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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 finger vibrato.
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 dual-guitar team. 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.