Pamela Des Barres' status as an iconic figure in rock'n'roll history of was confirmed with the 1987 publication of I’m With The Band, the compelling account of her relationships with Jimmy Page, Mick Jagger, Keith Moon and more.
She was in the Frank Zappa-assembled all-girl group The GTOs and was in part the inspiration behind Kate Hudson’s Penny Lane character in Almost Famous. Once married to British actor and rocker Michael Des Barres, Pamela is now a journalist and author whose most recent book, Let It Bleed: How to Write a Rockin' Memoir, was published in 2017.
My first real love. The first band I ever saw was The Byrds on the Strip. Kind of the silent type, mysterious. I still know him. He’s changed a lot through the years, but he was kind of chilly back then and unreachable and kind of unknowable. At the time he was a rock star. He lived in Laurel Canyon. They all had matching Porsches and matching motorcycles and it was just very heady stuff.
He’s a deep thinking fellow and he’s now kind of a religious guy and very heavily married and his wife hates my guts and that’s just the way life goes. It’s so weird to be a Jezebel at my age. He is a panoply of people really. He doesn’t seem to make sense on some level: the history he’s had compared with who he is today is very interesting. I think he actually denies some of his history, his more wild history, because he’s pretty straight right now.
He was number one on my want list in high school. I painted an oil painting of his balls, what I imagined they might look like, when I was such a virgin girl. It wasn’t far off really. It was pretty good. He was just a funloving, grabbing his opportunity, enjoying every second of his life kind of guy. Smart, and never got too wasted. Everyone around him high as kites – he was slightly high. Didn’t want to be out of control. Seemed to me like he really enjoyed the control. Being in control and knowing who he was and what he elicited from people seemed to really give him a kick.
I didn’t think he was egotistical. I thought he had a great handle on his ego and with still knowing who he was and what kind of power he wielded. He was a lot of fun. It was hard to get into the whole sex act at first, just because it was overwhelming. Because it was something I had desired for so long. It wasn’t a disappointment.
I knew Jim when he considered himself a poet above all other things. He thought the pop star stuff was a lark really and he knew one day he’d make his mark as a poet. Whenever I’d spend time with him – which wasn’t that often because he was really a one-woman-man kind of guy – but whenever they fought, I’d see him and we would hang out a little bit. A sweet soul, but tortured. Two definite sides to him: the sweet gentle poet side and the freaky dangerous motherfucker side. And I saw both sides.
He was a bad drunk. Some people can drink and be happy. He was a mean, bad drunk and it made him think too hard and worry and concern himself with stuff. He’d be in front of the Whisky curled up in the gutter and people would just walk by him. People like to memorialise him now as some incredible elegant creature. He was that and many other things. He just hauled off and slapped me across the face at the Whisky for no reason, sitting in our booth – whammo! Then he took a beer and just threw it all over Miss Lucy [GTO]. There was no reason for it. We didn’t provoke it or anything.
He turned me onto country music. He had this little portable record player. He would put these records on, play them from beginning to end and just sit there and make you listen to them. And he would talk about them and why they were important. I believe he felt he didn’t have a long time and he was on a mission, and he accomplished it.
We even dated a few times. I made him a shirt and he kept it in plastic until he died and his wife Gretchen gave it to me a few years after he died and I just burst into tears. I have it still. He was driven. I didn’t spend a lot of time with him after the Burrito Brothers, when he got more and more wasted. I wasn’t around him a lot in those days. I was around him in the pot days. He was smoking a lot of pot and listening to a lot of music and honing his sound.
He had the most beautiful hands anyone’s ever seen. He had the longest fingers and the most amazing hands – and he looked at ‘em and he said, “I expect to see stitches on my wrists. I don’t know where these hands came from.
I was only 16 when I met him and I was a virgin. So when he hit on me, I said no. My only regrets in my life are things I did not do, and that was one of them. I wish I had taken him up on that because he seemed like an amazingly gentle soul and someone I would like to have spent more time with, but I was just a little afraid of him. When he hit on me, I just kind of demurred. But he was a very open soul. He was probably too open and trusting. And shy. Very shy. He didn’t offer much. He wasn’t gregarious.
