INTERVIEW WITH MISS MERCY
INTERVIEW BY STEVE OLSON
INTRODUCTION BY STEVE OLSON
PHOTOS BY DAN LEVY
Miss Mercy, Trip, but get up, there’s a lot more to come… When they say ‘been there, done it’ it kinda applies to Miss Mercy… From Acid to Rockabilly and back… some get the chance to see the amazing, some get only to read about it. Some just know, some just think they do. Miss Mercy—there’s only one, now you get the chance to read about it… It only happens ONCE.
“I WAS HIGH AS A KITE BECAUSE THEY KEPT PUTTING ACID IN THE PUNCH. EVERYBODY WAS THERE. JANIS JOPLIN WAS THERE. THAT’S WHERE I FIRST MET JANIS. THE SHOWS WERE VERY VERSATILE. THEN JIMI HENDRIX WALKED IN.”
What is your name? Ravee Raveon?
[Laughs] That was my hair name. Ravee Raveon. During the punk days, after Miss Mercy, I was a hairdresser. I was ‘Rave On’ from Buddy Holly and then I put Ravee with it. My original name was Judy Peters, but that had to go. It couldn’t be Lesley Gore. Who’s gay by the way… whoops.
[Laughs] Where did you grow up?
I was born in Burbank and then we moved up north.
So you’re a Californian?
Well, I lived in Florida and Texas for a little while. We lived all over the place. My father was a gambler, so we went everywhere the racetrack was. He was deep into gambling, so every place we lived had a racetrack, and a dog track. That was my life. We lived every place. Then he’d always have to leave.
Did he owe some money?
Someone tried to put cement shoes on him, so we split. My mother was a registered nurse. Then dad got into taking diet pills. He was a speed freak. He was also dating a top Vogue model. She was taking diet pills, so he started taking them. I think that I inherited that need for speed from him. When I was 15, I was fat, so they gave me some diet pills, too. Then we moved to San Mateo, California, which had a racetrack.
You weren’t too far from San Francisco.
We were close enough to get on the bus and go to North Beach.
For the jazz scene?
For the beach?
At first, I went to North Beach. In 1965, I went to North Beach to City Lights. I went to the first love in. It was an experimental drug thing, at Fisherman’s Wharf.
What do mean the first ‘love in’?
It was the first experimental LSD party. The first guy I went to bed with was a beatnik named Frank. At least, that’s what he told me.
How old were you then?
I was fifteen. I was listening to Wolfman Jack on my radio. There was a record shop there in North Beach that played John Lee Hooker, so that’s where I first heard that. Then I had a girlfriend that gave me some LSD. This was before LSD really came out. My girlfriend Monty Moore was the only beatnik in my high school. Her mother was a junkie, a morphine addict, so Monty was always by herself. We ended up in juvenile hall, time and time again, together.
Why were you ending up in juvie?
[Laughs] One time, I turned myself in. I didn’t want my parents to own me so that caused me trouble, so I turned myself in and the authorities took over owning me. I was an incorrigible ward of the state. Monty Moore was from across the tracks. It all happened very quickly. Then I was with Tom Donahue who was mixed up with Sly Stone. Anyway, my girlfriend Monty Moore dressed with these crazy elf shoes and a magician cape. It was very David Crosby in a female. I was in love with her. She gave me a ride home one day to San Mateo after we had been hanging out with the beatniks. She hands me a little pill and says, ‘Take that.’ So I take it. She says, ‘You’ve got lemons in your mouth.’ All of a sudden, I tasted lemons. Then she dropped me off at my house and didn’t tell me a thing. There was no media on LSD yet. I’m in my apartment with gypsy bracelets all the way up my arm that started turning into snakes as I was looking at my arm. Then I was getting into my radio. I was crawling into my radio. Then I looked out my second story window and saw a carnival, which in reality was a carport. Then the walls started breathing. I almost lost my mind. That’s how I got on LSD. In North Beach, I was hanging with the beatniks, but I was also into the blues. Then the beatniks’ hangout became a tourist spot. There was a lot of nude dancing.
What else did you get to experience besides the lemons in your mouth?
I was getting away from conservative San Mateo. It could have had something to do with the diet pills they gave me because they thought I was fat, but I was into music. I got to meet Tom Donahue and I was into KYA radio. Then I followed the Beau Brummels and met them.
What do you mean you followed them?
I was a groupie. I followed the Stones all the way to Sacramento and ended up in a room with Brian Jones.
What do you mean? I know what you mean, but elaborate a little more.
