Born on September 8, 1950, Michael Page spent his childhood building forts and catching snakes in San Diego’s canyons. His father worked at Juvenile Hall, his mother at Piggly Wiggly. Page’s life changed forever in 1964 when the Beatles played The Ed Sullivan Show. Soon, Mike formed a band called the Diplomats; he learned to play bass guitar. Then a childhood friend brought him into the King Biscuit Blues Band. At 19, Page moved out of his parents’ house and into a house in Pacific Beach with the band. They paid the rent by playing love-ins and selling pot; they took LSD and listened to the blues all day. Michael Page played a part in rock and roll history. His story continues below.
Vietnam. Boy, you want to talk about putting a damper on the party. Vietnam happened. It happened quickly, and it was, like, pow. Those times were really fascinating, you know. You look back on that now, and they’ve made movies about it and there are books about it, including the whole drug deal. We were all exploring, and then, all of a sudden, kaboom. You’re faced with a war. See, you’ve got to understand. Where is Vietnam, anyway? No one even knows where it is. Try to find it on a globe, and without somebody giving you a hint, good luck. Is Vietnam in Africa? It doesn’t sound like it’s in South America. No one knew where Vietnam was. And the next thing you know, we’re doing a war there.
See, we’d been pretty comfortable with no wars happening. We were the baby boomers, who were born after World War II. Our parents had gotten jobs, settled down, bought houses, and had kids. We were the ones with the barbecues. And I came from an American family. That’s it. That’s just the way it is. So we’re used to that stuff.
But now we were getting a little bit of freedom. With pot, you could explore your mind. You could meditate. This Maharishi guy appears, and India starts happening. And all of a sudden, you become aware that there’s a whole world out there. But right then, it was kind of bad for the world to happen, because suddenly we had so much going on here. All of our wants were being fulfilled. There was no reason to go exploring out there, unless you came from the type of people who were into exploring.
Vietnam. That neighbor kid that I grew up with who went to military school, in the first month or two of the Vietnam War, he was brought back in a box. And it absolutely shattered my neighbors. I’d never seen screaming catastrophe before. Rex. Rex Christianson. One of my buddies. Brought home dead in a box. That was my first reality, and it was, like, oh, my God. How old was I at the time? I was Vietnam age, or just shy of it. As soon as Vietnam happened, it began to escalate, and they took whatever forces they had over there. The draft hadn’t started yet. There were still people enlisting and stuff. And then, pow. The draft happened. It took a while for the government to get moving, but they had one over on us this time. And the guys were, like, “Wait a minute. Do you mean I have to go? I thought the Army was for people that wanted to go.”
That was the case for my dad. My dad wanted to get out of Oklahoma, or wherever he was, so he joined the Navy to see the world. Later, he got married, and it was a great thing. But now...wait a minute. We had to have haircuts and stuff, and they told us we had to do the strict code that they had, when we’re just beginning to explore different lifestyles and enjoying it. Wow. This was getting back to my dad saying that I can’t roll my cuffs and that I’ve got to wear these shoes. And you know what, I’m on acid now, and I’m old enough to do things. So there’s no way that I’m going to go to Vietnam. They could write books about how my friends did it, but the number-one goal was to get out of Vietnam.
Immediately it wasn’t working for some guys, you know, and they got drafted. Kids that I grew up with.
And to this day, it’s a really sore topic. You see it downtown, and I see it everywhere. Vietnam vets. My heart bleeds for those guys, especially the ones that went for it. You know, the ones that owed something to God and country. The ones who went for the whole deal. The closest I got to that was Cub Scouts, and I wasn’t buying it. Especially being from the far other side, now. I was now involved with this elitist cult thing that is happening, with the pot and the acid and everything. And it was, like, you’re taking away my blues power. You’re taking me away from my drugs. No way. I wasn’t going to have anything to do with it.
Then another buddy came back dead. And then a brother of a girl I knew down the street came back dead. And I’m watching this emotion shit and thinking, wait a minute. These people are really dying. By the way, where is Vietnam, and what’s going on there?
