Gary James' Interview With
Tour Manager / Author / Confidante Of
The Beatles and The Rolling Stones
Chris O'Dell was one of the first, if not the very first female tour manager in the music business. She was in the studio when The Beatles recorded "The White Album", "Abbey Road" and "Let It Be", as well as singing in the chorus on the final cut of "Hey Jude". She was on the roof for the last Beatles' concert, sitting on a bench with Yoko Ono and Maureen Starkey, just a few feet away from the band. She became best friends with Pattie Boyd when Pattie was married to George Harrison. She lived at Friar Park, George's mansion with him and Pattie during the traumatic last months of The Beatles' break-up. She delivered harmonicas by helicopter to Bob Dylan at the Isle Of Wight concert in 1969 because he'd forgotten to bring them with him from the U.S. She watched the concert from the first row, sitting next to George Harrison and Pattie Boyd and flew back to London on a private plane with John and Yoko. George Harrison wrote a song about her - "Miss O'Dell". She toured with The Rolling Stones as their personal assistant on their 1972 tour. She is the "mystery woman" on The Rolling Stones' 1972 album "Exile On Main Street".
These days she is a licensed professional councilor. She lives in Tucson, Arizona with her husband and 23 year old son. Chris O'Dell is the author of the book Miss O'Dell: My Hard Days And Long Nights With The Beatles, The Stones, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton And The Women They Loved (Touchstone Books).
Q - Chris, you may be surprised to know that for the longest time I thought the name Chris O'Dell was a made up name.
A - Oh, really?
Q - You know, like Eleanor Rigby or Lovely Rita.
A - (laughs)
Q - I never realized you were a real person.
A - Oh, you mean from the songs?
Q - Yeah.
A - Oh, right, right. So you thought I was just like Eleanor Rigby?
Q - That's right. I'm just wondering how many other people thought the same thing?
A - Well, actually, I've never had anyone say that. I've had people say they wondered who it was, but no one's ever said quite that.
Q - Well, let me be the first!
A - Yeah, you are. You get that distinction.
Q - I ask almost everyone who writes a book about their past. How did you recall all the details? Did you keep a diary?
A - You know, to a degree, yes. I did have an actual diary / journal from the early '70s for about a year and I just photographed them, like memories, like videos, short videos. It just stuck with me. They were like interesting scenes that I would think, "I gotta remember this", so I did. Then I started writing things down in the '80s so that it was still fresh. So, I had a lot to go back and look at when I did this.
Q - Does it seem like all the events you chronicled in your book happened a long time ago or just yesterday?
A - Oh, I think it's like yesterday, many of it. Time is an interesting thing. It isn't linear. (laughs) If you go into your memory, it happens right then. So, it did feel like it was fairly recently.
Q - Now, you saw The Beatles in concert at Dodger Stadium on August 28th, 1966. Two years later, in May of 1968, you left the U.S. for England. And not long after, you got to see and meet The Beatles. What was that experience like?
A - Well, first it was kind of magical. It was kind of unbelievable. But it only took a short time before it became normalized because it's like "Wow! These are flesh and blood people." It was pretty amazing the first time meeting each of them. It's kind of like "Wow! OK. You're a real person." But then you get to know them and know much more about them than you ever knew when you just watched them sing. So, it changed.
Q - Did they come across as being regular guys to you?
A - Well, in a way, although there was always an air of something else going on there. I mean, there were times when, as the years went by with different ones, where I was seeing them every day and that's what you see. That's the people you see every day. And there was nothing particularly special about them at that point. But you get reminded of it when you go out into the public because not all of my friends get asked for autographs, (laughs) or people going "Oh look!" So, there's always a reminder of some sort that this is somebody who's not just a normal Joe.
Q - I guess two of The Beatles actually flirted with you?
A - (laughs) Well, that's very naive, Gary. I got to know them best as friends, let's put it that way.
Q - On the first day you met John and Paul at Apple Records, you write, "Never again would my life be the same. I had crossed the line and entered into their world. I knew instantly that I belonged there." How did you know that?
A - (It) Just felt right. How does anyone really know when they are doing something that they find feels right and they're apart of. It just feels right.
Q - At that particular time, drugs were a big part of the equation, were they?
A - More so in the '70s, yeah. I think in the '60s it was pretty much like here. There was a lot of pot and then some L.S.D. I think in the '70s it became exaggerated and it was more prevalent in that world (the Rock world) because people had better access to it. If you read Keith Richards' new book, he explains that. He always did the best drugs. They had an availability to stuff that was much better grade than most people were able to get. So yeah, there was more availability and more availability to buy drugs when you're rich and famous. And creative people tend to be people who go to drugs. Does it make them more creative? I wouldn't say that, but it certainly stretches your mind a bit.