My girlfriend and I went to Sacramento to see the Stones. Patti Labelle and the Bluebells were on that show. It’s the show where Keith got electrocuted. He went like ten feet in the air and they closed the curtains really fast. Everything broke up. As soon as Keith got electrocuted, we jumped in the car and followed the Stones’ car. We were following them and then they stopped at one spot, got out of the car and got into a limousine to fool people, but we were still hanging in there right behind them.
We get to the bungalows and I heard Mick saying that the police beat Keith up. I’m not sure if it’s true, but Mick was flipping out that Keith had gotten arrested. He flipped out at Altamont. He was a flipper-outer, but I loved him. I ended up in a room with Brian Jones going through his suitcase. The other one, Charlie Watts or Bill Wyman, I couldn’t really tell the difference between the two, got locked out of his hotel room so he’s there with Brian. I’m not on a sexual trip yet. That started six months later, when my beatnik came in.
What year was this?
1965. I was in love with Brian Jones. There was no doubt in my mind. He was just there going through his suitcase calmly. I think he was stoned, so we just hung out in the hotel room with him.
How is it that you ended up in the hotel room with him?
He let us in.
He was like, ‘Oh, come in.’
Yeah, he was very sweet. I had a cute girlfriend, but he didn’t hit on anybody. We just ended up in there. That was the beginning of my real groupie-ism. It started with The Rolling Stones and the Beau Brummels. I wanted everything I heard on the radio to be accessible to me. I wanted to be there. I wanted to know the people on the Ed Sullivan Show or whatever else. Then the beatniks move over to a coffeehouse called the Blue Unicorn, which was right next to ‘Panhandle Park’ in Haight-Ashbury. So I start going there and hanging out. That’s where I met the beatnik guy named Frank. We had sex and I said, ‘Is that all there is? It hurts.’
[Laughs] I’m hanging out with beatniks and, suddenly, Bob Dylan plugs in his guitar and the whole Blue Unicorn changes. You could see the hippies come in and the beatniks going, ‘No, no, no.’ The hippies came from that whole plug in for some reason. I believe that Dylan started it by plugging in with Bloomfield. So they started playing that kind of music at the Blue Unicorn. Everything started rolling and then the hippies were there, but we thought the hippies were un-hip. That’s what the beatniks used to say. I don’t know where hippies came from, but I know for a fact that Hollywood had the motion picture business as a tourist attraction and New York had Broadway. San Francisco had Alcatraz and Fisherman’s Wharf, but that wasn’t really drawing in the tourists, so they made hippies the new tourist attraction. I believe it was a media thing.
Where else did you go to see bands?
Well, then the Fillmore and the Avalon opened, so I was at those gigs. I was taking acid like crazy. I kept going back to juvenile hall. Linda Yacoubian, who became Texacala Jones and in the punk scene became the chick lead singer of Tex and the HorseHeads, was my best friend at the time. We were in juvenile hall together. We were best friends and almost got married, but I married Shuggie instead. She came to LA after I came to LA. During the San Francisco hippie trip, I got on the sixth cover of Rolling Stone with my boyfriend, at the time, Bernardo. That’s whom I followed down to LA.
What was the hippie scene like?
I was shooting speed.
That’s not very hippie like.
That’s more Beatles-ish.
No, that’s not Beatles-ish. The Beatles only smoked pot then. They were very against other drugs. I don’t remember them doing any. I think the speed came in later.
I thought Abbey Road was written on speed.
You may be right. You also had William Burroughs on heroin. Most writers were on speed. Tennessee Williams was on speed. John F. Kennedy was on speed. He had Hitler’s doctor over there, Max Jacobson. Jacobson was a doctor in New York that had Kennedy injecting speed. I met Jacobson and went out of my way to know him.
[Laughs] He had the good shit going on?
[Laughs] He was a wonderful man. Amphetamines had been around since the Japanese fighters. The kamikaze pilots used it.
What about Rommel the Desert Fox? He was the ultimate conquering general and he had a lab on the frontlines. The enemy troops were falling to the wayside because they were tired.
Everyone was using it. Don’t think that Elvis didn’t get some shots. Nixon was the other president that got treated with amphetamines. They injected him, too. He had a psychiatrist that was Shuggie’s psychiatrist. He told him that Nixon was being treated for taking too many amphetamines. They had been using amphetamines on presidents for years. Jacobson had Jackie Kennedy on speed, too. That might explain all her changes of clothes and decorating.
[Laughs] She could change fast.