Well, we weren’t supposed to be asking these questions, and the people who started asking them were branded as dissidents. Factions began to form. The rednecks said you had to fight for God and country. And we’d say, “Well, wait a minute. I don’t know what the war is all about.” The rednecks would say, “We don’t care. You don’t need to know what the war is about. You have an obligation to God and country to do this.” So it was a real crazy time. Who’s to know what kind of decision you should make about this stuff?
Right about then, I got arrested for my drug thing and got caught with several pounds of hash. The house in Pacific Beach was in my name, so I took the fall. My dad had warned me about this earlier. He’d said, “Don’t ever, ever, ever get in trouble or go to jail.” He would threaten us, take us to Juvenile Hall and show us a little room. Then he would say,“This is the room that I will break bones in, and there will be a lot of blood in this room if you ever get your ass in Juvenile Hall. If you ever come to my place of work in trouble with the law, this is where it will happen.”
So I didn’t have the option of getting into trouble as a kid. But after I’d turned 18, I was on my own. Just before I turned 18, my dad gave me a buzz haircut to show me who was boss. And that was a big mistake on his part, and I rebelled way the other way because of that. That put up the fence huge, and I realized for good that he was on the other side and that I was on my side, with my people.
We were arrested, I took the fall, and it didn’t look good. Then right after that, I was arrested on another drug charge. I was taking so much acid that when the second or third drug offense happened, my dad sent me to a psychiatrist. I’d even sniffed glue then and had experimented with that. I look back on it now and think that this is very unlike what a normal person did back then. I actually got caught stealing toluene, the stuff in glue that gives you a high.
Thank God I was caught with it, because it turned me around. So I went to jail and had to call my parents on Thanksgiving, saying that I was in jail for glue sniffing. And of course,“I didn’t do it. I’m not guilty of it.We just had it in the car.” But I got arrested for it. So my dad sent me to a psychiatrist, who diagnosed me as a schizophrenic. The psychiatrist gave me barbiturates, which my dad immediately flushed down the toilet, because I shouldn’t be taking drugs. It was then that my dad realized that I wasn’t cut out for Vietnam.
Before this episode, I had tried most of the things that my friends were trying to stay out of Vietnam. One friend just about shot his toe off. We did school for as long as we could on student deferments. Then the war escalated even more. The draft board got more serious, and they were taking everybody. This was prelottery. The lottery was actually a luxury, because it gave you a fair chance. Up until the lottery, you didn’t have a chance. No ifs, ands, or buts. Going to Canada was another option. Just leaving. And all that bullshit started about having allergies.
Then I received my notice to show up for my physical downtown. I wrote and told them that I had infectious hepatitis, that I couldn’t make it, and please give me another date. I knew that I could go to jail for that one, because I’d been ditching already and had gotten deferments for college and shit. So it was my time to go, stamped on my forehead. Right then, I got arrested for my glue thing. Then my dad wanted to know what was wrong with me and why I would do something like that. I went to the psychiatrist, and that was it.
I took advantage of a Life magazine article that said you could have flashbacks on LSD. Most people didn’t take acid back in those days. It was not something that everybody did. But I went to the psychiatrist and told him that I had these hard-core flashbacks. I told him that I was driving on the freeway and was in the right lane when a huge flash came down, and then I was in the left lane. I said that I could have killed somebody. I told him that I was worried about myself. “I’m worried about a lot of things because I’m having LSD flashbacks all the time.” Of course, I wasn’t having them. But I was given the barbiturates, and he believed me. So he wrote me the deferment letter.
I started getting employment after high school, although being in a job for a guy like me was not really going to work too well. I got a job directing traffic at the Mesa College parking lot, because I was on the tennis team and started playing at Mesa College with the Fly People. We’d paint our faces with greasepaint and use roadside flares for smoke bombs. We were into theatrical stuff, and it was like Mesa College was a little more open about this sort of thing, and the guy that headed up the Fly People was into theatrics. My King Biscuit Blues Band guys were looking at me, thinking, wow, Mikey’s off the deep end on this. But I wanted to start exploring.