He certainly was on a mission, there’s no doubt about that. This good friend of mine, Chuck Wein, who directed Rainbow Bridge, a movie with Hendrix, and I were hanging out one afternoon in New York and he said,”I’m calling the archangels out of the corners. Anybody want to come?” Hendrix was the first one. He walked right in the room and sat down waiting for the archangels to come out of the corners. It was so great.
I nearly got to meet him. I got to see him in concert with Jimmy [Page] and Robert [Plant]. We went to Vegas to see him and sat in the front row. Then Red West came up and said, “So fellas, you want to meet Elvis?” and Jimmy Page said, “Oh, no thank you.”
Why, I don’t know. They met him a couple of years later. Robert told me all about it. It’s something I wish I could have done with them. I could have gone over to his house and watched TV with him and the boys, but I had just got engaged to Michael [Des Barres] and I didn’t want to be tempted by the King [laughs]. Oh man. That’s another regret.
He made me realise that sex was going to be a lot of fun in my life and I was going to have a good time with it. We stayed friends until the end. Last time I saw him was six months before he died. He came out here for a Hendrix tribute. He was just so sweet, so clinging. Hanging on to me. He was sad and kind of tragic at the end. His mom had just died and he was really close with her.
But at the time he epitomised the British pop star. When I was hanging on his scrawny little arm, it felt like the best place on earth to be. He was quite a character [laughs]. Funny. Real funny way with words and a real great kind of strange little passion for life. A little bit of a gnome kind of character. He and Mitch Mitchell both had gnome qualities, like little elves. He was great in the sack. He was a passionate, teaching type lover. He was a good letter writer. I’ve got all his letters.
Overtly strange. When everybody was dressing in unique kind of clothing, he had short flowered bellbottoms on and was really pushing it. Frank just thought we [The GTOs] were so much fun and such an important gaggle of girls that he wanted us to do a record. We got to be around him a lot. I watched him sit there and just compose things and write them all out of his head.
He was enigmatic though. He was enigmatic and mysterious. Probably the only person who really knew him was his wife Gail. He was a workaholic. And devoted to his craft. He got a kick out of everybody. He could see something lurking in someone and he could pull it out of them. He could manipulate people into saying almost anything [laughs]. It was almost like being drunk, being around him. He could pull things out of you that you didn’t know were in there, creatively. He was a master at that.
Just an angel. Just a sweet, gentle, drunken angel. Great voice. I have letters from him too. He had a crush on me and I just couldn’t get a crush back on him but I really loved him as a person. He co-produced the [GTOs] album so I was around him a lot. He was just a great sweet, understanding gentle big bear of a guy with a beautiful face. He just had the most beautiful green eyes.
I remember him saying I had beautiful legs and I was just beside myself. The second time I met him was at Bob Dylan’s house for his 50th birthday. I remember sitting between Dylan and George Harrison and he introduced me to his mechanic and said, “Pamela, this is so and so and he works with engines in the way you and I work with words”.
He had read my book. He said [adopting terrible Scouse accent], “I’m not in it unfortunately.” [Laughs and cries out] Oh, god George, I wish you’d been in it! I hung out with him and he flirted with me, but he was married and I wasn’t going to go there… But I probably could have.
When I met John Lennon it was very brief. Keith Moon invited me to a session he was doing with Nilsson. John Lennon was standing in the doorway and Keith said, “Pamela, this is John. John, Pamela.” And he said [adopting her bad Scouse accent again], “Pamela John, John Pamela, Pamela John, John Pamela,” about 30 or 40 times until it just turned into mush and I was sad. I’d met John and he didn’t give a shit.
I had my book, I’m With The Band. This guy introduced me to Paul and he put his gaze on me, and I was like, “Oh my god I’m standing here with Paul McCartney!” And I said, “I’ve always wanted to meet you. I was a big Beatles fan. I wrote this book, I’m With The Band.” He really hadn’t heard of me and most rock stars have. I think he was pretty reclusive with Linda. He’d never cheated on her, I know that.
So he was perusing it and then he looked over the book with those eyes and said, “We haven’t met before, have we?” It was so great. It was for Heather’s benefit. I said, “No, unfortunately,” and he turned to her and said, “See dear, we haven’t met. I don’t know her.” So funny. He obviously got entangled with women who didn’t let him out of their sight.
