Morgana Welch’s search for an identity took her, and the rest of the groupies known as the LA Queens, to the Riot House, Rodney’s English Disco, the Rainbow, the Whisky, and other haunts, where she hung out with a Who’s Who of rock & roll, most notably Led Zeppelin and Alice Cooper
On the West Coast in the early 1970s, underage girls flocked to the Sunset Strip, looking for fun and freedom in the skin-loving sunshine and exciting nightlife of a musically happening Los Angeles. Led Zeppelin wrote a song about those “baby groupies” and LA Queens, identifying them by name in “Sick Again” from the Physical Graffiti album.
Led Zeppelin performing “Sick Again” in Los Angeles, 1977:
In an iconic photograph taken at Rodney’s English Disco, LA Queen Morgana Welch, sits center-court with Led Zeppelin. During this period of time, she made love potions and cast spells, bedded rock stars, threw Robert Plant and Jimmy Page into the pool at the Riot House [the nickname for the legendarily debauched Hyatt House on Sunset Strip], pitched a business proposal to the band’s manager, the intimidating Peter Grant, and told me (in a bewitchingly low and steady voice) that if she could do it all over again, she would, only this time, she’d do even more.
Originally from Phoenix, Arizona, magical Morgana—an Aries born in 1956 during the Season of Initiation—changed her name because she wanted to reinvent herself. Soon after the name change, she moved out of her single-parent home when she was 16. An only child to a fashion model mom, she didn’t like attending Beverly Hills High School. Her best friend, Tyla, lived a mere stroll away from the legendary hotel for rock stars, the Hyatt House. And so, to there they went…
Baby groupies and LA Queens, in their platform shoes, glittery halter tops, and satin short-shorts, frequented rock clubs and hotel coffee shops, kicked their competition on the dance floor, fed frenemies razor-blade sandwiches, and cavorted with musicians who attained rock star status. In all, they established a new kind of cultural mythology based on fact.
Led Zeppelin’s self-proclaimed “golden god” singer, Robert Plant, and the band’s allegedly devil-worshiping guitarist, Jimmy Page, wrote about the cherry lips and queenly brows of their dreaming teen-aged fans in a song that simultaneously questions and elevates them, nymphs turned into goddess-queens in Led Zeppelin’s 1975 song, “Sick Again.”
“Clutching pages from your teenage dream
In the lobby of the Hotel Paradise
Through the circus of the LA queens
How fast your learn the downhill side”
When asked what it was like to be on the scene and an L.A. Queen, Morgana told me, “It was magical, like being on drugs…We just enveloped in this world, it was their world, but you were part of it.”
She describes their dancing during concerts as being an extension of the music. “I think some of those guys felt that connection,” she said. “How deeply a lot of us made that connection to their music and expressed that through dance.”
“We were all very different. But I think what made us LA Queens is we were all there, in all the places you needed to be: the Hyatt, the Whisky, the Rainbow.”
She said that she didn’t know the term, LA Queens, until the Led Zeppelin song was released. “No one called themselves that, it wasn’t a term like I’m part of this group called the LA Queens.” It was simply a group of girls who were hanging out, especially at the Riot House or Rodney’s English Disco, she says. Among them, she lists Tyla; Sable Starr; Lori Lightning; Queenie, and herself as mainstay Queens. There were more, she explained, but they were the girls on the scene most often.
Tyla and Morgana were earthy, and into Tarot, spirituality, and astrology. Sable was harder-edged, tough, a sexual party girl with bleached blonde hair and dark eye make-up. Ever-present Lori was young and shy, while Queenie in her hot pants was outspoken and funny with her raspy-voiced one-liners. Sable Starr’s younger sister, Corel, was around too, but Morgana didn’t know her very well.
Morgana tells me, “I see myself as a free spirit who was trying to figure out who I was.”
She wore velvet caftans, satin pants, tiny tops, and a whip as a belt. “Our art was in fashion,” she said. “Ambient art.” They salvaged from thrift stores so “we could have our place be the coolest place.” Flowing and beaded antique dresses were fragile, and she got her boots from Rainbow Cobbler, where rock stars went.
“Sometimes I’d be the only one on the dance floor, which I always loved, because once I was dancing, I was off in another world.” Dancing at concerts was reciprocal because the dancing gave the musicians a boost, and they fed off each other. “They loved it when we would dance….It was that deep identification with their music…We understood that whole vibration of their music.”
Morgana played guitar, too. Alice Cooper gave her front row seats, and Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones asked her, “What can I do to make you feel great?” which made her swoon then, as a teen, and me now, when I read more about it in her elegant memoir, Hollywood Diaries (2007).
“I wish I could’ve been there,” I tell her.
“I wish I could go back,” she replied.
“I wish we could recreate it,” I say, as we laugh.
In 2015, I checked out ltd LA’s art installation of Rodney’s English Disco at 7561 Sunset Boulevard. I could feel the intimidating power of the section where rock royalty sat, musician kings and groupie queens. Girls could be back-stabbing and competitive as they vied for rockers’ attentions.
Morgana elucidates that back then, they were emerging from free love and women’s liberation, thus motivated to show their power by showing their sexuality. “Sex was a way to get to know people.” Prior to that, she said, girls and women had to wait to be asked to date, to dance, to marry. “We were emboldened, and…sexually free.”