So I started doing that with the Fly People. We would play places and blow people’s minds. And basically, we were a good band. It would be different if we weren’t good. But we were really good.
The costumes we used were interesting too. Bellbottoms were just coming out, so I went downtown, got some Navy white pants, and tie-dyed them. Now I’m into this freaky tie-dyed thing. My hair is starting to get long. And the Jimi Hendrix Experience was just starting. I wanted to be like Noel Redding and have a nappy dread Afro. So we began ratting our hair with all this hairspray and stuff. I look back on that now and just crack up. I don’t know what we wore, but it probably didn’t matter because of the greasepaint and the roadside flares we used for smoke effect. Whatever was happening, it was just enough to be a show. I realized then that there was more to it than just the blues thing. But having the understanding of the roots of the blues was a key benefit for me.
At Mesa, we’d play lunch break and would always draw a huge crowd. The Hippodrome stuff was going on downtown. Iron Butterfly and the big bands were happening. I kind of frowned on that, though, because they were hippie bands, and I didn’t consider myself a hippie. The hippies were kind of goofy, and I was a structured blues guy.
About this time, the whole San Francisco thing happened, with Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, and Country Joe and the Fish, but we didn’t even know about it. I mean, we knew about it. And this might be a crazy thing to say, being as old as I am and coming from music and all. But I’ve never to this day listened to a Grateful Dead album. Sorry, but there was nothing there that I wanted. It was just a bunch of white kids on dope that were experimenting with stuff, and goofy kids that were high were listening to it. I need to watch it, or I’ll create a lot of enemies with the Deadheads and all that shit.
Los Angeles had its own musical community that was really interesting. I’d go up to L.A., and at that time it was Buffalo Springfield, who originated out of L.A. See, the music thing is really interesting, and after doing it for a while, I can step back and take a look at what’s happening. Music is always evolving, and it’s always changing. It needs new breeding ground to evolve. But some breeding grounds were more consistent than others. London. New York City. San Francisco. Los Angeles. These are the places, basically. You don’t hear about a band coming from Paris or Amsterdam or Berlin. You maybe have bands that later move to Berlin to absorb the culture, like David Bowie and Iggy Pop did. But some breeding grounds have remained pretty consistent. New York was always a hub for Lenny Bruce, jazz, Coltrane, and Thelonious Monk. Chicago and New Orleans had their thing too.
But as far as established cities for a new thing to come out of, New Orleans hadn’t spun anything new. New Orleans had the blues. Chicago had the blues. But what band came from Chicago? The band named Chicago? I don’t even know if they did. Chicago hasn’t done anything new to be put on the map. New York hadn’t done anything new, at that time. L.A. and San Francisco were the only music communities that were happening, and, again, London. The Beatles, the Stones, and the British Invasion. Basically, it was Los Angeles and London that were the places where it was happening. And then, all of a sudden, kaboom. San Francisco caught on fire. Well, I went up to San Francisco to see what was going on. The Berkeley riots were what was going on. I witnessed cops in masks who were beating kids. Helmets going through the crowds arresting kids. Kids lying in the street, stopping police buses that had other kids in them. And it was, like, is there going to be death here? I saw blood and smoke bombs and the whole thing. And I didn’t want any part of it. It was politics to me. And the music that was going on, no thank you. It was all hippie-dippie. These kids hadn’t done their homework. You need to do your homework and at least learn rock and roll and the blues, anyway. But I felt that way because I’d come from this structured background.
L.A. had fairly good stuff. They had the Seeds and all these different groups that were happening. I always remember making trips to L.A., just to explore what was going on there. The only place we went to was the Whisky a Go-Go, and that was a legendary thing. I remember seeing some shows there, like the original Fleetwood Mac, minus the girls. The bands I played with in San Diego didn’t play in other places very often. Maybe L.A., but that was about it. We were a local and regional band.
Right around then, I went to live in Los Angeles for a short time, next door to Moe from the Three Stooges. I met a film director up there who saw that I could do interior design. He came to the house that I lived in and saw all this blues stuff and the rustic artwork of Pat Looby. It was a country kind of thing.
