When he was 16-years-old, a nerdy Cameron Crowe left his family home in California to tour America with Todd Rundgren – a weirdo prog-rocker with an uncontrollable Ritalin addiction. As he stepped onto the bus packed with sweaty roadies and rock stars in women’s tops he was relieved to see another yute – Rundgren’s then girlfriend, Bebe Buell.
They became best friends, and after a rock and roll career of writing for Rolling Stone, Crowe went go on to direct the celebrated on-the-road movie Almost Famous. Its hero, the self-assured ‘band aid’ Penny Lane, was partially based on his old touring buddy Buell.
We gave her a call to find out if rumors about rock stars abusing young girls with shark meat were true. Buell (now famous for being Liv Tyler’s mum) has a voice that epitomizes the phrase MILF. She was, and always will be, a smoking hottie who spent the 70’s adrift in a world of sexual adventures, girls with long hair, and hedonistic rock stars who made decisions with their penises. The Agyness Dean of her day; at 18-years-old she was flying around the world to pose for Vogue and Harpers Queen.
“In New York everyone basically hung out in the same room, called Max’s Kansas City. You had Warhol and his lot, then the models, artists and painters. Every now and then you’d have someone like Groucho Marx, Salvador Dali or Jane Fonda walking in.”
Buell was never (in CAPS, double underlined) a groupie, with her modeling career keeping her in the Sasha Fierce ‘independent woman’ camp. But that isn’t to say she didn’t have her share of Rock n’ Roll scrapes, such as being one of the first top models to pose for Playboy, a shoot that lost her support from her agency. Sadly it was a ridonkulously professional experience, with no gruesome gropes, “All the wives tales about Playboy were bullshit, and Hugh Hefner always treated me well and was extremely fatherly. He never made a pass at me.”
Hef also handpicked her for the Playboy Calendar, a success she is understandably very proud of, as it’s testament to just how hot she was. “It was a little bit harder to become a playmate back then. Mainly because they didn’t have the airbrushing and stuff that they do now. I don’t want to sound narcissistic, but honestly you kind of had to be pretty damn perfect. If you had a tiny scar that could prevent you from being one. Nobody had booby implants back then, and everyone had pubic hair!”
No, we can’t quite believe we’re talking to Liv Tyler’s mum about pubic hair either. ”I like something in the middle. A manicured lawn”.
So in this time of flares and ethereal pre-aids sex we wondered how well conventional take-the-boyfriend-home-to-meet-mum set ups fitted in. Buell and Rundgren dealt with temptation by always having an open –relationship, which sounds impressive in theory, but how exactly you deal with your boy hopping into bed with your slutty friend? “You don’t! But that was how it was. Everyone was with everyone. It was a crazy time, but it was innocent, you couldn’t get horrible diseases, you couldn’t die from sex. ” AIDS really ruined a lot.
While Buell was living in New York with her own money, career and home, the darker side of fandom was happening on Sunset Boulevard between Crescent Heights and Doheny Drive. Los Angeles was the place to hunt for your rock star boyfriend, and in the 70s girls from all over America packed up their cotton panties and hitched a lift to the Sunset Strip. Lori Maddox and Sable Starr were two of the most notorious groupies around, Buell would visit them whenever modeling took her to the City of Angels, “They were really sweet girls, they’d meet you at the airport and run up to you to tell you how fabulous you were,” recalls Buell.
Maddox was only 13 when she lost her virginity in a threesome with David Bowie and his then-wife Angie. A year later she was girlfriend to Jimmy Page from Led Zeppelin. Despite living in the same circle of prolific sex, and TV’s falling from windows, Buell still found some relationships she witnessed mildly disturbing, “I think it’s kinda awful what some men did to those little girls,” says Buell. “Those are supposed to be your fans, it’s kind of disgusting. I really think Lori Maddox would have rather (just) been hanging out. She was in love with Jimmy Page when she was 14 and he changed her life. He turned her into a woman before she was ready.”
We wanted to look at the other side of the groupie coin so we contacted Starr and Maddox’s best friend Morgana Welch, who was 15 when she started going out on Los Angeles’s Sunset Strip. She told us about her first visit:
“I had a friend who was a few years older than me and had been hanging out on the Strip for a couple years. One day she asked me if I wanted to go play pinball at a head shop (a store that sells drug paraphernalia, sew on patches, jewelry and hippie stuff). I loved what I saw there. I began to cut school and go to places like the Hyatt/Riot House cafe.”
Welch soon realised that if she pulled on some denim hot pants and sipped herbal tea in the right places, she’d stumble onto a rock star. Her initiation into groupie-wood was with Randy California (best name ever), the front man of a band called Spirit.