Q - Suppose you wanted to work for The Beatles or The Stones in those days and you didn't do drugs, you were straight, would you have fit in?
A - I think there were a lot of people around who didn't do drugs, or who dabbled in them. So, I don't think it 's a matter of they wouldn't fit in. It certainly created a closer connection for hanging out. (laughs) If I'm working for you and I don't do drugs, it doesn't matter. If I'm hanging out with you, then that might be a problem.
Q - You write "Drugs helped me cope." Your drugs of choice were alcohol, cocaine and amphetamines?
A - Right.
Q - You're clean now, but have you ever had he urge to go back and use them?
A - Not really, certainly not drugs. The idea of using drugs is really not there for me because it would be very uncomfortable doing anything like that. Cocaine? Ouch! It hurts the nose. Amphetamine makes me too nervous. My nervous system isn't that healthy. But alcohol would always be a temptation because I see it every day, in one form or another, on TV for example. I think I was looking at a cooking program yesterday and they were showing the wines and talking about the wines. I said gotta change that. Can't watch that.
Q - Go back to Keith Richards for a minute. The reason he would take any kind of drug would be to deal with the stress of being on the road?
A - Well, I think that certainly helps. Being on the road is really, really hard work, even today, although I would think for them it's easier. I don't know about other bands. But back in the day, when we did it in the '70s, it was pretty grueling. You're up a lot. So it was obviously very helpful at that time.
Q - You went on to become Tour Manager for Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. Linda Ronstadt...
A - Bob Dylan, Santana. Quite a lot, yeah. I worked with a lot of bands.
Q - When you worked with The Beatles and Stones, you were doing what? Mainly office work?
A - Well, The Beatles, yes. I was working at Apple Records, which was their record company. I worked at their record company with Peter Asher actually. Then when I went to work with The Stones, I was their personal assistant in Los Angeles. Then I went on the tour with them, but I wasn't the Tour Manager. I didn't have a specific job other than as their assistant for that '72 tour.
Q - Then you got to be a Tour Manager for all of these other acts. What did you need to know to become a tour manager?
A - How to be multi-tasked. I had to know how to deal with people. I had to know how to deal with travel. I organized all the travel, the hotels, the flights, everything. Kind of kept in touch with that. It takes a certain kind of person. Not everybody can do it.
Q - Did you have previous office experience before you worked for The Beatles?
A - Well, I could type. I knew how to organize things. I still do. It's just a natural thing. It's not anything I learned. It's just part of a personality I think, and you can deal with a lot of things happening at the same time.
Q - Did The Beatles ever talk about "Helter Skelter" and Charles Manson?
A - You know, I don't know. I was on vacation when that happened. I was working for Apple then, but I was in Spain. When I came back, I don't really remember them saying anything about it. I have no memory of that, really. I'm sure they weren't thrilled. (laughs)
Q - When you stayed at George's house, there were no beds, just mattresses and no central heat.
A - Right.
Q - That must've come as a bit of a shock to you, didn't it?
A - Well, it was. It was out of context of my idea of how they lived, but I also know they had just moved in. But it was a shock, trust me. It was also very, very cold.
Q - I don't think I would've lasted very long under those circumstances.
A - Oh yes you would have. If you liked The Beatles you would have.
Q - Are you in touch with Paul and Ringo today?
A - Not too much. Less and less all the time. I'm living in Tucson and really out of all of that. I do have an ongoing relationship with Pattie and we speak all the time. Pattie Boyd is probably my closest friend from all of that period of time. And I still keep in touch with people I worked with who worked for those people. So I have a little bit of connection, but not so much. My life is about a lot of other things now, mostly recovery.
Q - You needed special training for this councilor position you hold?
A - Yeah. I went back to school and got my degrees, Bachelors and Masters. I've been doing that since the '80s, late '80s I guess.
Q - Does anyone remember the name Chris O'Dell when you introduce yourself in your current job?
A - Apparently some people do 'cause they got in touch with me. A lot of people I've worked with have been in touch and I'm sure any of these people I've worked for would.
Q - I'm talking about somebody coming in for treatment. Probably too young?
A - Yeah. Every so often it happens. Somebody will go "Oh, wait a minute." But they don't put it together because you're so different. The worlds are so different that a lot of people don't think about it too much.
Q - Have you ever run across anybody who reminded you of yourself?
A - I don't know that I would say that. I don't know that I have thought about that particularly.
Q - How long did it take you to understand The Beatles' accent?
A - Oh, not very long back then. But sometimes it feels a little different now.