Gene Cornish achieved incredible success as
guitarist for the Rascals. A Canadian by birth,
Cornish was a seasoned music-business veteran
by the time he joined the band in 1965, following a stint with Joey Dee & the Starliters,
where he met future Rascals Felix Cavaliere and
Eddie Brigati. With the addition of powerhouse
drummer Dino Danelli, the Rascals scored
numerous hits before disbanding in 1972.
Gene Cornish of the Rascals poses with his Rickenbacker
semi-hollowbody in this 1989 publicity photo.
Never known as a flashy lead player, Cornish
excelled at rhythm guitar and tried to move
with the times as the music dictated. His
use of fuzz on the single, “Come on Up,”
was gnarly and effective, his chord work on
“Groovin’” was tasty, and his funky licks on
“In the Midnight Hour” would have made
Steve Cropper proud. Cornish still works with
drummer Danelli in the New Rascals, and all
four original members performed a reunion
show in early 2010.
In the ’60s, Cornish favored Gibson Barney
Kessel archtops. Today, he plays Stratocaster-style
guitars. In 1997, the Rascals were
inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
John Cipollina of San Francisco’s Quicksilver
Messenger Service was one of the most
original and talented guitarists of the psychedelic
era. Cipollina made extensive use
of the Bigsby tremolo on his two highly customized
“bat wing” Gibson SGs—a result,
legend has it, of his inability to master
John Cipollina with a Kahler-equipped Carvin double-cutaway just north of San Francisco circa 1987. Photo by Alan Blaustein
Using a thumbpick and fingerpicks, Cipollina
achieved his trademark tones through an
unusual rig consisting of solid-state Standel
and Fender tube amps, coupled with large
Wurlitzer horns, echo units, and effects pedals.
His background in classical guitar and
piano gave him a different perspective than
other rock guitarists of the era who relied
heavily on the pentatonic blues scale for
their solos and riffs.
Cipollina continued to work in various San
Francisco-area bands until his death in 1989
due to chronic emphysema. His family donated
his favorite SG, along with his amp and effects
rig, to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, where it
is on prominent display in the museum.
Quicksilver’s other guitarist, Gary Duncan,
also bears mention. His early work in the
garage band the Brogues paid homage to
Yardbirds-era Jeff Beck, but in Quicksilver
he expanded his palette to include jazz
licks and sitar-like phrasing that blended
effectively with Cipollina’s quivering sounds.
With their divergent approaches, Duncan
and Cipollina managed to stay out of each
other’s way and form an extremely simpatico
Duncan still lives in the Bay area and occasionally
tours with an updated version of
Quicksilver Messenger Service. In the late
’60s, he played a Gibson L-5, an ES-335, and
a ’56 Les Paul Custom, but he eventually
shifted to Fender Stratocasters and Norlin-era
Gibson Firebirds and Les Pauls.
When 17-year-old Michael Monarch joined
Steppenwolf in 1967, he’d only been playing
guitar for a few years. Nonetheless, he helped
the band score their first big hit with the biker
anthem, “Born to Be Wild.” Armed with a candy-
apple-red Fender Esquire blowing through
a fuzz box and Fender Concert or Bandmaster amps, he tracked three albums with Steppenwolf
before getting his walking papers in 1969, just
before the release of At Your Birthday Party.
Michael Monarch with his customized Fender Strat.
Photo by DJ Moore
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.
Randy “California” Wolfe will forever be remembered
as the guitarist with the progressive band
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.
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.
California played inexpensive Silvertone-branded
Danelectro guitars in the early
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.