The Life and Stories Of A Groupie In The 70s

The Life and Stories Of A Groupie In The 70s | I Love Classic Rock Videos

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If you like classic rock music, you’ve probably seen lots of photos of the cool ladies who were always with the big rock bands. They got into all the shows, hung out in fancy places, and traveled the world with famous rock stars. Sounds like a fun job, doesn’t it?

The word “groupie” can mean different things to people, and it’s not just about hooking up, although that happened a lot. Pamela Des Barres said in a talk with The Guardian, “A groupie is someone who loves the music so much she wants to be around the people who make it. A fan is content with an autograph or a look from the stage, or a selfie. A groupie takes the next step.”

That makes it sound like a fairy tale, but not everyone liked being called a groupie just for the romance and fun. Cherry Vanilla told Please Kill Me that she was known as one of the most famous groupies of her time, but she was more than that. She was a creative person, a writer, and a DJ. Still, people kept calling her a groupie because “it’s what intrigues them most.” And Bebe Buell wrote in her book “Rebel Heart” that she didn’t really see herself as just a groupie, but more like an inspiration. What’s the real story? It’s pretty tricky to figure out.

When Being Young Didn’t Matter

Back in the 1970s, being young, really young, wasn’t a big deal in the rock scene, and there were even “baby groupies.” Lori Mattix (sometimes spelled Maddox), who was spotted with Jimmy Page, talked to Thrillist about her early days. She was just in junior high when she met Sable Starr, a 14-year-old who was already famous among groupies. Mattix remembered, “She was so glamorous, totally one-of-a-kind, wearing scarves for shirts and going topless without hesitation.” Then she shared, “I had not yet turned 15 and [David Bowie] wanted to take me to his hotel room.”

Mattix wasn’t ready at first, but after some time, both Starr and her sister got involved with Iggy Pop and were also interested in Bowie. Mattix mentioned that when Bowie’s bodyguard invited her to dinner and to his hotel room on Bowie’s behalf, she went.

Sable Starr’s relationship with rock stars was well-known too. Iggy Pop even sang about being with her: “I slept with Sable when she was 13, Her parents were too rich to do anything, She rocked her way around LA.” Before she was with Pop, Starr was in a relationship with the guitarist from the band Spirit. By 14, she was a regular at the Whiskey A Go Go club and liked by Jimmy Page. Pop also had a relationship with Starr’s younger sister, Corel.

The Situation is Still Quite Tricky

When Thrillist had a chat with Lori Mattix about her active sexual life as a groupie while still being a teenager, she emphasized she saw no problem with it. She said, “I was an innocent girl, but the way it happened was so beautiful. …. Who wouldn’t want to lose their virginity to David Bowie?”

Pamela Des Barres, another groupie, told The Guardian something similar. She praised Mattix for handling all the hate well. She said, “That’s what she wanted. Yeah, she was young. … But it was our reality, and everyone was OK with it.” In an article for Big Issue, Des Barres expressed she had no regrets and saw herself as a feminist trailblazer.

However, not everyone agrees with this viewpoint. Dr. Rosemary Lucy Hill from the Centre for Interdisciplinary Gender Studies at the University of Leeds stated in The Guardian that even though young women might enter groupie life thinking all sex is consensual, the power imbalance complicates things. She elaborated, “…some people think it’s never a free choice because of all the expectations. I think both of these things are true at the same time — and that makes it really complicated.” Roxana Shirazi, a groupie for Guns N’ Roses, concurred. She added, “It’s never possible to have full agency [as a groupie]. From the outset, the power structure is not equal. … you’re not on the same plane.”

Some Musicians Had a Different Opinion

No universal rule determines everyone’s experience as a groupie in the 1970s, even among those who share similar circumstances. When Lori Mattix shared her experiences with Jimmy Page to Thrillist, she gushed, “He mesmerized me. I fell in love instantly. … At that point, I was 15 and totally in love with this man. I put him on a pedestal.”