[Laughs] The CIA brought over Jacobson. He was a German Jew, which was really interesting. As soon as I got to meet him, they took him away. They also took his formula. He had a new formula to get people off speed and heroin. Jacobson wanted to talk about what he had done to people, including his own daughter, and he had this new formula. We went over to Jacobson’s house and he said, ‘I want to show you what I’ve done.’ He brought in a heroin addict who had no recollection of doing heroin after the injection of this formula. He could do these injections and say, ‘You no longer need heroin.’ And it went away. He was so happy about it, but then they took away his license and his formula. Right after that, you had Jim Jones come up in Guyana. He was also, supposedly, a speed shooter. There was all that stuff in the Kool-Aid that you would use when you mind-alter people. Charles Manson was another one. There were a lot of drugs involved with that and I believe they were all formulated from Jacobson’s formula.
So you’re at the Fillmore and the Avalon. What kind of bands were you seeing?
They had the greatest array of bands. My favorite group was 13th Floor Elevators, but I had a bad acid trip when I went to see them at the Avalon. Someone had given me LSD with strychnine. I had just come back from juvenile hall. I was taking this girl on her first trip, but I got the bad half. The guy that ran the Avalon saw that I’d been poisoned. Chet Helms took me and put me in a room and turned 13th Floor Elevators on. I went through all the greenness of being poisoned and then came back out of it. He went downstairs and was talking to my friend. She was having the best trip in the world, but I got poisoned. A lot of people died from getting LSD with strychnine. Then I got into shooting meth amphetamines, which was a big drug then. Don’t let them fool you. There were hippies that were all about peace, love and flowers, but there were also the freaks that fashioned themselves after Fellini, Aubrey Beardsley with the vintage velvet and flowers in the hair. There was a whole other scene there. I was one of the freaks. Then the mob moved in and took over the LSD trade. I’d go and visit my boyfriend Bernardo when he was in the hospital with hepatitis. He was very bright yellow. They called it ‘mellow yellow’. He looked like a damn banana. I would go into County Hospital and they would come down from the psychiatric ward and show me their acid. The government had tried to give the LSD to the army, but instead of making them more like warriors, they were all putting down their guns. The Army was like, ‘This is not working.’ So they gave the LSD to the psychiatrists. That great looking dude actor, Cary Grant, was on LSD.
They were testing it on him?
The psychiatrists were using it on patients. The psychiatrists would have to wait days for them to come down. It was like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. It really was like that. So when I visited Bernardo in the hospital, they would come down from the psych ward and sell LSD to me for $5. I was like, ‘I’m not taking this shit. I know what the government is trying to do.’ The government and the mob got in there and Haight-Ashbury got taken over very quickly and became very dark. I met Charles Manson there. I heard Manson talking to someone and I was on acid in the other room. Bobby Beausoleil was there too. Manson was talking about how it was going to go down. I think he got blamed for a lot of shit that the CIA did. I think they used Manson. He was talking about how there would be blood in the streets. It started to go through my head, but I was trying to throw it out because I was on the really good acid. I took the original Sandos LSD from Sweden. They were handing out the Owsley acid. You could get free food from the Diggers and the punch at the Avalon.
How did you know Beausoleil?
Bobby Beausoleil was my neighbor when I was in LA. He was going out with my girlfriend at the time. I don’t know what happened there, but I still believe that Manson was under that formula that came from Jacobson. It all tied in somehow. I still think Manson was trying to be a revolutionary and not a killer. I don’t know what they did to him. I don’t know what happened to him to make him like that. He was never there at the killings. Beausoleil has said in interviews that he killed a guy over a drug deal with the Hell’s Angels. A guy had sold the Hell’s Angels some bad drugs and they were really pissed and they were going to come after him. Beausoleil was over there trying to talk to the guy about fixing it, but the guy wouldn’t fix it, so they killed him. In order, to cover it up, they used the girls. All the girls had a crush on Beausoleil, so they went over and killed these other people to cover up what Beausoleil had done. They were like, ‘He couldn’t have done it, because it’s been done again.’ Manson was never at any of the killings, but, supposedly, he made all these people do these things. I still have questions about that. I really do.
So then you had to get out of town.
I had to leave and I’ll tell you why. The juvenile authorities went over to my mother’s house in San Mateo. My dad had left. He was out gambling all over the place and he left my mother alone with her nursing. She took pills too.
There were a lot of drugs going on back then.
It wasn’t just hard drugs. The pharmaceutical companies were giving you diet pills to lose weight. They were handing out Valiums as tranquilizers. Then you’d have a few martinis in the evening and then take a sleeping pill. How many drugs is that? How far gone was America, at that point, in the ’50s.
It was martini hour. Anyway, I was all tied up with the juvenile authorities. And that’s where Yacoubian and I kept meeting. She was great. She was a little hippie chick. When I was with Shuggie, she became involved with ‘Blackbyrd’ McKnight who played with George Clinton. They tried putting him in the Red Hot Chili Peppers, but that didn’t last long. She had moved in with him by then.
I heard that.
