Pamela Des Barres
By David Chiu
In the late ‘60s and ‘70s, groupie Pamela Des Barres had dalliances with Jimmy Page, Mick Jagger, and the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s Noel Redding. She had access into the worlds of the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, and many other famous rockers. (She eventually married Michael Des Barres of the band Silverhead; they later split up). Des Barres was also a member of late ‘60s girl groupie group the GTO’s (Girls Together Occasionally).
Des Barres later heightened the profile of the groupie as both lover and inspiration to many a famous rock star in her best-selling 1987 memoir I’m With the Band. Since then Des Barres has written two more books, Take Another Little Piece of My Heart: A Groupie Grows Up and Rock Bottom: Dark Moments in Music Babylon.
This past summer Des Barres, now a journalist, recently published her latest book, Let’s Spend the Night Together: Backstage Secrets of Rock Muses and Supergroupies (Chicago Review Press). The book contains Des Barres’ interviews with rock groupies and muses of the last five decades in rock: from Tura Satara, who had an affair with the young Elvis Presley in the late ‘50s; reminisces from ‘60s and ‘70s muses and groupies such as Patti D’Arbanville and Cherry Vanilla about Cat Stevens and David Bowie, respectively; and today’s muses such as Lexa Vonn (Marilyn Manson) and Amanda Milius (Sune Rose Wagner of the Raveonettes). There’s even an interview with Pleather, one of the rare male groupies known. While there are some steamy and raunchy moments revealed (for example, ‘Sweet Connie’ Hamzy revealed she had sex with 30 guys in one night), Let’s Spend the Night Together explores the strong emotional and musical bond between fan and rock star.
NewBeats interviewed Des Barres, also known as “Miss Pamela,” over the phone as she talked about her book and the groupie lifestyle.
Why and how did the book come about groupies’ experiences?
I’ve gotten so much interest from other groupies through the years telling me their stories. It just seemed like a natural segue for me to go from my stories to their stories. For years they have been sending me these stories. I thought I would finally share them. A lot of the girls I knew from the old days. So it was fun to get their tales too.
Was it very easy to have your friends talk about your experiences? Did you have to pull an arm and a leg?
No, most of them couldn’t wait to talk. Most of the girls just couldn’t wait to share their stories. There’s a fascination with the groupie world. It was quite an honor to hear all these stories. It did take a long time. Altogether, it was a couple of years but it was worth it. I think people are enjoying it, getting a kick out of it.
Jimmy Page’s name comes up quite often amongst some of the women’s memories What was it about him that made him so special or unique with the ladies?
He epitomized the British pop star royalty: the elegance, the charm and the androgyny of the British rock star. He was a flawless example of that. He also had a real way with words and a way with the women. He loved women and he wanted to shower them with adoration. He tortured a lot of us because we thought we were the ones. But it was worth it.
In all of the interviews you conducted, what was the common thing that they shared?
The desire and love for the music. That’s all it’s about for the true groupie—for the real true groupie. It’s all about the music, and just wanting to get close to that music. That’s what their goal is, and they make it happen. A real groupie will not just sit home and wish—that’s a fan. The real true groupie makes it happen.
Model Bebe Buell, who is one of the interviewees, prefers the term ‘muse’ over ‘groupie.’
She doesn’t like the word groupie because it’s become a bad word over the years. Actually it didn’t take very long for it to become a bad word. People are just jealous and envious that makes anybody say anything negative usually about someone. So I just wanted to share these stories, humanize these girls, and make people realize they are just like you and me except they got an incredible desire to make something happen. And they make it happen.
Are women are less likely to be groupies because of feminism these days, or are more of them inclined because of our fascination with celebrity culture?
I think there is the same amount of girls doing what they do. There was a heyday when the groupies were getting a lot of attention because the bands were so innovative and the times were changing. So we were getting the kind of attention that the model-actress groupies do today—Drew Barrymore, Gwyneth Paltrow and Winona Ryder—all these girls are groupies now but they would never say that because they are also actresses. It’s an amazingly interesting lifestyle…and it makes sense that women would want to get romantic and hang out with rock stars.
A real groupie is all about music. There are other kinds of girls who go after celebrityhood, they go after the money, and the bling and the power. That’s not a real groupie is at all. A real groupie wants to be around the people who make them feel so damn good. That’s what it’s all about.
