Bebe Buell on groupies, fake boobs, God and sacrifice

Bebe Buell circa 1980
Bebe Buell circa 1980 (Image credit: Michael Ochs Archive \/ Getty Images)

Although once a Vogue model (that is until she posed for Playboy in 1974), Bebe Buell is best known for her dalliances with rock stars including Mick Jagger and Jimmy Page, who she dated during her ‘open relationship’ with Todd Rundgren in the 70s. She always considered herself a ‘band aide’ rather than a groupie, and is one of the inspirations behind the Penny Lane character in the movie Almost Famous.

Buell’s own rock star career started in 1981 with her Cover Girl album, produced by Rick Derringer and The Cars’ Ric Ocasek. With her group The Gargoyles she toured and recorded regularly through the 80s, taking a break at the start of the 90s when her 14-year-old daughter Liv, who had always assumed her father was Rundgren, was revealed to be Aerosmith singer Steven Tyler’s daughter. Buell is now married to former Das Damen and D Generation guitarist Jim Wallerstein and has resumed her career as a rock singer.

The kick-ass sound on your last album, Hard Love, was a marked contrast to the slick production of 2009’s Sugar.

Sugar was my Pro Tools album; my Enya moment, if you will. Which isn’t easy for me as I’m a hard, cold rocker. But I didn’t have a band back then, although I was oozing with songs and I really wanted to get something out. So it was just me and a couple of guys. But the new album is who I am live. It’s rock. I don’t play rock’n’roll, I play rock.

You’re managed by Wendy Dio and signed to her record label. How did you meet her?

I was playing the R Bar in New York, a birthday party for photographer Bob Gruen. Wendy came up to me after the show and said she wanted to manage me. and I felt blessed. Because she has vision and she understands what I do. That’s important, because some people don’t like it when women play rock – they want you to play pop or dance music.

Almost Famous – good movie?

I thought it was brilliant. [Director] Cameron Crowe captured the innocence. And it brings a truth to the relationship between [then music journalist] Cameron and I in 1973. He was on the road with Todd Rundgren for three weeks. We were babies on the road compared with the older people around, and we bonded and have remained lifelong friends.

Do you have a message for today’s generation of ‘band aides’?

I just think that whole culture is gone. The whole innocence of the 60s and 70s is over. It’s all very different now. It started when porn and music became attached and more and more women started to get fake boobies. I get very offended with people that just want to go backstage and have sex with somebody. To me that’s absolutely stupid, and I’ve never understood it and I’ve never done it. So it’s hard for me to give any advice to them.

What’s the best untruth you’ve read about yourself on the internet?

How to choose? I think the funniest was that I dated [Led Zeppelin manager] Peter Grant. I never even kissed him. I’m sure he’d be laughing too.

What’s the biggest misconception people have about you?

That I’m defined by the cool boyfriends I had in the 70s. I’ve done so many other things. Nowadays I just say to people: “Come see me live and I will change your mind.”

Do you believe in God?

I believe in a higher power. I don’t know if it’s called God, but I believe in the connection between the universe and our souls and the multi-dimensions that we exist in. And I absolutely believe that there are no accidents. I believe that we choose our parents. I believe that our karma is the result of our former lives.

What’s the most difficult decision you’ve ever had to make?

Turning down a six-figure recording contract in 1991 when my band had been working solidly for six years and we were ready. But my daughter’s paternity was just becoming public and I knew that if I didn’t become a full-time parent I’d have one maladjusted, confused child. It was horrible, because I’d worked so hard for it. But I said to myself, it doesn’t matter how old you are when you come back, if it’s meant to be, it won’t matter.

What are the best and worst drugs that you’ve ever taken?

The best was cannabis and my first LSD trip. I was lucky enough to take acid created by Timothy Leary. The worst was the one time I snorted heroin. I got so sick.

What are you most proud of?

My daughter, obviously. I’m also very proud of my gift in relating to animals. Animals are not here to entertain us, they’re here to comfort us.

What would you say to your 21-year-old self if you met her today?

“Stop, look, listen.” I rushed into things when I was 21. Back then I thought I could do it all.

What would you like to be written on your tombstone?

‘Rebel heart, rebel soul.’

This interview originally appeared in Classic Rock 166.

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Hugh Fielder

Hugh Fielder has been writing about music for 47 years. Actually 58 if you include the essay he wrote about the Rolling Stones in exchange for taking time off school to see them at the Ipswich Gaumont in 1964. He was news editor of Sounds magazine from 1975 to 1992 and editor of Tower Records Top magazine from 1992 to 2001. Since then he has been freelance. He has interviewed the great, the good and the not so good and written books about some of them. His favourite possession is a piece of columnar basalt he brought back from Iceland.