The California Raisins were stars of a popular ad campaign in the eighties and nineties. The Sun-Maid mascots became TV stars of their own and a very real band with multiple records. The real-life leader of the claymation band was Buddy Miles, a legend in his own right. Let’s learn about the man behind the raisins.
Meet Buddy Miles
A jazz fan from Omaha, Nebraska, Miles began touring at age 12. He dropped out of high school to focus on his music career and soon began playing in many rhythm and blues and soul acts. He met a young Jimi Hendrix in Montreal and the two became friends. Miles played drums on a few songs on Electric Ladyland, Hendrix’s final record.
A renaissance man, Miles could play drums, guitar, and sing. He got plenty of work bouncing between bands in the 1970s, crossing paths with the likes of Stephen Stills and Carlos Santana. With Santana, he scored a Platinum record in 1972. Miles signed with Casablanca records, but his momentum was halted because of a series of arrests. Miles went to prison for grand theft and later auto theft.
The California Raisins
While living in a halfway house, Miles started work on a new album at the Record Plant in Sausalito. The sessions were important but star-crossed, for the government seized the building when its owner was indicted for drug trafficking. His album, consisting of 15 songs, was never released.
The sessions were a turning point for Miles, however, as they landed him the job with the California Raisins. Sun-Maid developed the concept of a group of anthropomorphized raisins singing “I Heard it Through The Grapevine.” The claymation characters were a huge hit, and Miles was in business. That’s his voice in one of the most iconic commercials of the 1980s.
The Calfornia Raisins were a lucrative enterprise. They appeared in a Christmas special, A Claymation Christmas Celebration, which won an Emmy Award. Miles helped release four studio albums under the California Raisins brand. They even started promoting Raisin Bran and got a Saturday Morning Cartoon as well as a video game on the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES).
The Later Years
The well dried up for the California Raisins in the mid-1990s, although they regularly make nostalgic appearances to this day. As for Miles, he never stopped working. He died in 2008 of congestive heart failure. From Santana to Hendrix to The California Raisins, no one has ever left a legacy quite like Miles.