Gary James' Interview With Supergroupie
Pamela Des Barres
She's been called "The World's Foremost Super-Groupie" and for good reason. Her conquests include Mick Jagger, Jim Morrison and Jimmy Page. She's the author of the best-selling book I'm With The Band.
Now Pamela Des Barres has put together a book where she interviews some of the most famous "groupies" in Rock history. We're talking about women like Cherry Vanilla, Cynthia Plaster Caster, Lori Lightning. Let's Spend The Night Together: Backstage Secrets Of Rock Muses And Supergroupies (Chicago Review Press) is the title of Pamela's book.
Pamela spoke with us about her book.
Q - Pamela, this book is really a historical look at a time in Rock 'n' Roll that no longer exists. It's nostalgia.
A - This is my fourth book. I had a third book called Rock Bottom. Most of them are interestingly, historical books without meaning to be that.
Q - If a woman was going to be a "groupie", the 1960s would've been the best time. That's when Rock was new, innovative, and there were real stars. Wouldn't you agree?
A - Oh, yeah. It was the Rock Hey-Day because it was the Rock renaissance and the people I was cavorting with were making history forever. You 'can't compare anyone today to Frank Zappa or Captain Beefheart or Jimmy Page or Gram Parsons. There's just nobody who can compare to these innovators.
Q - You didn't mention Jim Morrison.
A - Jim Morrison. Oh, there's so many...Keith Moon. All my different boyfriends were all very forward thinking rule-breakers. They broke the rules for all the boys now playing Rock 'n' Roll. And there are very few rules left to break. You can't really compare, because Rock 'n' Roll is all about breaking rules and the rules have all been broken.
Q - Yeah. There's nothing to rebel against anymore.
A - Yes. Exactly. Nothing to rebel against. That's why it was the best time to be a groupie. Even though there were very few girl bands, there were only a handful of girls making music at the time. The next best thing was to be a groupie, just so you could be in that amazing, magical scene while it was going on.
Q - I would imagine that in your time, you would have had to like the performer in order to pursue them.
A - Oh, yeah. That was the whole thing. You had to like the music. It was all about the music.
Q - "Groupies" still exist today?
A - Well, real groupies do. It's still all about the music for the real girl who is in it for the right reasons, who just wants to be around the music as much as she can. To see where it all comes from, what makes these guys tick, to see where the magic comes from. They want to be around it. But there are girls who probably are considered groupies who are in it for the billing and the fame. Now, there's all types of groupies. Sports groupies. Political Groupies. The original word was for groups. But, it has segued into many different areas, the word.
Q - I have found that the word "groupie" has become a rather safe word to use describing someone who follows a group.
A - It's usually said in a negative, mean spirited way these days. Originally, it was just a word that meant a girl who spent time with groups. It was probably pretty quickly tarnished by people who couldn't get backstage themselves, so they had to put down the groupie girls.
Q - How old were you when you decided to hang out with a band and what band would that have been?
A - Well, I was trying to hang out with The Beatles.
Q - Good choice!
A - I was only fifteen. I found out where they were staying. I hid out in the backyard. All those things that a fan would do. I was just too young to know what to do, but I tried to hang out with The Beatles. The first group that I spent time with besides Captain Beefheart, who I met in high school...he took me to meet The Rolling Stones one night. I hung out with Bill (Wyman) and Charlie (Watts). (laughs) The two I didn't want to hang out with.
Q - Who would you have preferred?
A - Well, Mick Jagger of course. The cute ones. The main ones. Mick Jagger eventually was one of my boyfriends. At the time I was too young and too inexperienced to know how to get into those doors. I started going into Hollywood and getting interested in local bands. They were here in town. They were here more often and I didn't have to wait for them to come over from the UK. The first band I met and hung out with backstage and fell in love with one of them was The Byrds. In fact, my next book is about "A Fan's Obsessions With The Byrds".
Q - You must have a million stories in that head of yours?
A - Yeah. A whole lot of 'em are in my books. (laughs)
Q - You never get tired of writing about groupies, do you?
A - No. I love it. It was a very important time in music history and I was lucky to be a part of it.
Q - I've read it was near impossible for a girl to get anywhere near a Beatle. Brian Epstein, their manager, would hire ex-F.B.I. agents to man the elevators of the hotels to insure the girls didn't get onto the same floor the group was staying on. Did you ever meet girls who got next to The Beatles?