Page, however, held a contrasting view on groupies. He told Ellen Sander, a journalist (in a writeup by the Independent), “Girls come around … teasing and acting haughty. If you humiliate them a bit, they tend to come on alright after that. Everybody knows what they come for, and when they get here, they act so special. I haven’t got time to deal with it.”

Page and his bandmates weren’t alone in their views. 70’s boy band, The Bay City Rollers, also didn’t hold a high opinion of their groupies. In a 2015 conversation with the Irish Mirror, band member Les McKeown shared his past relationships with groupies and found them, “a bit shallow, compared to the depth of the relationship you have with your wife.” He jokingly added how they always had girls waiting in every city. Stuart Wood added his bit saying: “One in every port, that was the expression.”

The Risks and Scary Moments for Groupies

Cherry Vanilla, one of the women who hung out with bands in the 1970s, talked to Please Kill Me about her good times. She said, “for her, she never felt forced to do anything… everything she participated in was done because she wanted it to happen.” Yet, not all groupies from the ’70s had the same safe times as her.

Another groupie, Morgana Welch, was part of a group called the LA Queens. She remembers the music scene being amazing, but there were also dangers. She shared, “A lot of girls buddied up. In a way, it felt a little safer, because you had somebody. You didn’t always want to go alone.” But she also revealed scary stuff, like getting kidnapped, mistaken for sex workers, drugged, and hurt.

Bebe Buell had a hard time too. She dated famous musicians and ended up having a child with Steven Tyler. Her book, “Rebel Heart,” talks about being scared of Tyler’s wild ways. After watching him have a big health scare and go right back to doing drugs, she was afraid. She said, “‘I’m really scared,’ I whispered to Todd over the phone. ‘Help me get out of here. I have to get away from this guy.'”

Groupies Who Turned Their Tricks Into Art

Some groupies were also creative types. Cynthia “Plaster Caster” Albritton is well-known for turning her groupie status into an art project. She explained that it all started with a school project, and she kept going because it helped her meet famous musicians in a special way.

Her art worked, and pretty soon, she was doing something different with the big names in music. While she first got help from other groupies, she later had musicians’ partners help her with her castings. Albritton said, “I was just doing it to get laid because I was goofy.” Even though she loved what she did, she also saw some bad things. Talking about one famous band, she said, “It was a horrible experience. They had a condescending attitude to some of the girls, coupled with a violent streak. Most bands have been humble, feet on the ground, and not blatant megalomaniacs.” Sadly, Albritton passed away in 2022, and her artwork is now at the Kinsey Institute.


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Understanding Groupies: Beyond the Glitz

Being a groupie allowed some women to see a side of rock stars that wasn’t visible to the public, and this could mean seeing both good and bad things. Gail Sloatman, who was part of the groupie scene in the 1960s and later became the wife of rock star Frank Zappa, certainly saw both sides. Despite her husband’s not-so-great personal hygiene, she came to understand what she termed “the groupie state of mind,” which she discussed in an interview for Pamela Des Barres’s book “Let’s Spend the Night Together.”

Gail Zappa pointed out the different types of groupies. She said, “There was the negative side of groupies who only wanted to be with groups for the lifestyle.” She knew of many who pursued this lifestyle in a professional sense, looking for luck being close to the band. But she also knew about those who were more desperate and would be with anyone linked to the band in any way. For Gail, though, and many like her, being a groupie was about connecting with a world that accepted her, a stark contrast from her childhood experiences with her intellectual family. She liked the sense of freedom and creating her own path.

The Hardships Rock Stars Face

Pamela Des Barres, also a prominent groupie who wrote “Take Another Little Piece of My Heart,” shared that the groupie life wasn’t always about intimate encounters. After the tragic Altamont concert, Mick Jagger invited her back to the hotel to talk, not for romance but to express his feelings and doubts about his music career.

