Randy California & Jimi Hendrix
Randy California interview by Steven Roby from Straight Ahead (The international Jimi Hendrix fanzine) October/November 1994.
Intro: "When Ed Cassidy became my step father in 1966, he moved the whole family to New York City where he had a jazz gig. It was there at the age of 15 that I played in a band called Jimmy James & The Blue Flames. Jimmy James of course was Jimi Hendrix. Hendrix gave me the name California to distinguish me from the Texan born Randy who played bass in the band, This magical event in guitar history took place one year before "Are You Experienced?" and two years before the first Spirit LP."
- -Randy California.
Straight Ahead: Every Hendrix fan I know, myself included, would like to know more about Jimmy James & The Blue Flames. When did the band actually form?
Randy California: It was in '66, I know that. As far as I can remember, the group lasted three months.
S.A: Jimi mentioned in a later interview that the group was also called "The Rainflowers." Do you recall that name? (Note: Carol Shiroky had further information on J.J. & the Blues Flames when I interviewed her later).
R.C: All I remember was that it was being called Jimmy James & The Blue Flames. Maybe it was changed for one night... just for fun.
S.A: Besides Jimi, how did the rest of the line-up in the group go? I read that Jeff Baxter (Steely Dan & Doobie Bros,) was a part-time member.
R.C: I know Jeff was claiming that he was in the band, but I don't really remember him being in the band. There was a guy by the name of Randy from Texas who played bass. His buddy, who was also from Texas, played drums. (Carol Shiroky notes that his name was Danny Palmer. Also Danny and Randy were in a group called the Clouds.)
S.A: How did you meet Jimi?
R.C: My family and I lived out on Long Island and we would take the subway into town. I took a ride in for the day... and I guess my parents were trusting enough that I could take of myself. In those days it wasn't quite as dangerous for a young kid to be wandering around the streets of New York. I met Jimi in Manny's Music store. He was in the back of the store playing a Strat. Our eyes caught each other and I asked him If I could show him some things I learned on the guitar. He then gave me the Strat and I played him slide guitar. He really liked it and invited me down that night, which I believe was his first night of this gig at the Cafe Wha? I don't think he played anything solo before then. I'll never forget that moment our eyes met and froze on each other. Some type of real spiritual affinity or connection happened between us. It was like we knew each other.
S.A: Do you remember what songs you played in your sets?
R.C: I kind of remember we went back to the dressing room - the boiler room, and this is where Jimi taught me "Hey Joe" "Wild Thing" "Shot Gun ", and some standard blues things. I know he showed me the chords to "Hey Joe" because I had never heard that before.
S.A: Did the group play and R&B covers like "Mercy, Mercy"? (a song by Don Covay)?
R.C: Yeah, that sounds right. There were other songs like "High Heel Sneekers" (made popular by Tommy Tucker in 1964) and Jimmy Reed kind of songs.
S.A: What was the crowd like at the Cafe Wha?
R.C: It wasn't a huge crowd... maybe seventy-five people or something like that.
S.A: Was Jimi doing his stage antics with the guitar and such?
R.C: Not the first night, but as time went on he was able to acquire a Fender deluxe reverb. I remember I was playing through a Sears Silvertone amp which I had a lot of power. We used to switch amps quite a bit. When he got this Fender amp he would start sticking the guitar in front of it. This would create a feedback noise. He was always really moving on stage, as far as being a sexy kind of perfomer... He wasn't burning his guitar or anything. He had a real knack for moving the whole band with him when he was on stage. He would do this by his presence and the way he moved to the rhythm of the song. On a lot of the songs he would teach us as were going along. We really didn't have time to rehearse.
S.A: How often did the Jimmy James and the Blue Flames perform?
R.C: We did about five sets a night... six nights a weeks! This lasted almost three months.
S.A: In a 1985 Guitar World article, guitarist John Hammond Jr. states that he came down to the Cafe Wha? and watched Jimmy James and the Blue Flames perform. Do you recall any memories from this period?