And it wasn’t always or only sex. Hollywood Diaries describes a sweet night she spent washing John Bonham’s hair. It presents a striking contrast to the stories I’ve read about the Led Zeppelin drummer’s attempted rape of a flight attendant aboard their private plane; a bodily attack on a music journalist there to write about their tour; and the punch in the face of a woman who smiled at him in a bar.
Morgana believes that all women deal with sexual violation. She once pressed charges against her boss, before #metoo. But #metoo has not changed her perception of her groupie days; sexual curiosity and hormones coincided with the great music of sexy rock stars.
“There’s a difference between consent and forcing,” Morgana clarifies. “Maybe at that young age, I didn’t stand up for myself,” but she did when she refused the limo that was sent by John Lennon, Harry Nilsson, and Keith Moon during the Troubadour years, back when Lennon wore a Kotex on his head, and he asked the server, “Do you know who I am?” and she replied, “Yes, you’re an asshole with a Kotex on your head.”
Morgana sometimes wondered about the men having sex with her. They were so much older. “There were a lot of creepy guys around, I could name a lot…but most of it was consensual,” she said. “Women are going to be judged, but men aren’t. Slut, whore, whatever. Conversely, you’re called names if you don’t put out,” while “men are encouraged to have prowess.”
On social media, people called her a “stupid groupie.”
When I ask Morgana if rock stars could be rock stars without groupies, she muses, “Maybe, if they had their girlfriends in tow.”
I ask if groupies deserve songwriting royalties, or at least some land or valuable jewelry and art, because their adulation gives the musicians a vibration that helps turn them into rock stars. She says women’s work is not valued.
“I would cook for a lot of broke musicians. I had certain recipes, like these massive stir-frys, where I could feed the band and the roadies for five bucks,” she recalled. “They were always so grateful, because they were broke and starving. So in a way, a lot of groupies were…doing things to help these guys stay alive while they did their music.”
Navigating sexual freedom while avoiding sexual objectification, she never called herself a groupie because it was a put-down. But “I have no problem with the word ‘groupie,'” she tells me.
“It’s what I did consciously, and loved every minute of it. Thinking back, I would’ve done it more.”
“Groupie” turned into a word that belittled girls and women as sexual appendages. The true potential of that word warped as women’s bodies and sexuality were controlled.
“That’s the double standard that I will always fight,” Morgana said, telling me that she has raised her daughter and grand-daughters to be “independent and fierce women,” as evidenced by one granddaughter’s learning of coding, a traditionally “male” domain.
Morgana wanted to be a record producer, another traditionally male domain. The only girl in the DJ classes, she was ridiculed in broadcasting school. So she married a musician, and spent time in the studio that way. She worked as a secretary, learning computers, and eventually, web and graphic design.
When Morgana married the singer, who was an alcoholic, she says she “experienced the flipside of a musician’s lifestyle” with its alcoholism, drug abuse, and domestic violence. She often called the cops on her abusive husband during the 1970s. Many times she was told they couldn’t help her.
She told me, “A lot of girls buddied up. In a way, it felt a little safer, because you had somebody. You didn’t always want to go alone.” Female friendships, fraught though they were because of competition to get the rock ‘n’ roll guy-prize, were the core of LA Queens, as important as any of their relationships with the men. Girls, in pairs or in small groups, headed out onto the streets after making each other up, hair-styling for each other, and sharing living space, clothes, and make-up. Morgana loved the philosophical conversations with Tyla.
That changed when she and Tyla were kidnapped in Las Vegas. “She decided to stay with the kidnappers,” she said.
On a trip to Vegas, the duo were mistaken for sex workers, and put in jail. Upon their release, they were drugged and raped. She escaped when her hysterical tears and laughter freaked out her captor, and she ran down five flights of stairs and out the lobby doors of the hotel. Morgana felt betrayed by Tyla, and the friendship suffered. She told Tyla: “We were being held hostage, and you didn’t help me get out, and you stayed.”
“I think that’s why I get involved in creative projects, which is why I’m notorious for painting my house a lot.” She experiences PTSD, but artistry helps her. “I can put that energy somewhere, and then change the mood. Creativity is a place where I can put that energy.”
I remember her sophisticated memoir, with its soft white paper wrapping, embossed gold, and dignified writing style. Writing the book helped her escape the horror of her mother’s illness. When publishers declined to publish it, she published it herself, deciding “I want to have control of my life.” When I read it, I felt grateful for the precise care of her documentation: a mature woman’s recounting in journal format of a young girl’s journey into adulthood during an amazing time in music history.
Morgana believes that cocaine and AIDS changed the “social experiment of the 1960’s and 1970’s,” because it “went from expressing yourself to feeding the ego.” Morgana advises, “We need a love revolution.”
Morgana, a vegetarian, abstains from drugs and alcohol these days. “I don’t want to be out of it,” she says. “I want to be there for it.”
The author of four books, a business-owning mom who raised her six kids in a big house she owns, Morgana makes her own way.
“I have a huge drive to reach a goal. I’ve always been…internally self-driven, and had things to accomplish.”
She is currently writing her fifth book, a dystopian romance about a time-traveling groupie girl named Rain and a rock star named Taylor.
Her outdoor deck with pretty lights amidst the grounds she landscaped, near a forest, seems enchanted.
Living on her own terms as a groupie helped her create the life she wanted. “That was something I really wanted to do, and that helped me a lot along the way, too. If I could do that, then I could do this,” she figured. Her books! Her freelancing! Her family! Her own business. Just like what she does with her body.