Rock Stories: Morgana Welch tells Night Flight about goin’ to a Go Go

By and on June 8, 2015

Morgana Welch grew up in Beverly Hills, but in the early 70s it would be safe to say she felt most at home on the Sunset Strip — at the clubs like the Whisky and a rock star haunts like the Rainbow Bar & Grill — where she came of age as a sexually-aware teenage groupie who beyond everything else loved late 60s/early 70s rock ‘n’ roll and the men who made it.

MORGANA WELCH 5 Her memoirs, Hollywood Diaries — culled from her diaries which she started keeping in the early 70s — is at times frankly honest and funny as hell, and a real reflection of what it was like to rub shoulders (and other naked body parts) with the rock stars.

MORGANA WELCH 2 The infamous corner booth at the Rainbow Bar & Grill, seated left to right, hangin’ with Led Zeppelin: Sable Starr, Robert Plant, Tyla, Morgana Welch, (unidentified), John Bonham and Lori Maddox (photo by Richard Creamer)

We asked Morgana if she had any good “Rock Stories” for us, and she sent us these two stories: one, about her first night at the Whisky, age 16, and a second story about what happened on her 18th birthday: Goin’ to a Go Go (Summer 1971) In 1971 I was sixteen going on twenty-five. I often told the new people I was meeting on the Sunset Strip that I was twenty-something and surprisingly they believed it. Until that year I was mostly exposed to Hollywood at the annual Teenage Fair. It was the only place I got to be with what I felt like were my ‘people’, the so called counter culture, teeny boppers, rockers, hippies, and longhairs. I felt right in place with these beautiful people. Growing up on Doheny just south of Wilshire, the Strip was right up the street, but a world away from my soon left-behind childhood world. I had to be part of the Sunset Strip scene and I didn’t care how I made it happen. My first night at the Whisky A-Go-Go set me up for years of fascination with the fabulous men of rock and roll. I told my mom I was spending the night at my friend, Diane’s, because her parents were away for the weekend and we could stay out as long as we liked. I just had to get up to the Whisky and see the bands in person, and experience it all. That night one of the iconic bands of the time, and a local favorite, Spirit, was headlining. When we got there the club was packed. Diane and I were sitting at a small table in front of the dance floor Looking around I could see remnants of the cages the go-go girls once danced in. They stood out against the movie screen flashing bright psychedelic images next to the stage. Soon the lights dimmed, and the band began to play. The music was loud and better than I could have imagined. I could not sit still and got up to dance alone. The music moved through me, I closed my eyes and let it possess my body. I never felt like that before. I let go of all inhibitions and let the joint I had smoked on the way over take me to an inner fantasy. Everything I was feeling at sixteen was new and exciting.

MORGANA WELCH 3 John Paul Jones leans over beside Morgana Welch (photo by Richard Creamer)

From time to time I found myself checking out the guitar player and singer of the band Spirit, Randy California. He was charismatic and my teenage heart was immediately attracted. It felt like I was dancing for him in some sort of sensual isolation, where time stopped and all that mattered was the song. He noticed me and was grooving to my dancing. We made eye contact many times throughout the set. Then, during the song “I Got a Line on You” he jumped off the stage and began dancing with me, never missing a lick on his guitar. It was amazing. We did this dance of flirtation and sexual posturing. All at once, we were the center of the spotlight, and other people were digging it too. He smiled at me and hopped back on stage just before the song was over. I hung out in the club after everyone left. It was late, but I was not leaving even if I had to walk home. Cass, the drummer for Spirit, came over and asked me if I was waiting for Randy. I told him yes. He went upstairs to let Randy know I was downstairs waiting to talk to him. When Randy finally came down I was so nervous. I was not going to let the opportunity slip by. I thought, why would he jump off stage and dance with me if he wasn’t interested? We talked for a few minutes and I slipped him my phone number. A few days later he called. I couldn’t believe it. We talked for almost an hour. He told me of his upcoming gigs and played something on his guitar over the phone for me. He asked me if I wanted to come over. I said yes and had to figure out another lie to tell my mom and hopefully get Diane to drive me to Malibu. At his apartment on the beach right behind Hickory Burger on Pacific Coast Highway he took me into his kitchen where he had some fresh carrot juice. I spent the night with him after securing my alibi with Diane. We walked the beach after dark and kissed as we lay on the sand. It was just like out of the movies. The strangest thing happened in the early morning twilight. He got out of bed and went outside. I thought he was going out for a cigarette. I fell asleep again and awoke when I felt him lay down in bed. He was wet, sandy, and fully dressed. He must have gone swimming in the ocean with his clothes on and decided not to take them off…strange. We drifted off again ocean water, sand, and all. It was all so surreal.

