“You can ask me anything, but not the size of anyone’s penis or who was the best lover, because they all were when I was with them,” explains a cowboy booted Pamela Des Barres, rock’n’roll’s foremost groupie.
A pop cultural concubine to be reckoned with, Des Barres counts amongst her muso lovers of the 1960s and 1970s Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones, Keith Moon of The Who, Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin, Chris Hillman of the Byrds and country tearaway Waylon Jennings. And let’s not forget her numerous make-out sessions with Jim Morrison. She was also nanny to Frank Zappa’s kids, best mates with Gram Parsons, Robert Plant and Captain Beefheart and a member of the GTOs, a groupie musical collective who released their one and only album, ‘Permanent Damage’ in 1969.
In 1987 this “little goofball from the Valley” wrote her fascinating memoir, ‘I’m With The Band’. She now takes classic rock fans on tours of the Hollywood haunts mentioned in the cult book, including the infamous red booths of the Whisky A Go-Go, the Sunset Marquis Hotel and Gram Parsons, Frank Zappa and Jim Morrison’s old houses in hippy haven Laurel Canyon, as well as the sites of long-gone but legendary 1960s clubs like Bido Litos, Kaleidoscope/Hullabaloo and Pandora’s Box, where the legendary Sunset Strip riots of took place. I joined Miss Pamela on the road, and took in some words of wisdom on the way…
“A real groupie is someone who loves the music and wants to do it with the guys who make it and someone who goes after what they want, so a groupie is a feminist thing. A woman who goes after what she wants is a feminist. So I’ve never been anything but a feminist. I took the birth control pill on the Strip in front of everybody and that was my statement. I control my body, I can do whatever the heck I want.”
“He was a one woman man. Except for when he cheated a little bit. I mean they [Morrison and his girlfriend Pamela Courson] were always together so I didn’t get much time with him. Nobody did. No matter what those books say that are out. I mean, he did booty calls…”.
On Hanky Panky
“I used to get a lot of crushes on people that I did not actually sleep with and in those days you could make out and cuddle, like I did Cory Wells of Three Dog Night, without any full on hanky-panky. Same with Jim Morrison, I never went all the way with him. It was more romantic. You could just canoodle and have a great time. I was a virgin still when I was seeing these people. Nobody pressed it. I was 19 and a half when I went all the way. I had given many, many blow-jobs, but I saved my virginity for Nick St Nicholas (Steppenwolf), who is still my good friend.”
“I’m pro-sex and I just want everybody to have a good time. I don’t want people to be uptight or feel weird about it. I’ve always had sex with people I want to have sex with. You don’t have to necessarily be in love to have sex with someone; you can like them a lot, like their music. When I was doing it, there was nothing you could get but the clap, so our generation could be a lot freer than what people have to deal with now. Writing about it made a lot of people call me a slut and I was perceived as a loose woman – I had to fight that and stand up for myself. I was standing up for sex!”
On Los Angeles
“The Sunset Strip is almost non-existent now. I mean, it’s there but nothing happens there and everything used to happen there. Even into the late 1980s, it was still pretty happening. People still cruise up and down praying for something. It’s all about gossipy shit now, there used to be some mystery to it. The way things are now, there’s no mystery to anything. You’d wonder, who might you bump into tonight, who was gonna be at the Whisky and in which booth! There was always somebody at the Whisky, every single night you could run into several of your favourite musicians. There’s nothing like that anymore of course. The heyday of rock’n’roll is way, way over. There was a plethora of genius going on back then; who shall I see tonight, The Doors, Buffalo Springfield, Love?”
“I never met Janis. She was a San Francisco girl. I spent some time up there, but I was really a Hollywood girl. I saw her play the Whisky on mescaline. That was pretty profound. I remember that she melted into the floor and I melted and we all became one. That was when the Whisky was painted orange and purple, and that all melted together and turned into a big puddle, all up and down the Sunset Strip. She was the main girl singer I liked, I’ve never been a huge fan of girl singers.”
“I was a Beatle maniac from minute one. So any British accent did it for me. I had a fake Liverpudlian accent and I used it on people and told them I was from Liverpool and they believed me. It was so exotic, it was like being from Persia or something. I had perfected it so well, that standing in line for A Hard Days Night I just started speaking it and everybody crowded around me like I was a celebrity. I was a 14 year old girl. The Beatles were God, Elvis and Jesus rolled into four! My favourite music for years, besides the country stuff was British. It’s all about the moptops!”
“I was about to turn 21 and trying to get into Playboy, but they said my titties were too small. It was dumb, ‘cause they could have a had a really great hippy layout!”
“My favourite night at the Whisky was The Burritos. I never missed them. I didn’t go to Monterey (Pop festival), because the Burritos were playing that night. That’s how sick into them I was. Gram was singing a George Jones song, ‘She Once Lived Here’. And he just started crying, just weeping. That is my favourite moment in rock and roll. And I have been onstage, on amps, next to Keith Moon’s drumkit. It encapsulated all that I believe in music. The last time I saw him was at the Troubadour, he was calling his dealer. I wrote about how his beautiful hands hung down by his sides like forgotten flowers, because he just forgot who he was by then. He was so addicted and so fucked up.”
On Waylon Jennings
“I met Waylon Jennings at the Palamino with Gram. Right as I was leaving he said, ‘give me your number, baby’. He called me at 5am and showed up. This was way out of my range, I was used to androgynous little Brits and here was this hulking he-man – he had a pompadour. I was going out of my realm, and you know why? Because I loved his music. He tore me apart, man! I remember him getting up after our fabulous time together and he was looking at my photos on the wall – lots of long haired boys and he looked over at me and said, do you really like all this long hair and everything? I said ‘yeah, it’s the thing! Girls love guys with long hair.’ And you know what happened after that… he grew his hair out and became an outlaw! I saw Waylon for three years, whenever he came to town. Waylon was one of my main dudes. He was married the whole time, but in those days there was no internet – you didn’t know.”
Pamela Des Barres’ next Rock Tour is on January 28, 2013 in Los Angeles. For more information, visit www.pameladesbarres.com