In the kitchen, I had nothing but old cars from National Geographic magazines dating from the ’50s, which I’d converted into wallpaper. He freaked when he saw what I’d done to my house and asked if I could do the same to his house. He’d done a few movies, and he was a new big shot up in L.A. — Panic in Needle Park and whatever. So he was a big shot, with tons of dough.
He bought a big corner estate in Beverly Hills, where people were living in an apartment thing from the ’30s. He booted everybody out, built a house there, and hired me and a couple of my friends to paint the place and decorate it. So we had tons of dough, and we got to live in his house while we were doing the work.
Then a buddy of mine, Guy Folsum, did a real critical thing. He asked me if I wanted to hitchhike down to La Jolla because he knew some good-looking rich girls that lived at Windansea beach. I knew that Windansea was a surf spot. It was highly protected and was for locals only, and I respected that. The guys that surfed there were really good, and I didn’t want to get in their way. After all, it was their turf, and we had our own home territory. I would go there and watch the guys, and if it wasn’t crowded, I’d go out sometimes. But there was an unspoken surf thing in those days. The politics of surfing was starting to develop. In the early days, itwasalotfreerandalot more fun.
So I ended up going down to La Jolla with my friend to meet these girls. And sure enough, there were three or four really wealthy girls living in a place right down at Windansea. And they thought — I don’t know if it was because I looked different or whatever. I was starting to explore different things with the Fly People and the greasepaint and stuff, and I’m also starting to look at some other things that were happening on the outside. I was into Dalí and surrealism and anything exploratory like that.
But I met this girl Lisa, and we kind of hit it off. She was with her boyfriend, but she thought I was an oddity. We were invited back, and then I was invited back again without my friend. One thing led to another, and I developed a relationship with this girl. And we fell in love.
After we had dated a while, at one point she told me that I needed to meet her parents. And I figured that that was okay, because we had gotten this far in our relationship. She wanted to make sure that we were going to have our relationship without any outside interference. So she took me up to her parents’ place. And it was the largest single-family dwelling on the entire West Coast! We’re not talking about the biggest house in San Diego. It was the largest single-family dwelling on the entire West Coast, the $12 million Gagosian mansion! At that time, it was called the Fortress, or whatever.
I’d never been aware of the house before. I’d known about Blacks Beach, and I’d heard that really good surfers surfed there. I’d also heard about some kind of naked thing that was going on there. We used to surf the Shores sometimes, and I surfed Blacks a couple of times. It was a big deal because we had to walk in by foot all the way from the Shores. We didn’t know about a road coming down to it. And I certainly didn’t know that there was this place up on the bluffs.
Well, we pull up to the place, and I didn’t recognize the area of La Jolla Farms Road. But I remember pulling up in front, with the intercom, the TV monitors, and the whole thing. And I said, “This is pretty funny, honey, but we can’t do this. You want me to press that doorbell? The cops will be here any second.” She reached over and pressed it, and said, “Ma, it’s me.” And it’s, like, oh, my God. And the doors opened. I had arrived!
I was already in love with Lisa, but when we went there, it was very scary. I’d never been exposed to wealth of that magnitude. We’re talking about waterfalls and everything. See, Mr. Gagosian had built his dream home there, and it was like a hotel. Fountains flowing everywhere, bridges. I’d never seen anything like it. And one thing led to another, and after a while, I ended up moving in there.
Golf course in the back yard, tennis court, eight-car garage.
Before that, though, I was spending more and more time in La Jolla. I finally saw that you didn’t have to be a rich local kid to live there. I didn’t have much in common with the guys that were there, but I liked the area. So I found a little place on Bishops Lane, a little cottage on a little alley. And I started another band at that time called Ruby and the Snakes. We became pretty notorious in San Diego, because we were doing a lot of exploratory stuff. We started pulling back any limits that were happening, and we started breaking all the rules.
