Pamela Des Barres, The Ultimate Rock Groupie, Tells All
David Bowie shouldn’t be shamed in death, Pamela Des Barres says: Groupies know what they’re doing. And she—former lover of Jimmy Page and Mick Jagger—should know.
Having ruled Los Angeles’s groupie scene in the late ’60s and early ’70s, Pamela Des Barres scoffed at the feminist outrage over David Bowie’s tryst with another famous groupie, Lori Mattix, who was only 15 when Bowie allegedly deflowered her.
“It’s just ridiculous,” Des Barres, now 67—a supergroupie turned journalist and memoirist—told The Daily Beast. “Yes, she was a young girl. A lot of people think that’s wrong and let them, but this was a very specific time. Lori is 60 years old now and has no regrets or remorse. She’s told her story a million times before!”
One of those times is recorded in Des Barres’s fourth book, Let’s Spend the Night Together (2008), which features interviews with other prominent rock star groupies. (The interviews were filmed for a VH1 documentary of the same name.)
Des Barres never knew Bowie, though she and Mattix were both in and out of bed with Jimmy Page from Led Zeppelin.
Affectionately known as “Miss Pamela” from her days as a groupie—a nickname that stuck when she became the leading member of the groupie band Girls Together Only, or the GTOs—Des Barres had her fair share of rock star lovers.
She made out with Jim Morrison while huffing Trimar; lost her virginity at 19 to Nick St. Nicholas, the bassist in Steppenwolf. She had affairs with Noel Redding, Chris Hillman, Waylon Jennings, Keith Moon, and Mick Jagger, among others.
Des Barres recounted these free-love escapades vividly and lovingly in her 1987 debut, I’m With the Band: Confessions of a Groupie, a best-selling tell-all that was critically praised for capturing the innocent hedonism of the era.
The New York Times declared it the “brightest, sexiest, funniest” among the deluge of groupie memoirs in the late ’80s. She went on to write four more books and is working on a fifth, Let It Bleed: How to Write a Rockin’ Memoir.
Speaking on the phone while driving to a gig in Houston, Texas with her ex-boyfriend Mike Stinson (“he’s a genius”), Des Barres confessed that “Mick Jagger was the first androgynous guy I was attracted to.”
She said she has remained friends with all of her exes, including her ex-husband, the rock star Michael Des Barres, whom she split from in 1991 after 14 years of marriage. The two have a son together, Nicholas Dean Des Barres.
“Jagger was dangerous and safe all at once,” she told me. “It was like hanging out with one of the girls, someone you could confide in. The GTOs were all making out with each other, and while I never had sex with a girl, I loved kissing and cuddling with them. Jagger was a combination of a sexy, funky man and a sweet girl.”
The fact that he was petite was “part of the attraction,” she said. “It was like, ‘Wow, this person is right on my level.’”
Was she jealous of other women when she was dating these rock gods?
“We didn’t ‘date’ back then,” she said, cutting me off. “But it wasn’t just sex either. I was in love with Chris Hillman. At one point I thought Jimmy Page might be the one.”
She did get jealous, of course, when they left her bed and jumped into someone else’s.
“But I realized that was the world I was living in,” she said. “You had to accept it or go home, and I wasn’t about to go home.”
Des Barres was in her twenties by the time Lori Mattix came along, part of a new crop of nubile baby groupies. They did everything they could to push Miss Pamela and the other GTOs out of the picture. “It was like junior high,” she said. “They were just mean. They made themselves available to the guys and they loved it!”
Des Barres has been determined to reclaim the term groupie ever since I’m With the Band came out and women attacked her for writing about her promiscuity from a place of empowerment and pleasure.
She recalled an old, blustering woman shaking her finger at her in the audience when she was promoting the book on Phil Donahue’s talk show.
“I said, ‘I’m really sorry you didn’t get to sleep with Mick Jagger and I did.’ And that always shut them up.
“AIDS was rampant at the time so there was this how dare you attitude,” she continued. “I had to remind everyone that I was a groupie in the ’60s and early ’70s. I never even got a transmittable disease from a rock star. So people can just go fuck themselves about that.”
Groupies are synonymous with star fuckers. But for Des Barres, being a groupie was more about the music than anything else.
“The music made me happy to be alive,” she told me. As for rock legends sleeping with young girls, Des Barres said she understands the urge to protect children.
“I was underage when I first started giving head to rock stars. That would be called statutory rape, I assume.
“But myself and a lot of these girls, like Sweet Connie [from Littlerock] who got so much shit because she serviced the whole band, we just wanted to show our respect and love to these people for their music.”
Hamzie was another infamous groupie whose diaries were published in a 1992 article for Penthouse. (She claimed Bill Clinton made a pass at her in 1984.)
I point out that groupies still have a reputation for being hangers-on.
“And so what? What is wrong with some girl getting her kicks for an hour with someone who she’s listened to on her headphones for years on end? Is she hurting anyone? No one was raped by these rock guys.
“People get all up in their high fucking horse. It was a time when women were on the birth control pill and could own their own bodies. That’s why I get so angry at feminists who cast aspersions on me and say I was submissive to rock stars, which is such bullshit. I was doing exactly what I wanted to do.”