At one point, after I got out of juvenile hall, my mom called me. She had told the juvie hall people that I was missing because I hadn’t been reporting to her. They told her that they just wanted to talk to me. Of course, when I walked in there, they arrested my ass. They put the handcuffs on me in front of my mother. I was like, ‘You know what? I’m crazy. Take me to the nuthouse.’ I didn’t want to go back to juvenile hall because you couldn’t do anything in there, but they sent me back to juvie first. When I was in juvenile hall, I got a visit from a flying saucer. It landed in the playground. We were up on a hill. It woke Yacoubian and me up. The UFO talked in lights and it said, ‘Walls cannot hold your soul.’ That was the message I got. From then on, I could astro-project myself outside. People would say, ‘Hey, I saw you at the Avalon the other night.’ But I really wasn’t there. I was in juvenile hall in my cell.
[Laughs] What bands were you seeing in the hippie days?
I started getting really into the blues. At that time, Chet Helms and Bill Graham ran the Avalon and the Fillmore. I saw 13th Floor Elevators and Quicksilver Messenger Service, which was my favorite. Then I saw Bo Diddley with an arrow shooting out of his guitar. I remember that. I was high as a kite because they kept putting acid in the punch everywhere. Everybody was there. Janis Joplin was there. That’s when I first met Janis. The shows were very versatile. Then Jimi Hendrix walked in.
How was Jimi?
He was amazing. I talked to Jimi at the Fillmore, because he came up to me and he was talking to the girl beside me that was from Hollywood. I told Jimi, ‘You don’t want that broad. She’s fake.’ Then I met him again at Monterey before I was in the GTOs.
You were at Monterey?
What happened was that I got put in the mental hospital and cut my wrists and then some girl followed me. I did it so I could stay in there and keep my freedom there. Juvenile hall was like jail. I wasn’t trying to commit suicide, but they were very hip to me. They were like, ‘We’ve got your gimmick, but do you realize that you made this other girl cut her wrists?’ I was like, ‘I’m sorry about that.’ So they sent me back to juvenile hall. In juvenile hall, I had a great P.O. that loved to hear all about Haight-Ashbury and kept me going with the news. She said, ‘I’m going to do you a favor. We’re trying a new program here, so we’re going to let you go home for a day, get your clothes and get your stuff together. We’re sending you to LA and you’re going to be in the juvenile hall down there and you won’t be able to see anybody.’ So they gave me a day off and I ran away. I was in Laguna Beach with a girlfriend and we were doing speed and then we went to the Monterey Pop Festival. For some reason, someone said, ‘Do you want to go back stage?’ So I went backstage. And I drank the punch and I was so high. The government had put STP in it or something. It was a three-day high. Nobody had STP except the government and the CIA. They were trying to get rid of the Black Panthers and eliminate anyone from uprising, but it got out of hand.
It’s kind of like the war in Iraq.
Actually, in the movie Panther they say it in the end, when they show them in the boat and the CIA is there. They say, ‘Let’s distribute the drugs now.’ They knew what they were doing. I loved the Black Panthers. They all died of drug use. I think the government fucked them up.
Let’s go back to Monterey. You’re backstage drinking the punch.
[Laughs] There were enough drugs. There’s Brian Jones and I’m talking to him. I was high as a kite. Everyone was walking around in the back. I remember seeing Otis Redding there. I looked up the stairs and at the top of the stairs, I was so high that I thought I saw Mick Jagger in black face, but it was really Jimi Hendrix.
Backstage was great. It was beautiful. It was something else back there. Then I went way out in the fields and heard this really weird noise. I came back and it was Jimi. I thought it was silly, but you have to realize how high The Who and Jimi were at that show. They were trying to outdo each other, but they were really, really high at that gig. Monterey was a really amazing time. It was great.
How did you end up in Los Angeles?
First, I ran from San Mateo to Laguna Beach with Bernardo. Then he went to LA, and even though I hated LA, I followed. Then I met Jim Morrison and The Doors, because the drummer’s girlfriend was staying at my house. That’s when I first realized that maybe something good was happening in LA. Jim’s girlfriend, Pamela, was staying at our house and she was trying to crawl into a little hole because she was so high. I ended up in Los Angeles, because I couldn’t go home to San Mateo. The minute I went back, they would arrest me. Bernardo, my boyfriend, who I was madly in love with at the time, had all these girlfriends that were hookers. They were great. We all wore long velvet dresses from the ’40s, but they took their dresses and cut them into mini-skirts. They all worked the streets. Through those girls, I met Miss Christine who was living next door. She became Frank Zappa’s housekeeper. She was a total speed freak. She made all her own clothes and she was fabulous. She’s the one on the cover of Zappa’s Hot Rats. She was the one that found Alice and made him into Alice Cooper. Between my makeup and her clothes, he became Alice Cooper. His name was Vince when we met him.