I had a singer named Gary McCoy, a white guy that danced like Mick Jagger and sang like Little Richard. He was the real thing, and he was pretty amazing. This guy had blistering talent. He was a little bit older than I was, and it turned out he had grown up and played with Tom Waits, and they’d played the White Whale and places like that. I’d been hearing about this guy, but I’d also heard that he was trouble. He was a bit of a derelict and stuff. But the first time I heard his voice, it was like, oh, my God. And when he picked up a guitar and did a song, it was all over. He was the real thing.
I had never experienced the real thing in the same room before, where I was completely convinced that it was the real thing. This guy could sing like Otis Redding. And he had the soul of Otis Redding. He could do James Brown, and he had Little Richard wired. He could also do gospel shouts. I’d never heard of a singer who had everything. He was absolutely mind-boggling. He was Ruby! So I formed a band around him.
Now, Gary McCoy was not good-looking at all. But the girls would just die for him, because he was it. And what was funny was this. I took him to see a Rolling Stones movie once, and he cracked up. I was wondering why he was laughing, and he said,“Now I see why people say that I copy Mick Jagger.” People used to put Gary McCoy down, saying, “He thinks he’s Mick Jagger.” And Gary would laugh, because he knew that Mick Jagger copied James Brown. And that was it. Gary would dance like James Brown. And he would just blow people’s minds. He blew my mind. He was pure, unadulterated black soul, trapped in a white man’s body.
So I put a band together. Mike Fields and Steve Jesson and Jimmy Bumstead on drums. Mike Fields had a place in La Jolla, and we did some practicing there, to do our homework. We developed a repertoire of songs by Little Richard, Otis Redding, Otis Spann, Muddy Waters, and Wilson Pickett. Some people who saw our thing happen back then said later that it changed their lives. I had a friend, Robbin Crosby, who ended up playing in Ratt, who told me years later that he had come to see us play at a party. And it changed his life. As I think back on it now, Robbin played a big Flying V guitar, and that’s what I played. He was just a kid. Another little buddy that would eventually be a best friend of mine was Mark McCoy, and the band changed Mark’s life. A lot of these kids had never seen anything like it. We’re talking about stripped-down, pure, raw blues power. Scared the hell out of a lot of people.
Well, I had my Ruby and the Snakes thing, and another little splinter thing called the Punks from Hell. But Gary McCoy was like most incredibly talented and gifted artists. He had problems. He didn’t smoke pot, but he was a drinker. And he’d take any kind of pill that anyone would give him. Then he’d play the guitar for days on end. He could entertain any kind of a crowd, and he always had somebody to take him home and feed him. Once a week, he’d take a bath, and it was just unbelievable. I’d let him take a shower, and my place would smell forever. But girls would die for him. He had a habit of eating whole cloves of raw garlic because he said garlic purified the blood. I didn’t care about this crap, because when he sang, I’d never experienced anything like it.
So I had this little band thing going on. And we were just basically blowing minds. We were having a great time because the list of material that we played was hot stuff that people hadn’t heard before. It was at this time that I got my place in La Jolla, on Bishops Lane.
But everything changed all at once. I met Lisa, and she took me up there to her place. Apparently her father was an operative for the Organized Crime Strike Force, a division of the justice department, and I later found out that he had illegally obtained the Gagosian mansion to live in. We lived there for a couple of years under this guise, but I don’t know what the guise was. I found out later that her father had basically conned the house from Mr. Gagosian.
Did I ever break up with Lisa? That’s another story in itself. Our relationship basically ended when she had Iggy Pop down to the house. One time we drove up to L.A. to see what was going on up there. And we saw a buddy of mine on the Strip, whose name was Bill Davidson. He was a tiny little guy who was driving this huge Harley. He pulled up and was chewing gum, just ultracool. And it was, like, “Hey, do you want to meet the Ig?” I said, “The Ig who?” and he said, “Iggy Pop, man. He crashed at my house last night.” I said, “Our house...the house that we used to live in?” “Yeah.” So I went over to this house with my girlfriend. And there he was.