Pleather is the only male groupie interviewed in the book, and I thought his story was interesting. How did you hear about him?
I was very happy to come across him. I get the word out. I just put the groupie toms-toms out that I was looking for a guy groupie. I met him at [Berlin singer] Terri Nunn’s baby shower. I met the girl Drama [of the band Switchblade Kittens] at this baby shower, who is in the chapter. I told her I was looking for a guy groupie, and she said, ‘Oh I know just the guy.’ So I just put the word out—I asked around.
What were your impressions of Pleather?
I loved him. He was totally sincere. Incredibly unique individual—devoted to music. I just related to him. It all comes from the same place. Groupies understand each other.
I get the impression from the interviews and the conversational tone of your writing that you really seem to have a sisterly bond with these women.
I love these girls. To they are a precious commodity. They have incredible stories. It’s rock and roll history. I was very happy to be able to share more rock and roll history with the rock fans.
Was it always competitive between groupies back then?
It’s competitive in the real world too. In the real world some girls get crushes on the same guy. It’s just more heightened in that world and more known now. It’s very different—everything is on the Internet so everybody knows what everybody is doing. Back then there was a little more privacy involved. I knew Jimmy was seeing somebody in New York when I was in LA—we knew these things.
What was the reaction from people and the rock stars you mentioned in your first book I’m with the Band? Did it make a cultural impact on how people perceive the rock and roll lifestyle today?
It was pretty profound because there were not many girls have written about their sexuality so candidly. I didn’t expect the response that it got. I went on Oprah, did the Today show and Larry King, and I got a lot of attention. It was a big best seller and I was thrilled about it. It’s giving me a living. Now I’m a journalist and I do speaking engagements. I’m sort of now a rock historian–I didn’t expect that. So that was cool.
What was the initial reaction from the rock stars you mentioned in that book?
They were all fine with it. Rock stars want to be talked about. They want to be written about, they wanted to be thought of. A lot of the times that’s why they’re in it. They want the attention.
And you’re still friends with some of them?
I’m still friends with most of them—the ones who are still alive, God bless them.
How do you explain this trend of women writing these tell-all books about their time with rock stars years after the fact?
They’ve been pondering their stories for a long time. Catherine [James] has wanted to tell her tale for a long time. Hers is not just a groupie story—she had an amazing life. It’s very cathartic to write your memoirs, and I think that has a lot to do with it, and just wanting to share the incredible time period that we lived in. And Cynthia [Plaster Caster] has got an amazing story.
Do you have a particular favorite story out of all the interviews?
I can’t choose one out. The one that surprised me I guess was Sweet Connie [Hamzy], who was an amazingly sweet person…and still so dedicated to being a groupie. She was a real trip to hang out with. I really enjoyed that.
You have now your career and personal life. Do you miss the groupie’s life?
No, because my lifestyle is really not that different. I was married for quite a while, and I raised a son and everything. I stayed in that [rock] world. I’m still in it. When Robert Plant comes to town, he comes over for tea. I hang out with the Zappas. My boyfriend is a singer/songwriter and I go to all his shows. [My life hasn’t] changed that much, so I didn’t really miss anything. It continues.
What’s access like to rock stars these days? I assume it must be different now as compared to then?
No one can like go out and meet the Stones or Zeppelin, and people like that. Girls meet the younger bands—it’s still going on. It’s a little harder for girls now of course to get back stage. That’s why they do what you do—they do interviews, intern at record companies, they become photographers, and they meet the bands that way. I had a lot of girls write to me and say that their ‘in’ right now is through the music industry.
What do you hope people will come away from reading the book?
Fun! I just want people to have some fun. And get a little peak into other people’s lives. People enjoy that–people want to know what goes on backstage. These girls are special girls, and I wanted to share their stories. I just want people to get a kick out of it and enjoy it really, and understand the groupie mentality a bit more.
I love the sexy book jacket cover photo. Do you remember when that was taken and where you were?
My ex-husband [Michael Des Barres] was sitting next to me and I was backstage at the Whisky-A-Go-Go [in 1974]. He was in a glam group called Silverhead and I was applying his eye makeup just sitting on the floor in my underwear way before Madonna did it.
For more information on Pamela Des Barres and her latest book, Let’s Spend the Night Together, visit her website www.pameladesbarres.com.