She thought he was hot. She found an array of people. Miss Christine was living with Todd Rundgren and that’s how I ended up at the recording sessions in Woodstock with The Band when they were doing Stage Fright. I was sitting there with Rick Danko when he was writing the lyrics for Stage Fright. I was trying to help him. If I had realized who Rick Danko was I would have been on top of him in a minute. He was beautiful. I loved the Band. They were the greatest group from America. They had it all. They were brilliant. So then back in LA, Frank Zappa sees me. I was all dressed up in this garb with the heavy eye-makeup because I never washed it off.
You had the raccoon eyes.
I just kept my makeup on all the time. It was actually kohl from India. I got that from Theda Bara. I had all the gypsy clothes on. I wore five or six dresses at a time. I would put on everything I could think of because I was on speed. I just kept putting on more dresses. Then Frank Zappa says, ‘We have to put her in the GTOs.’ The GTOs had started out as a ballet company. He said, ‘We want her and Cinderella.’ So then we became the GTOs.
That’s how it started?
Yeah. Pamela [Des Barres] and I became very good friends. We went to this movie and Gram Parsons walked in. She knew all about him, but I didn’t know anything about him. I loved country-western music. I loved any kind of roots music. I said, ‘Who’s that guy?’ She said, ‘That’s Gram Parsons.’
What other recording sessions did you get into?
The sessions that I’ve been at that were really important were with The Stones when Mick was mixing down Beggars Banquet. ‘The one who shot the Kennedys, after all was you and me.’ I was in Muscle Shoals with Shuggie [Otis] and Ahmet Ertegun. Muscle Shoals is one of the great studios [Fame Studios]. I was out in the middle of fuckin’ Alabama in a dry county, with Ahmet Ertegun. It was crazy. I was in Stax Records. I was in Royal Studios when Al Green was cutting his stuff. I was with Johnny Otis when he redid Louis Jordan, Charles Brown and Big Joe Turner. He redid all their hits. It was all the original rock n’ roll that I had no idea about. Then I came back to LA and there was a punk scene. It sounded like they were trying to strangle the lead singer, but there was energy there.
It was amazing.
I met you there.
We’re going so far ahead in time. We have to go back in time.
I hitchhiked with Rod Stewart. All sorts of crap happened. I was at Frank Zappa’s house when Rod came over with the Faces.
How amazing was that?
It was amazing, but Jeff Beck was the big thing in that group, but if you said that to Rod, boy, what an ego, what a fuckin’ ego.
He had Ronnie Wood in there too.
Ronnie and I were good friends. I used to stay with him in his hotel room. It was crazy. Rod Stewart would listen to David Ruffin over and over and over again. Women would be flowing in and they’d go to bed with him, but Cinderella and I would still be sleeping in the same bed with him. We’d just get out of the bed for a minute. There were so many groupies that I idolized. The one that I think was the best was Fayne Pridgeon. She was Sam Cooke’s girlfriend. She introduced Sam Cooke to Jimi Hendrix. Then she was Jimi Hendrix’ girlfriend. When you see the Jimi Hendrix movie, that’s Fayne in there. She was going out with Shuggie at the same time that I was. The competition was fierce.
She was in Muscle Shoals with Ahmet Ertegun because he was recording her. She could sing her ass off. I just loved her. Kudos to that woman.
How do you hook up with Shuggie Otis?
Oh, that’s a crazy story.
Shuggie said no to the Rolling Stones.
Yes. He said no to the auditions. They were all in the room with Billy Preston when he called Shuggie. We were at my mother’s house when the phone call came. Shuggie just said, ‘No.’ He had his own shit going. Billy Preston was pushing for Shuggie. I think Billy Preston had a big crush on him. The Stones were very hip to Shuggie. It was an audition in France that they wanted him to go to. He just said, ‘No.’ He wanted to do his own stuff. Sometimes I was really pissed at him because I really wanted to be the wife of a Rolling Stone.
At the same time, when I think about it, I would have been dead. You can’t hang with Keith Richards. Keith would have gone after that boy in a minute, because he was beautiful. There was no doubt about it. He was kicking off women. Shuggie was so stunning. He was unbelievable. They had a lot of plans for him, but he wanted to do shit his way.
How did you hook up with Shuggie?
