way, he explains, acknowledging his debt to Mance Lipscomb, Sleepy John Estes, Brownie McGhee and John Lee Hooker, and a soloalbum- Kaptain Kopter and the twirlybirds 2 -that reprises his first from 1972. There's also to be another album from California's legendary 28 year-old combo, Spirit.

Spirits crazed journey into the rock ether, which reached an acme with '71's The 12 dreams of Dr. Sardonicus , drew on jazz and took mere psychedelia into the nascent prog rock realm. California (formerly Randall Wolfe) played guitar outrageously.

'There was an element...there was something else with us in the studio for the recording of Sardonicus that made that thing extra magical', ponders California, cosmically. 'I'd just been hospitalised after I fell of a horse and I remember there was a lot of anger and frustration. I did a solo on Mr. Skin where I just went, "Fuck it, I'm just gonna..." and everyone said "Hey we like that!" I'd just wanted to play something so radical it would piss 'em off!'

Initially inspired by the Carter family, Doc Watson and Clarence White's Kentucky Colonels, whom he'd catch at his uncle Ed Pearl's Ash Grove club in LA, Randy picked up an affection for Wes Montgomery from his shiny-pated stepfather Ed Cassidy (still drumming in Spirit at the astounding age of 72) and an interest in eastern sounds his aunt's Ravi Shankar records. In 1966, 15 and already a fingerplucking electric guitar phenomenon, he backed John Hammond for a stint at LA:s Café Wha with another unknown player called Jimmy James. 'He let me take a few solos, yeah,' says Randy of the future J. Hendrix. 'We even took a couple of harmony parts- but mostly I played backup, rode shotgun. I smoked my first joint with him-weed that hammond had of Robbie Robertson!'

Then came Spirits Rebellious, soon abbreviated to Spirit, and a string of brain-boggling song titles like Street Worm, Potatoland, Jewish and Romulan experience . The suggestion of hallucinatory ingestion is confirmed by the man's bizarre choice of guitars...

'For the first three Spirit albums I used a Sears Silvertone guitar, which I installed a theremin in. Being able to go woooooo, woooooo in the middle of a solo was, uh, cool...One thing that I'm quite proud of is the fact Dan Armstrong later incorporated something I'd done to my Sears-which I took to New York to show them-into his fibre glass guitar. I used to lay an unwound 20 over the wood bridge, and he ended up putting a fret across his wooden bridge after he saw what I did. And that's the Plexiglass guitar, that I used on Sardonicus.

Currently residing in Ojai, California, practically next door to Larry Hagman, with an 11 year-old Green Day-worshipping son, California seems due a creative surge. When push comes to shove, however, and despite a career that 's seen revival after revival (the Spirit of 76 LP stands out) the currently Charvel-toting guru of guitar unhingedness can't imagine even approaching the achievement of his one-time jam partner-the man he still calls "The master".

'Let's put it this way. If I knew I had five minutes to live and one song to listen to it would be All along the watchtower.'


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This page was last modified on May 08, 2010