Des Barres also recounted the personal anguish of Keith Moon, deeply troubled by an accident where he hit and killed his driver. She revealed his torment, saying, “He said a lot of times, ‘I don’t deserve to live. I’m a murderous f***.’ Screaming and wailing in the middle of the night. You’d have to comfort him and give him a lot more placidyls to make him go back to sleep.”

Pamela Des Barres painted a realistic picture, admitting that being a groupie wasn’t just about the exciting lifestyle. She shared the pain of losing friends to drugs or tragic circumstances and reflected on her own distress over caring too much for others. In her memoir, she expressed a sorrowful realization: “There was nothing I could do.” This honest declaration highlighted the emotional toll of her groupie experiences.

The Ordinary Lives Behind the Music

Not all groupie stories were about wild parties and concerts; some were about the simple, everyday moments with rock stars. Pamela Des Barres, in her book “I’m With the Band,” shares an eye-opening perspective she gained after meeting Gail Zappa. She was amazed to find out that rock stars like Frank Zappa had regular family lives, where they enjoyed simple things like drinking tea and having breakfast. Gail even offered Pamela a job looking after her kids, Moon and Dweezil.

Pamela wrote about this experience, saying, “The love I felt for them was different from any other kind. I didn’t want a single thing from those munchkins, and it was a refreshing relief. I hung out with them because I had to but found out real soon that I also wanted to.” She took on everyday tasks like making breakfast and changing diapers, moving in with the Zappas in Laurel Canyon and becoming part of their family life.

Morgana Welch also highlighted the less glamorous, but equally important, side of being a groupie. She discussed with Please Kill Me how groupies were often unacknowledged for their contributions to the music scene, especially when it came to taking care of the bands. Cooking for them was one way she helped, “I had certain recipes, like these massive stir-frys, where I could feed the band and the roadies for five bucks. They were always so grateful, because they were broke and starving. So in a way, a lot of groupies were … doing things to help these guys stay alive while they did their music.”


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Fashion as Artistic Expression

For 1970s groupies, fashion was much more than just clothes—it was a form of art. Morgana Welch spoke to Please Kill Me about how they viewed their fashion sense, “Our art was fashion. Ambient art.” Thrift stores were treasure troves where they could creatively piece together unique outfits, expressing themselves without limits.

Pamela Des Barres told Vogue about the significance of groupie fashion, emphasizing its role in self-expression: “I just wanted to be understood by the way I looked.” Preparing to go out was a ritual involving hours of makeup and self-decoration. She also played a role in shaping the bands’ style, taking them shopping and even making clothes for them that helped define their image.

Anita Pallenberg was another key figure in this fashion-forward group, transforming the look of the Rolling Stones in the 1970s. Even Keith Richards acknowledged her influence in his memoir, “Life,” featured in The New York Times: “I started to become a fashion icon for wearing my old lady’s clothes.” This underscores the lasting impact groupies had on music and fashion.

Is “Almost Famous” a True Picture of 1970S Groupie Life?

“Almost Famous,” directed by Cameron Crowe, is a well-known movie about rock ‘n’ roll in the 1970s. Pamela Des Barres, who was a real groupie at that time, spoke to Vulture about the movie. She didn’t like how the movie, which is based on Crowe’s experiences as a young reporter, showed groupie life because it was from a man’s point of view. She believed being a groupie was about women having power and making their own choices.

Des Barres said, “[Penny Lane] was not owning herself, not owning groupiedom and what it actually means,”. She added, “…[The film is a] horribly misogynistic look at what a groupie-muse is. That made me so angry. This character, the groupie like she’s portrayed, is pathetic.” Des Barres also didn’t agree with Penny Lane trying to take her life in the movie, saying true groupies cared more about the music than the men.

She was so upset about how the movie showed her life that she even talked to Crowe. She felt he didn’t really listen to her at first but “he sort of apologized” later. Des Barres also mentioned that the bus scenes in the movie were not realistic. They were “too cutesy and too clean for what really would have happened in that bus had I been on it.”