“I talked a girlfriend into going to Whisky a Go Go with me one night when our parents were away. I was up on the dance floor while the band was playing and after a few songs Randy jumped down off the stage and started dancing with me. That was one of the most thrilling moments of my life.”
After the gig, Welch waited patiently for Randy, flicking her hair and leaning on the sticky bar. Sure enough, when everyone else had left he came and found her, “I gave him my phone number and a week or so later he called me and invited me to another show. After that encounter, I wanted more. I wanted to do that every night and it was possible on the Strip. It was the world I wanted to live in.”
As the groupie scene grew there became a noticeable disproportion between the flocks of horny teenage girls in floaty dresses, and the one or two hairy rock hunks. Morgana and her girls had to stick together to avoid catfights, “It was very cut throat to get to the musicians, especially if they had more fame. I had my group of a few girls and we looked out for each other, especially if new groupies appeared on the scene and tried to enter our circle of men – it was important to protect our status.”
So how exactly do you bag a rock star boyfriend? According to Welch it’s just lounging around being a stone cold fox. “I met mine while I was sitting in the Hyatt House lobby. A man came up to me and said a friend of his wanted to meet me. At first I thought it was some weirdo, then I saw this gorgeous man and noticed his necklace with one of the symbols from the latest Led Zeppelin album. I knew then it was John Paul Jones. I didn’t even tell my friends I was leaving, just got in the car with him and went to a beautiful home in the Hollywood hills. I stayed there until the next day, making love most of the time. I’d like to have a repeat of that!”
Unfortunately for women, there comes a point when you’re not as hot as you once were. Everything sags and builders stop leering at you. It’s tough for everyone, but especially girls whose whole shtick is looking sexy in mini skirts.
Morgana didn’t deal with this transition too well. She married a musician who she hoped would be famous enough to ensure her bra was framed at Hard Rock Café, but actually he was a violent drunk. “It became pure hell. I was dealing with the cheating, the drug and alcohol abuse. I was with a man who was married to ‘the band’”. She quickly realized being a wife was much shittier than being a mistress, especially when his problems ended his career: “no one wanted to work with him.”
After she left her husband Welch’s only option was to return to Arizona, and a sober life with a mother who had never approved of her debauched lifestyle. Jealousy is a terrible thing. In 1980 she attempted to return to the Hollywood party scene she loved but by that point she was a single mother and struggled to balance her club life with breastfeeding and nappy changes.
She now lives in “the normal world” which she doesn’t like too much, particularly since she’s always had a gnawing feeling that she’s destined for something else. She mentioned that she had unfinished business in L.A. – namely finding a free-spirited musician to call her own. “It was hard to move to a town that had none of the Hollywood influence. I have always felt out of place”.
Buell never had to leave the scene. She had a string of famous boyfriends, including Mick Jagger who taught her the delicate intricacies of shoe/bag co-ordination, “I kind of felt like I was in charm School”. And after the scene died in the 80’s Buell carried on partying and even forged her own career in music. Unlike Morgana she can list countless amazing memories from her youth and onwards: going for tea with Salvador Dali – “his moustache was greasy” – being the only person at a Rolling Stones recording sessions, wandering into parties and finding herself sitting next to David Bowie. She even met the ruddy Queen, “They don’t make it easy for you to meet the Royals, I had to do this weird curtsy and basically turn myself into a pretzel.” It wasn’t all bad as Prince Phillip checked her out and told her she was lovely. In fact so honored was she by his ogling that a few years later she got a t-shirt just saying ‘lovely’. “My friends all told me I was a conceited bitch. But I didn’t get that t-shirt for that reason. Come on, it didn’t say ‘I’m the cat’s ass’”. She seemed completely content with her life, counting Patti Smith and Kate Moss as her best friends, all the while preparing for a tour to promote her latest album, Air Kisses for the Masses. Unlike Welch she seemed to have no business that was unfinished.
The 70’s was the best time to be a rock star. You had millions of dollars thrown at you, plush hotel suites and crates of drugs. Bands like Led Zeppelin were the Vikings of their day, pillaging as and when, ripping through states with their demonic penchant for young girls. The fallouts of that were the 13 and 14 year olds who grew up too fast in a world that was deteriorating as quickly as their adolescence was accelerating. For them recovery was difficult – mainly because little girls will never be able to tie down grown up men, no matter how many tissues they stuff in their push up bra. “There’s been sexism since Henry the 8th cut off girls heads” says Buell, “why would it be any different in the 70’s?”