Pamela and I were in the car with a reporter on our way to see Ringo Starr. Shuggie was on an album cover that the reporter was reviewing, but I didn’t know who he was. I took one look at him and said, ‘Who is that? That guy is stunning.’ The reporter said, ‘You’ll never get near him. That guy’s father, Johnny Otis, is strict.’ So we’re at the Ringo Starr press conference. Later on, we were up at Ahmet Ertegun’s room. Ahmet hadn’t come in yet, but he was with Graham Bond. He was releasing his album. He’s another unknown person to America, but anyone that knows who he is knows that Graham Bond started the whole blues thing. In fact, he played the Whisky one night. He snuck in there because he’s a heroin addict. Hendrix got mad at me because I was talking. He was like, ‘Don’t you know that the greatest guy in the world is on stage?’
So we’re at this table with this guy and we were smoking hash. Ahmet got high. Everyone got high. I asked this guy what he did and he said, ‘I write songs.’ I said, ‘Name me a few.’ And he started naming them, ‘Jailhouse Rock’ and almost every hit on the charts. It was Mike Stoller, but I didn’t know that. That was part of that whole night with Mike Stoller of Stoller and Leiber.
So I’m sitting there with a lawyer that became a judge, and ended up with Aileen Getty. I love him. He lives in the house where they used to shoot the propaganda films in Laurel Canyon. It’s the most famous house and has the most property. It just goes on and on up at Lookout Mountain. So I’m staying at this house and I have this vivid dream. I see this guy on the album cover and it says, ‘You’re going to marry this guy.’ The next day I woke up and said, ‘I know who I’m going to marry.’ At the same time, Frank Zappa has found Johnny Otis who has left show business to become a politican. He said that some idiot told him not to use the name Johnny Otis, but to use his real name John Veliotes. He lost. Anyway, Frank brings him in with Shuggie and puts them on Hot Rats. I end up going to some spot that Shuggie had just gotten hired to record in for Columbia Records. That’s when I met Shuggie, and it just started from there. I was telling him stories, but when I get to Rainbow Bridge with Jimi, because he’s a big Jimi fanatic, it just went on and on. I ended up living with him. After a while, I went to Florida to get away from Shuggie. I first went to Memphis to get away from him. That’s where I met Al Green. I ended up going out with Al Green when he came to Los Angeles. That’s when he was really big. Then I went to Florida with my dad to get away from Shuggie, but I couldn’t, so I went back to LA and Shuggie picked me up at the airport. I moved in with him again, got pregnant and then married him. It was mainly because Johnny’s mom was a Greek. She was like, ‘She can’t live here, unless they’re married.’ So we got married. Shuggie was the main thing in my life. He was the one that I loved the most. I’ll never love anybody like I loved him. I’m still in love with him. We’re friends now. I’m trying very hard to repair the relationship with my son and his father. And he’s trying to come back up too. You’ve got to hear Shuggie’s new stuff. It’s amazing. Did you know that Beyonce did his stuff? That’s how he got paid big. She did ‘Strawberry Letter 23′. I was watching a TV show about the Pepsi thing. She was on the show talking about Shuggie Otis. I was like, ‘Oh my God.’ She did two of his songs. She did ‘Rainy Day’, which was an all instrumental and put her own lyrics to it and she did ‘Strawberry Letter 23′ and put her own lyrics to it. So he got doubly paid.
How do these people get a hold of his stuff?
Six years ago, David Byrne re-released Inspiration Information. I named that album. That was a name of one of the songs. I said, ‘Why don’t you name your album that?’ So they re-released his album and he started to become big. He’s been coming up and up and up, so people started hearing it again. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t hear ‘Strawberry Letter 23′ by the Brothers Johnson.
The Brothers Johnson, ‘Get the Funk Out Ma Face’?
Yeah, they did ‘Strawberry Letter 23′ and it was a huge hit. I hear it by Tevin Campbell, which was the one that Quincy Jones did. Then I started hearing Beyonce’ doing it. It’s crazy. I hear it over and over again. The new stuff that Shuggie is doing was started in 1977 and he finally finished it.
How does it sound?
There’s one song on there that I think is going to do it. He can do everything now. He’s got a real voice. Before, he was a kid. He was only 15 or 16. Back in the day, Buddy Miles, Shuggie, Al Kooper and Mike Bloomfield tried to cut a session up in Mill Valley in the ’70s when I was with him. The egos were so big that it went nowhere.
[Laughs] Egos can be so destructive.
Oh my god. Those people all talk about each other like they’re enemies. I put Arthur Lee and Shuggie together in 1990. I was dating Arthur and I said, ‘You need to know Shuggie. You’re Mr. ‘Orange Skies’ and he’s Mr. ‘Strawberry Letter.’ There was no doubt in my mind that they would hit it off. So I put them on this TV show together and they played together. Those two would call you every name in the book, but they never had a bad thing to say about each other. Arthur was an absolute genius. He could play keyboard too. When Arthur was with Sky Saxon, it was amazing. It was Arthur, Sky and me at the sessions for The Seeds. I saw Arthur play keyboards, which he never did as Love or anything. Arthur went from A to Z. He put Jimi Hendrix on his first record. Jimi got a lot from Arthur, but Arthur never got the credit.
