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Three Electric Guitarists

February 20, 2018

[caption id=“attachment_68824” align=“alignleft” width=“300”] Geils, California, and Becker[/caption]

Three late, great electric guitarists were born on this date: John Geils in 1946, Walter Becker in 1950, and Randy California in 1951. Geils was the leader and only non-Jewish member of the J. Geils Band, which early on was dubbed “The Jewish Rolling Stones,” due to its sound and high-energy live shows. The band members often referred to themselves as the “J. Geils Jews Band” (a play on their original name, the “J. Geils Blues Band”). Geils died on April 11, 2017. Randy California (born Randy Craig Wolfe), of the rock band Spirit, received his stage name from Jimi Hendrix, with whom he was playing at age 15. But when Hendrix was invited to perform in England, California’s parents would not let him go on the tour. In 1997, California drowned in the ocean in Hawaii while rescuing his 12-year-old son from a rip current. Growing up in Forest Hills, NY, California was a neighbor of Walter Becker and helped him learn to play the blues. Becker, prior to his death on September 3, 2017, partnered with Donald Fagen to form Steely Dan. While Becker’s lineage is disputed online, he was apparently not Jewish, though some sources claim he spoke fluent Yiddish and Fagen once told the Express that he “thinks of himself as an honorary Jew.”

To see an older Geils playing “Lonely Boy Blues” with Duke Robillard and Gerry Beaudoin (Geils is on the left), look below. To see Randy California making like Hendrix on Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower,” look further down. Below that is Becker performing “Josie” alongside Fagen on the David Letterman Show.

“It’s time you started thinking inside your head
That you should stand up and fight
Oh just where will you be when your freedom is dead
Won’t you listen tonight?” —Randy California, “1984”