Alice was Miss Christine’s boyfriend. She was one of the GTOs. They really copied us. Alice Cooper copied us a lot. We dressed them quite a bit. She did all his make-up and everything. He was just this sweet guy Vince from Arizona and I guess later on he became a drug addict and alcoholic. I didn’t know him then. He did not smoke, drink take drugs, nothing. The whole band was like that. He was just a friendly, doll of a guy. He went through a stage when he was hanging out with Keith Moon where he went pretty wild I think. He now golfs.
I called him a swank pot back then. He was Rodney Rooster. He knew he was important. but the rest of the world didn’t know it yet. He was pretty full of himself, but we had fun with it because he wasn’t anybody yet. We spent a lot of time with him but without any shenanigans.
In those days you could hang out with the bands without having sex with them. They wanted some people to hang out with and they wanted people to take them shopping. We took the whole Jeff Beck Group to the Glass Farmhouse, and they got kitted out in amazing vintage clothes very cheap. Rod was on our record. I’ve seen him through the years. You’d think that someone who goes back that far with you might get a laugh out of it. I don’t think he does.
Underrated. Brilliant. Genius. Sweetheart of a guy. Troubled, tortured guy back then. I don’t know now. But felt unfulfilled in many ways, I think. He loved Hollywood and would spend extra time here and walk up and down Hollywood Boulevard. He loved it. He’d talk about old movies and old movie stars and the meaning of fame and all that. A very deep talker, a deep thinking guy. Sexy guy, too, I thought. At times funny, but sort of the tears-of-a-clown type fella, like Keith Moon.
There were so many sides to him, it’s hard to pinpoint even one of them. What drove him was the fact that he’d run over his roadie and killed him. That was in the back of his mind all the time. It probably was a way for him to abuse himself because he didn’t have a whole lot of self worth. On the one hand he had tons of it. He was the best drummer alive. But on the other hand he had very low self-esteem and berated himself all the time. And that unfortunate death was behind a lot of that.
But, besides that, he did have a lot of fun. He loved to dress up and be other people. And that was another form of escape, but at least he had fun doing that. He would be everybody from Hitler to a very sexy, blousy woman, to a priest, to a little schoolboy. So, you really had to be on your toes to keep up with him – really mentally on your toes, physically on your toes. No wonder he didn’t live long.
Everyone who knew him was surprised he made it that long. He wasn’t happy, but at times he was. He felt like he didn’t deserve to live. He said a lot of times, “I don’t deserve to live. I’m a murderous fuck.” 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.
My other true love that I thought I was really, really in love with. And he sure led you to believe it, man. I found out later from three other girls that he said the same things to all of us. But the best lover, the best talker, the best line giver, the best everything. He was it. He was the supreme catch if you were a groupie because he took you on the road, he bought you things, he whispered sweet nothings all the time. He led you to believe you were the one. And it really felt good.
He was the epitome of British royalty. I haven’t seen Jimmy in years. Although, you know what I hear now, he’s let his hair go grey and he’s sober for years. I think he’s a completely changed guy.
We’re still very, very close. He’s another one who reminds me of Mick [Jagger] in that he’s happy with who he is, he’s happy with what he’s done with his life. He’s happy being who he is right now and who he was then. He’s very aware of how important he is, but at the same time very humble, because he knows it was a long time ago and he’s not selling the records he used to. But he’s okay with it all.
And he’s the sexiest guy in the world still. The way he walks. He just is a rock god. He still jokingly calls himself the Golden God, in the third person. And smart, oh my god. He’s another one, like Mick [Jagger], everyone around him high, stoned, crawling around. He never did. In control. Leo. Leo pride. He still does the thing with the mane. He’s very happy. He loves Dion. We both love Dion and back when I was with Jimmy we bonded over that.
Recently when I went to see Robert in Vegas, Dion was playing and we got to see him for like 20 minutes before Robert had to go on. We were sitting watching Dion and he started singing our favourite song, Love Came To Me, and we both went, “Oh my god, this is too good to be true”.
Robert started crying and I was in tears too. We were both just gaga and Dion’s roadie came up behind us right after that song and said, “Dion would love to say hello afterwards, if you want”, and Robert couldn’t do it because he had to go on. He said, “I’ve got to play, sorry, but here, give him this” and he took his tear and put it on the roadie’s hand and said, “Give this to Dion”. Pretty cool. So I still continue to have great experiences with these nutty rock gods.