Didn’t Jimi play with Little Richard?
Yeah, he came from the Chitlin’ circuit. They were all from the Chitlin’ circuit.
Lee Allen also played with Little Richard and with the Blasters.
Lee Allen played with everybody. The Stones may have even used Lee Allen. They might have done like they did with Bobby Womack on ‘Harlem Shuffle’. That’s him yelling in the background. That was another session I was at. I was crazy about Bobby Womack. He was the guitar player for Wilson Pickett. He also married Sam Cooke’s wife. We got picked up in a limousine one day and went over to the session when he was doing ‘Stop on By.’ I flipped. Womack is so amazing. Sly was mixed up with Bobby Womack when I was going out with Arthur Lee. They were in the same studio that we were in. He’s very big into crack. All three of those guys were into crack. The Stones were very hip to Womack. He wrote ‘It’s All Over Now’. ‘I used to love her, but it’s all over now.’ That session was amazing. He did all the voices and everything. He’s still alive. He hangs with Sly. They’ve been together for years. They’ve been smoking together for years. It’s amazing he’s still here. I love him.
What about Arthur Lee?
In 1990, he walked in after he’d been in prison for seven years and when he saw me, he just flipped. We’d met each other in the ’60s. I met him with Jimi Hendrix’s girlfriend Devon [Wilson], ‘Dolly Dagger’. She brought him over and we loved him. He was incredible. When he was with my girlfriend, he was still into crack and pornography and all of that. When he saw me, he was like, ‘Oh my god. You’re great.’ He was trying to score a bag of crack after being locked up for seven years. He went straight back to the drugs, so I stayed away from him. I was off crack because I’d just gotten arrested. So anyway, my girlfriend would do anything for him, but one day she decided to throw him out. So I went with him. I told her that the minute she let him loose, I would take him. So Arthur and I went to a hotel and smoked. We were back on crack again at that point. We started a relationship. It was weird. He had a girlfriend at home that was a nurse. He ended up marrying her. He always loved her because she always took care of him. I didn’t like cheating on her, but what can I say? It was a physical thing on his side. For me, I had a great love for him. I’d have to jump out of cars a lot because he would fall asleep at the wheel. They were giving him drugs to stop him from doing crack, but he would take too many and pass out. He was so talented. Then I ran into my next husband. He sold me a rock and I married him. That’s when Arthur and I split up. He died in 2006. He would call me and we would talk. I saw him put together Five String Serenade in 1990. I was at the session. He did some amazing stuff. He was famous. He was touring Europe. Then Arthur went to jail for four years for firing a gun. Before he moved back to Memphis, I went over to his house and spent some time with him. As I left, I said to my girlfriend, ‘I have a feeling that’s the last time I’ll ever see him.’ Later on, I called him and he had moved back to Memphis. He was in the hospital. He said, ‘Mercy, I have leukemia, but I’m going to fight it.’ He made the records for stem cell research in that state. He had cirrhosis and hepatitis C. He didn’t have a chance. Then I went up to my sister’s and I had a vision of Arthur. I had this dream and he visited me. Pamela got a hold of Robert Plant for me and he was going to do a benefit for Arthur to try to save him because Robert idolized Arthur. When I called the manager, he said, ‘Arthur passed away last night.’
That was that. I ended up going to the funeral and I spoke at. Tears welled up.
What about the GTOs?
The GTOs were really fun. We only lasted a short time because of the drug use. Christine and Shuggie had some dope one time in our bathroom. The police were running through the alley and they saw Christine and arrested her ass. I got arrested for morphine, which they changed to heroin, because if you got arrested for morphine, you had to do time. So they lied for me in court. Frank was very anti-drugs, and because of our drug use, he had to get rid of the GTOs.
How did the GTOs come together? What did GTO stand for?
It’s Girls Together Outrageously, Girls Together Obnoxiously or anything else you can think of.
How did it happen?
Frank had formed the Laurel Canyon Ballet Company. It was Miss Pamela, Miss Mercy, Miss Lucy, Miss Sparky, Miss Cinderella, Miss Christine, and Miss Sandra. Sandra was a real case. She’s dead now too. She moved to Seattle to be next to Jimi’s grave. She started thinking that her and Jimi were connected. I showed up at her house once and she had this picture of Jimi. She was talking to it. I thought she was doing it to act crazy to get social security benefits, but she’d torn her house apart because she’d had a big fight with Jimi. But there was nobody there. The police came and she told them she’d been fighting with Jimi.
