Memoirs of a rock 'n roll muse
Rock stars were bigger in the past – and so were their groupies, as Patrick Sawer hears
The news that Led Zeppelin are to reform for a one-off concert this autumn has added a certain frisson to the publication of Pamela Des Barres's already hot memoirs.
Pamela was a groupie. Not just any groupie, but one of an elite band of supergroupies who, in the days before AIDS, enjoyed affairs with some of the biggest stadium stars of the Sixties and Seventies. The notches on her bedpost include Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin, Keith Moon of The Who, Mick Jagger and Noel Redding of the Jimi Hendrix Experience.
Now aged 59, she insists there was more to it than sex; the groupies of her day were muses. "We all felt we were contributing to this incredible scene at a time when music was being made which would live forever," she says.
"I assumed the songs these guys were writing were about us. We were inspiring them and it was a glorious feeling being adored by the people I adored," she says.
Or as John Lennon once put it, in his typically succinct way: "As usual, there is a great woman behind every idiot."
Pamela has written a book, Let's Spend the Night Together, about her experiences and those of fellow supergroupies like Tura Satana (who taught Elvis Presley to wiggle more than just his hips), Cynthia Plaster Caster (who captured rock stars' members for posterity) and the under-age Lori Lightning.
It's hard to imagine the fans of today's milksop Pop Idols or X-factor winners indulging in some of their activities. As Pamela says: "First the access to band is so much harder now. Led Zeppelin used to come down to a small club like the Whisky on Sunset Strip and meet up with us. That would never happen now.
"Also I don't know if girls are inspired by their idols in quite the same way we were. In our day, especially after Bob Dylan, musicians wanted to express themselves, tell the truth and change the world. But the big pop artists today are very mundane."
Tura Satana was the original supergroupie. An American-Japanese burlesque dancer, she met Elvis in 1955 at a club in Biloxi, Mississippi. Satana - who went on to star in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls - tells Pamela that Elvis wanted to know how she did the slide and the splits at the same time and how she managed to shimmy and shake too. The rest is rock n' roll history.
Then there was Cynthia (right), who hit on the idea of making plaster casts of her idols' penises. When the Jimi Hendrix Experience played in Chicago in 1967, the now legendary guitarist agreed to model for her. Replicas of the Hendrix cast (left) fetch $1,500.
Pamela's bitter rival for Jimmy Page's affections was Lori Lightning, an LA teenager who in 1973, aged only 13, lost her virginity to David Bowie and began an under-age affair with Jimmy Page that was to last two years. Lightning went on to sleep with Jagger, Jeff Beck, Ronnie Wood, T-Rex's Mickey Finn and even Angela Bowie.
Now, looking back on the groupie phenomenon, Lightning says: "I feel like it's been degraded somewhere along the way and it was never meant to be negative. Groupies in the old days were girlfriends of the band - Patti Harrison, Marianne Faithful, Linda McCartney, Anita Pallenberg. They didn't give blow jobs to get backstage - and neither did we."
There was, of course, a dark side to the girls' adventures in the rock demi-monde. Hendrix's girlfriend Devon Wilson fell to her death from New York's Chelsea Hotel in 1971 and Jimmy Morrison's wife Pamela overdosed shortly after he died.
Pamela Des Barres herself gave up the groupie game after Page dumped her for Lori Lightning (right, with Page). "One night I was left standing on the side of the road, outside the Whisky, as he went off with Lori and I decided I wasn't going to do it any more.
While Led Zeppelin prepare to take to the stage once more, Pamela will not be attempting a personal comeback.
"It's going to be an incredible show," she says, "but there won't be any of the old mayhem backstage. I'm still very friendly with Robert (Plant). He's still a charming, wonderful, devilish man - but we're grown-ups now and we need a good night's sleep."
Let's Spend the Night Together (Helter Skelter, September 27, £17.99)