A - Oh, yeah. Plenty of them. Linda Eastman, Paul's first wife, his true love, was a very notorious groupie before she hooked up with Paul. She'd already been with Mick Jagger and a lot of different musicians. She was a groupie and never pretended she wasn't. Yoko Ono was a groupie. She waited outside John Lennon's gate for weeks before he finally went to one of her art shows. I have met girls who spent time with The Beatles, sure.
Q - That are not as famous as Linda Eastman or Yoko Ono?
A - Yeah.
Q - Those girls are not in this new book of yours, are they?
A - No. I didn't get any girls telling me their Beatle tales, unfortunately. Well, one of the girls, Catherine James spent a lot of time with George Harrison and Patty Boyd, but she wasn't involved with him romantically.
Q - And that's the thing about being a groupie...you don't have to have sex with a musician to be a groupie, do you?
A - Yeah. You can take 'em shopping. Just befriend them. Take 'em around town and show 'em the sites. A lot of times it doesn't involve sleeping with 'em, absolutely.
Q - I've always wondered when a girl goes to be with a famous musician, that would give you bragging rights alright, but who would you brag to? The supermarket checkout girl? The guy who changes your oil?
A - Part of that is about being a groupie, but that's not the reason girls hang out with bands, to go bragging. Not for a real groupie, no. That's their lifestyle. That's who they spend time with. That's who they go out with. That's just their life. Sure, they'll squeal with delight, but a real groupie doesn't do it for bragging rights at all. That's just a minor, minor part of it.
Q - Why didn't you ever go to work for a record company or management firm? You could've met all the musicians you wanted in the industry.
A - It was very hard. It was harder back then. But, people do it now. A lot of groupies work for different parts of the industry as disc jockeys, journalists, publicists. There wasn't so much of that back then. But, I had my own band. What I did was form my own band. Frank Zappa produced (us). We were a group of groupies. There were very few girls doing that, but I was lucky enough to have Frank Zappa as a mentor and accomplished that fantastic thing.
Q - Where did your band play?
A - Oh, we played The Whisky. We played a big show at The Shrine Auditorium. We played for The Mothers and Alice Cooper a few times. It was much more of a statement. Frank wanted to capture moments. He really wanted to get The G.T.O.s (the band Pamela was in) on record. Our record speaks for who we were and that moment in time that was so important and so much fun. He just wanted to capture that and share it with people. Our playing was good. It was fun and important, but he (Frank) just wanted to share it with everybody.
Q - I've never seen a G.T.O.'s record.
A - They're very hard to get. Yesterday I went to a record store because someone had found a bunch of G.T.O.'s material that they wanted to show me. They're selling it for a lot of money. I can't afford to buy it. He told me he sold a sealed G.T.O.'s record recently for $500. They're hard to come by. But, it did come out on a CD. Two different companies put it out on a CD, but those are selling for a hundred dollars and it's very hard to find 'em.
Q - How many records were originally pressed?
A - Maybe 20,000, 25,000. Not a whole lot.
Q - When your band would finish playing, would there be male groupies waiting for you at the stage door?
A - Yeah, but they were more like fans. There are very few male groupies. There's one in the book...P leather, who dates all the Rock goddesses. He's a pretty fascinating character. But for the most part, groupies are women.
Q - Do the women in your book have any regrets about what they might have done in their past?
A - No. That was the best time in most of their lives. They're very proud of their stories. They couldn't wait to share them with me, especially because I'm considered the Godmother of groupies. (laughs) So, they were happy to share their stories with me. I'm kind of revered in the groupie world.
Q - You're not considered the first groupie, are you?
A - No, but among the first, absolutely.
Q - In the 60s. But, there must've been groupies in the 50s, but they didn't call them groupies, did they?
A - No. They called 'em Top 40 Fuckers. That's what Dion's wife told me. There have always been groupies. But the word didn't start 'til about 1967 or 1968...around there. But there have always been music loving girls who wanted to get nearer the bands.
Q - I interviewed one person, whose name escapes me at the moment, and they were a part of the Dick Clark Caravan Of Stars but tour in the early '60s. I asked about groupies and was told there was no time for them.
A - There's a lot of shenanigans that go on. That guy just wasn't being honest with you. (laughs) Unless he's married. There's a lot of married guys out there who don't do it. But for the most part, it still goes on. It's been going on for decades and it's not going to stop.
Q - What do you occupy your time with these days?
A - I'm a journalist. I write three different columns. I write for Rolling Stone Italy. I write for a magazine in Canada called Strut and I have a long time column in Playgirl. I also teach writing classes three nights a week. I do all kinds of things. I'm about to start doing Rock tours of L.A. I'm real, real busy.