So anyway the GTOs were Pamela, Lucy, Sandra, Sparky, Cinderella, me and Christine. When I showed up on Zappa’s doorstep with Cinderella, he said, ‘I want a commercial group. We need Mercy and Cinderella because they’re far out.’ He told the other girls they weren’t far out enough. The other girls were straight Reseda girls. They were girls that dressed up and wanted to be in the in crowd, but they weren’t the real deal. Cinderella was from Manhattan Beach and she definitely wasn’t straight. Pamela really was the real deal. Sparky wasn’t. She quit the group. Lucy quit before we got to the commercial group. Then there were just the five of us that were the GTOs.
Is that when you end up hitchhiking with Rod Stewart?
Yeah. I ended up hitchhiking with Rod Stewart, basically because he was poor when he was with The Faces. We hitchhiked and got him clothes. We got him all these little boleros. I remember on the car ride, he would say, ‘I would sing with Long John Baldry.’ They ended up hiring Jeff Beck and Nicky Hopkins, who was also with The Stones and played on everything. I listened to Beggars Banquet with Nicky the first time he ever heard it. He said, ‘Well, they fucked that up.’
We were cutting the GTOs record and we go to our session and there’s Jeff Beck on guitar, Nicky on piano, Aynsley Dunbar and the rest of the Mothers of Invention. Frank Zappa was producing. I was singing ‘Shock Treatment’, which I wrote about Keith Richards. I had a big crush on Keith Richards. I wrote these lyrics and we’re doing this song. ‘I see all these people I want to see.’ It’s very dreary. All of a sudden, Rod Stewart, who nobody knew, walks up to the microphone and starts singing. I was like, ‘You know what? This guy can sing.’ So he ended up singing my song. I did the very opening of the song and then you hear Jeff Beck come in and then it’s Rod Stewart singing. So that’s what happened at that session. At another session that we had, Gram Parsons came in and said, ‘Can I play something?’ Frank wouldn’t let Gram play, so he went down the hall and played piano by himself.
We cut that album. I worked with Lowell George from Little Feat. I had two songs that I wrote on that album. I wrote ‘Shock Treatment’ and ‘I Have a Paintbrush in My Hand to Color a Triangle’. It was a fictitious imagery of me, Brian Jones and Bernardo.
I sang the melody and then Lowell George came in with his country-western ‘Yee-haw’. It was all in the mix. The album was getting pushed. We were on our way. We played one gig at the Shrine. Gram Parsons showed up at that gig. Chris Hillman was there. They took us out and got us high. Pamela and I were so high. I remember walking back into the Shrine and there was Alice, Frank, the Mothers of Invention and Rodney Bingenheimer. Miss Christine looked at me and said, ‘If you fuck this up, I’ll kill you, bitch.’ I was like, ‘Whoa.’ That was the only gig that we ever really did, except for the one that your brother Bucky went to where I showed up on heroin. I was living with the Otises and Shuggie didn’t want me in the GTOs.
He didn’t want his wife to perform. For our last gig, Cinderella and I decided to go at the last minute. I told Shuggie that I was going to the movies. He said, ‘Can I go?’ I said, ‘No. You stay here.’ Then she brought this china white heroin over. Then we went to that gig where your brother was at the Shrine with the NY Dolls, Peter Ivers and everybody. We were high as kites. We stepped on that stage and did, ‘Mr. Sandman.’ I was wearing this big black wig and looked like a Korean prostitute. I was very skinny. I looked great actually. Then I was backstage throwing up like a son of a bitch. I was stoned out of my mind. I went back home and walked in the door and Johnny Otis said, ‘How could you do that? I saw you on TV. How can you embarrass the family like that?’ I was like, ‘Oh my God.’ That’s the last gig we did. We were supposed to do another gig after that. We were going to play at the Palladium with the Cockettes. It was a great combination, but there were no more GTOs. Miss Christine went to England. She had scoliosis of the back and we had heard that she killed herself because the pain was too great. But then, one day, she walked in and said, ‘This is a piece of shit and I’m not going to do this.’ Then she went back to wherever she went and committed suicide. She worked for a dentist and she collected the one drug, Phenobarbital, which if you keep taking it, collects in your system and kills you. She started building it up and committed suicide. So that was the last gig that we were going to do, but it was too controversial anyway, so they cancelled it. The Cockettes were a bunch of drag queens. Actually, I had a boyfriend in the band. His name was Reggie. He looked like a little kid. I just loved him, but you can’t trust a transvestite. They will go from being a man to a woman in a heartbeat. You can’t compete.