(Spring 1974)

When you hit the magical age of eighteen, there is a sense of relief as a major milestone has been met; I am no longer jailbait! My eighteenth birthday was celebrated the way a Hollywood girl should rejoice, a party that lasted a week with a rock band, vertexing on the day of my birth.

It all started at the Whisky. Where else? I went to dance my way into the exalted world that music called up. Lost in the ubiquitous dimension that parallels the “real” world, I turned to see Greggo Howard at the side of the dance floor, asking me to come join him and the Johnny Winter band in the corner booth. Greggo was working with Edgar Winter and is now with Johnny. That is always the great thing about the Whisky: most often you run into old friends or make new ones, and if you don’t find either, there is satisfaction in the interaction between dancer, the band, and the audience.

The night was much better than I had anticipated. I was in a despondent mode because my boyfriend and I are drifting apart and my supposed best friend was still with pimp man in Vegas. I instantly took a liking to Johnny Winter, who was easy to befriend.

The next day I joined the Johnny Winter band at the Swing Auditorium. It was a long ride to San Bernardino from the Hyatt House. I rode in the limo with Johnny the time went quickly as we smoked weed and drank the entire way. Johnny was one of the most funny, outrageous, and entertaining people I have met. It was the first time I had seen him in concert, and I too was blown away by his amazing energetic performance.

I had a place on the side of the stage where I could dance and watch the band and the audience who were totally grooving on the band. On the ride back to Hollywood, the party with Johnny continued in the limo. We ended up back at the Hyatt House, and began the next phase of the evening fun in various band member’s rooms continuing long into the wee hours.

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The next gig for the band was taping the show “Midnight Special” at NBC studios in Burbank; again going with Johnny. When we got there Liz Derringer was standing on a chair doing an impression of her husband Rick Derringer. I thought she was pretty obnoxious as I watched her play air guitar and sing awfully. It was pretty weird, but who I am to say. After the taping, we went back to the Hyatt, partied and had dinner before going to the Whisky and the Rainbow.

The last gig in LA was on the night of my eighteenth birthday. Johnny was playing at Long Beach Auditorium. After the gig, we had a small party in Johnny‘s room. Randy Hobbs, the bass player, joined us. We were high and having a lot of silly fun. I asked Johnny for an autograph; he wrote his name on the wall of the hotel room, a five-foot-tall autograph. We were literally rolling on the floor in laughter. He then made me a smaller version on the hotel notepad. We laughed all night doing stupid things. Johnny and I crashed out. The next morning, it was time to face the changes with my boyfriend and get back to my life.

I must say my eighteenth birthday was the best ever. Thank you, Johnny Winter!

(Thanks, Morgana! Morgana Welch can be found here, and here.)

MORGANA WELCH FEATUREDa
Morgana in 1976

About Bryan

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide and a dozen other websites and zines, most of them long gone. He’s also worked for over twenty years at reissue record labels, and penned scads of liner notes -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He is now somewhat reclusive and bides his time quietly in his dusty Miracle Mile hermitage in Los Angeles, CA.