R.C: What happend was John Hammond came down and saw us. He had a gig down the street at the Cafe Au GoGo. John liked Jimmy so much that he asked him to back his band up. I was there too, although I didn't think they needed another guitar player. I remember running in bewtween sets in the rain from the Cafe Wha? to the Cafe Au Go Go then back to the Cafe Wha? John Hammond Jr. was only doing two sets a night and we were doing five so this was a luxury kind of a gig. There was some good money involved too. I think we made about twenty bucks each on the nights that we worked with John. On the other nights when we just worked at the Cafe Wha?, I think it was only seven or eight bucks. I remember Jimmy getting the money from this guy, I think his name was Manny, and sharing the money with all the band memebers, even though he was the leader, the person out front. Well I really can't say "out front" because it was a really small stage (laughs). So that was the connection, we would sit in with John Hammond. He had a proper blues gig down at the Cafe Au Go Go.
I recently did a gig at the Pozo Saloon up in San Luis Obispo. Spirit was there along with Elvin Bishop. I reminded Elvin how me and Jimmy used to come down and watch him along with Michael Bloomfiled and Paul Butterfield play at the Cage Au GoGo. That's when the Paul Butterfield Blues Band was starting out. It was quite amazing! Michael Bloomfield was significant master of bending the strings for those days.
S.A: As the story of Jimi has been told, Chas Chandler arrives, offers Jimi some money to go to England, The Blue Flames disband and the Jimi Hendrix Experience is formed. Is that how it went down?
R.C: It's not really that simple. There was a bunch of guys from England that showed up. I remember Keith Richards running down the street and girls following him. There was a series of meetings at a little bar across the street. We were talking about concepts and what Jimmy would do if he went to England. He was playing more Delta-type of blues material then. Jimmy asked me to go with him to England, but I was a bit too young to make that journey. I think he wanted to have another musical influence with him. I also remember Chas was courting Jimmy for a while and then Keith Richards girlfriend, Linda, bought Jimmy his own Strat. Jimmy was always borrowing guitars and having a hard time because there weren't any left-handed guitars.
S.A: Did Jimmy relate to you any of his feelings about Chandler's big plans for him and for his future?
R.C: I think Jimmy was into it for the music. I don't think he was into it for the stardom. So he just took it in stride.
S.A: After the Blue Flames broke up, when was the next time you saw Hendrix?
R.C: I saw him right after he played the Monterey Pop Festival in '67. It was his first big over here. We also saw him at a party, in fact, he sent over a limousine to Topanga Canyon to pick me and the other guys with Spirit up. It was an after Monterey type of bash. Since Lou Adler produced the Monterey Pop Festival and we had just signed to his label Ode Records, we attended the party. Then I saw him at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles (February 10, 1968). I remember sitting in Mitch Mitchell's room and talking to him waiting for Jimi. After that I saw him latter in 1968 at the Seattle Pop Festival. We did connect up about four or five times after the fact.
S.A: I don't know if you have ever seen the photo of Jimi at a radio station in 1968... the DJ is holding up a Spirit albim and I'm sure Jimi must have recalled some memories for the audience about you and the days with the Blue Flames.
R.C: I was thinking about Jimi all the time too. In fact, I didn't even know his last name was Hendrix! I always thought it was Jimmy James. When Barry Hansen (a.k.a. Dr. Demento - a Dj that now has a syndicated radio program that plays very obscure recordings) pulled out the "Are You Experienced" album, I said even though the photo is rather distorted, it sure looks like the guy I played with in New York. When I put it on the turntable and heard the actual playing -- I said, 'that's him... Jimmy James!' I think Jimi kind of protected me from some of the stuff back then because I was so young. I don't remember some of the crazy aspects of what may or may not have happened back then... I just remember the music, being tired at twelve-thirty at night, and having to take the subway back home.
S.A: Can you tell us about some of the songs Hendrix you covered over the course of your catalog?
R.C: Some of them are Dylan/Jimi songs. Right now we are working on a double-Cd that includes live versions of "Like A Rolling Stone" and "Hey Joe."
S.A: One of the later Spirit albums I really enjoyed was "Spirit of '76." I can hear a lot of Jimi coming through.
R.C: That was a neat album recorded when we were on the Mercury label.
S.A: Do you have any final thoughts on Jimi before we close this one out?
R.C: Jimi was a very spiritually attuned person. He was always searching for the truth -- the reality of life! The answers to some of his questions appeared in some of his songs via his imagination, his hopes and his dreams for humanity. I love the quote on the back of the "Cry Of Love" album -- "Hello My Friend..." -- it's kind of like an exit statement in a way. It's so intense, so beautiful, so spirtual . He had so much compassion for what was going on. Even though I was at a very young age when I worked with him, I could tell he was a very loving, caring and open person.
By courtesy of Steven Roby - Hendrix book author and publisher of Straight Ahead