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What’s Up With Tour Buses?

Des Barres specifically pointed out that the bus scenes in “Almost Famous” didn’t match her experiences. Instead of buses, she was more likely to be “on jets.” A special jet, called Starship I, was popular among rock stars like Led Zeppelin, Peter Frampton, and Alice Cooper. This jet was known for its wild parties, according to Billboard, which even included cocaine being used to spell out band names and a bedroom with a waterbed.

The New York Times reported that Jimmy Page used this jet to move a young groupie across states. Bruce Payne, Deep Purple’s manager, remembered that the plane was a way to bring groupies to shows, causing upset fathers to call the police. Drummer Ian Paice from Deep Purple mentioned, “The Starship was a great place to join the mile-high club.” These stories show that the real life of groupies and rock stars was much wilder than what “Almost Famous” showed.

Doing Jobs They Deserved To Get Paid For

Pamela Des Barres, in a talk with Fashion, shared how she’s trying to change how people see the word “groupie.” She doesn’t like it when people think groupies are just obsessed with getting close to rock stars for sex. Des Barres thinks this is unfair and that “Almost Famous” doesn’t fully show what being a groupie was about. However, she admits the movie does get one thing right.

The film shows Penny Lane helping the character based on Cameron Crowe get close to a band. Dr. Paula Harper, an expert in music at the University of Washington in St. Louis, said this was typical. Groupies knew the best places and parties to be at and helped bands connect with important people. Harper said these women were doing a job like skilled PR people. If they were men, they’d likely get paid. Gail Zappa, before marrying Frank Zappa, spread The Who’s song “My Generation” with a friend, helping it become popular. She points out that this is the kind of work people usually get paid for.

Groupies, Partners, and Wives

Pamela Des Barres tells Fashion there’s nothing wrong if a groupie wants to have many partners. “You’re not hurting anyone. If that’s what you want to do, do it.” But, the lifestyle has affected some partners of rock stars.

Des Barres spoke to Gail Zappa, who married a musician known for having groupies around even after marriage. Gail Zappa said, “Well, everyone had groupies. I mean, you couldn’t get around them. There are aspects that were not easy and not fun, and it’s not like you could be consoled or cry on his shoulder over it. But what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

Franka Wright shared her sad experience with The Daily Mail. As the wife of Pink Floyd’s Rick Wright, she faced a tough situation when she found out after her fourth miscarriage that her husband had gotten a groupie pregnant. “If I wasn’t there when he wanted me, then he would find another woman to put in his bed. … [His affairs were] a bed of thorns that cut into my heart every day and almost destroyed me as a woman.” Her story shows the darker side of the groupie lifestyle and how it impacts the relationships of rock stars.

Looking Back: Regrets About Drug Abuse

Morgana Welch misses the old days of carefree love and being a young fan, but she notices big changes came over time. Speaking to Please Kill Me, she highlighted how the AIDS crisis and the shift towards using cocaine made things different. “We went from expressing yourself to feeding the ego.” She also shared her personal victory: “I don’t want to be out of it. I want to be there for it,” showing she has moved past wanting to use drugs to escape reality.

Pamela Des Barres also reflected on her past with drugs in an interview with Big Issue, regretting how much she used them. “The early drugs were fine — pot and acid, mescaline and all — … Then it sort of denigrated into cocaine and pills and stuff. I’d tell [my younger self] to avoid some of that, because there are things I don’t remember because I was so high.” Her advice to her younger self centers on staying away from the heavier drugs that came later, which affected her memories of those times.

In “Rebel Heart,” Bebe Buell shares some scary moments tied to drug use among her circle. She recounts a particularly dangerous situation when another groupie, who was seeing Alice Cooper at the time, gave her elephant tranquilizers. “I called Todd [Rundgren] on the phone as I was starting to die.” Buell also talks about her decision to never use heroin again after a horrifying experience, saying it was so bad she had “no doubts” she would stay away from it for good.