My first impression of Iggy Pop? Wow, he’s a rock star! He was the first one that I’d ever met. He had an aura, and you knew that there was something going on with this guy. We happened to catch him when he was just waking up, and he had Beatle boots on and a pair of jeans. No shirt. He was doing these calisthenic back bends and his morning stretches. He would just bend over backwards and touch his hands to the ground. I said, “How in the hell do you do that?” Well, I didn’t happen to notice it, but later, when I looked over at my girl, she’s sitting there with her mouth open, like, oh my God!
By this time, I had kind of groomed Lisa a little bit. When I first met her, she’d come from a yoga camp up in northern Washington somewhere. She hadn’t shaved her legs, and she was a total hippie. But when I met her and we fell in love, she got into my little world, and I got into hers. She taught me the benefits of meditation and vegetarianism. In the meantime, she turned into this little feminine creature. The next thing that happened was, she took it to the extreme. When we moved into the house, she had the dresses, the feather boas, the hats with veils, French gloves, walking sticks, and a couple of whippets. We had the Mercedes, and we had arrived! To whatever place it was that we were at at the time.
Now, I’m from Kearny Mesa, and I don’t have two nickels to rub together. But here I have all the rich man’s trappings. I always loved that stuff anyway, and so here it all was. So we showed up in L.A. like that. And I hadn’t noticed, but when I went to the bathroom for a second, in the time that I was gone, my girlfriend gave Iggy Pop her phone number. She told him that she lived in this big, huge estate, and if he ever wanted to get away from the L.A. thing, to come and visit her. She had heard, because we’d been talking and stuff, that Iggy Pop was having some problems, and the day we met him, he looked like he had a bit of a hangover. But he was Iggy, too, and I’d never met anyone like that. So she ended up giving him her address and invited him to our Shangri-La sanctuary.
Iggy sent Danny Fields down to see if Lisa’s place was for real. Danny Fields was a manager of Iggy’s who ended up working for the Doors and writing books. And Danny found out that it was real. I didn’t get along very well with him, though. We were in the Jacuzzi at nighttime, and we’re drunk, and I’m showing him this huge estate and everything. And he told me that Jim Morrison is God, and I’m saying that “Back Door Man” isn’t Jim Morrison’s song. That’s a Willie Dixon song. We’re back to Willie Dixon again. So, we have a little argument thing.
Danny Fields went back up to L.A. and told Iggy that it’s for real. But Iggy didn’t really give a shit about any of that stuff. I’ve never met a guy like Iggy. I’d be impressed by the wealth, but by that time, he wasn’t. He’d already been to New York and done his thing and worked with David Bowie. He was hanging out with world models, and he was a womanizer. He didn’t care about anything except his brand of rock and roll.
But we’d caught him at a bad time, see. He was on the street, basically. He’d just signed a deal with a record company because they had a doctor who could give him a prescription for Quaaludes. He got the Quaaludes, and then he made the call to my girlfriend without me knowing about it. She made arrangements to pick him up at the airport, paid for a ticket for him, and brought him to the house. I talked to my girlfriend’s mom later, and she was, like, “Man, this guy is trouble. He got into the car and then fell out of the car, and pills went scattering everywhere.”
So my girlfriend babysat Iggy for a couple of days. Then one of my friends said to me,“Hey, man, I saw your girlfriend with this blond dude, driving around. Who’s the dude?” And I didn’t know what she was talking about. So I call up there, because I hadn’t seen my girlfriend for a day or two. And she said, “Well, I had Iggy down, and he just came and stayed for a day.” And I said, “Well, why didn’t you tell me?” This was supposed to be my deal, you know. I was going to talk to Iggy about getting together to do a musical thing. This had nothing to do with my girlfriend, and it wasn’t a personal thing. Besides, we’re talking about getting married, and we had been together for a long time.
Apparently there were no sexual things happening yet between them. And she said,“Well, I just wanted to be his friend. This guy’s got a mind that I can’t even believe.” I said, “Just keep in mind that I’m your boyfriend. I’m the guy that knows him, and you’re just my girlfriend.”
Continue to part two: Michael Page goes to New York
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