Groupies usually don’t show up as much more than a footnote in music. They’re the girls who hang out backstage with the band, usually troubled girls from unhappy homes, struggling to find an escape by diving into the sex and drugs that go with rock ‘n’ roll. They’re treated as short-term lovers, minor conquests chalked up on the bedpost of a celebrity.
But some of them were a lot more than just one-night stands. In the 1960s and 1970s, there was a scene of groupies who got close enough to the musicians that they changed their lives. Some inspired song lyrics, some birthed their children—and every one of them got their stars in a whole heap of trouble.
Rodney Bingenheimer’s English Disco in LA was a hunting ground for rock stars who liked little girls. It was where the so-called “baby groupies” hung out—preteen girls who were willing to sleep with anyone with a guitar and a record deal.
Sable Starr was their queen. She was known as the “big groupie in LA.” Sable, it’s said, didn’t have to go out looking for rock stars. They came hunting for her.
Sable was only 12 years old when she lost her virginity to the guitarist of the band Spirit. She wasn’t even a teenager yet, and she’d already made her first foray into the world of groupies. By the time she was 14, she’d been with every star from Iggy Pop to David Bowie.
To the rock stars, she was a fun time, but there’s every reason to believe that there’s a dark, untold story behind why a 12-year-old girl would spend school nights trying to sleep with grown men. A hint of it came out when she was turned down by punk musician Wayne County. In response, Starr slit her own wrists and tried to drown herself in the pool.
She survived, and little changed—until she started dating the New York Dolls’ Johnny Thunders (pictured above with Starr). Thunders was a jealous, dangerous drug addict who would beat her senseless whenever he had a fit of paranoia. He got Starr pregnant and proposed, but realizing what her future would be, Starr snuck off, aborted the baby, and left the world of rock ‘n’ roll behind.
Lori Maddox (also spelled Mattix) was only 14 years old when Jimmy Page invited her over to his hotel. He wasn’t the first rock star she’d been with—she was already a baby groupie, famous for losing her virginity to David Bowie—but Page was the first man to call her who was looking for more than just one night.
Page told Maddox, who was half his age, that he was in love with her. And, as far Maddox was concerned, he was telling the truth. Page even called her mother and asked for permission to date her daughter, and Mrs. Maddox, probably dreaming of having a son-in-law with Led Zeppelin money, gave them her blessing.
It nearly got Page arrested. When rumors got out that Jimmy Page was dating a freshman in high school, the FBI started an investigation and tried to get enough proof to charge him with statutory rape. Page and Maddox, though, managed to keep their relationship under wraps enough to avoid jail time.
Maddox says Page was “one of the great loves of [her] life,” insisting it wasn’t morally wrong because she “didn’t think of [herself] as underage.” The public, though, had a different view—and the story’s gone around more than once with the word “rapist” next to Jimmy Page’s name.
Page and Maddox’s relationship ultimately fell apart. It wasn’t the age difference; it was that Maddox walked in on him with another woman: Bebe Buell, better known today as Liv Tyler’s mother.
Before Buell became pregnant with Steven Tyler’s child, she was one of the most notorious groupies in the US. She got her start when Jimi Hendrix spotted her and a friend on the streets and catcalled at them out the car window, “Hey, girls, you wanna come with us to the show?” From there, she moved through Mick Jagger, David Bowie, Elvis Costello, and more.
She was in an on-again, off-again relationship with Todd Rundgren when she got pregnant with Steven Tyler’s baby. For the first 11 years of her life, Liv Tyler even believed that Rundgren was her father—until she met Steven Tyler and realized how much they were alike. Buell didn’t tell her daughter who her real father was until Liv made her admit it.
Liv resented her mother for it at first but says she’s forgiven her since. “She had two men who didn’t really want her,” Tyler said. “She did the best she could.”
Pamela Des Barres made a name for herself, working her way from Mick Jagger to Keith Moon. She became enough of a legend on the scene that her life ended up inspiring the movie Almost Famous. While they were filming, Kate Hudson even kept a picture of Des Barres in her dressing room for inspiration.
She coined the phrase “band-aid,” after telling a reporter that groupies did more than just sleep with band members. They would “take care” of them while they were in town, she said, by taking them out shopping, stitching their shirts, and watching TV with them—and, of course, also by sleeping with them.
Frank Zappa ended up making her into a minor rock star in her own right. He formed a group called the GTOs, a band that entirely consisted of groupies, with Pamela Des Barres at the lead. And he even hired her as Dweezil and Moon Unit Zappa’s nanny.
Not everyone was so accepting of Des Barres, but as far as she was concerned, it was all just jealousy. When criticized for her lifestyle in an interview, Des Barres snapped back, “Sorry you didn’t get to sleep with Mick Jagger. That’s probably what you really wanted to do, and I’m sorry you couldn’t do that. It was an awesome experience.”
Connie Hamzy had already earned her place in history when Grand Funk Railroad worked her into the lyrics of “We’re An American Band.” “Last night in Little Rock put me in a haze,” Don Brewer sang, “Sweet, Sweet Connie doin’ her act.”
But she would really make her mark years after her groupie days were over, when she met future US president Bill Clinton in 1984. At this point in her life, Hamzy was making her living by telling crowds filthy stories about the celebrities she’d slept with. “So I’m out on the tour, smokin’ dope and blowing roadies,” one of her best-known stories would begin, “and who comes into the back lounge? Neil f—ing Diamond.”
Clinton would give her a big story when, according to Hamzy, he sent someone to proposition her for sex. She broke the story to the tabloids in 1991. Clinton, at the time, laughed it off. All that had really happened, he insisted, was that she had run up to him topless and said, ”What do you think of these?” But as more and more scandals came out, Hamzy’s story started seeming less ridiculous.
Whether Hamzy was telling the truth or not, the scandal hounded the Clintons for the rest of their lives. It even came up during Hilary’s presidential bid, with her infamous statement from 1991, “We have to destroy her story,” plaguing the campaign.
Cynthia Albritton, better known as “Plaster Caster,” earned her nickname when her art professor told her to make a plaster cast of “something hard” as a homework assignment. Albritton, taking the assignment a bit too literally, took her supplies to a Jimi Hendrix concert and convinced him to let her make a plaster cast of his “something hard.”
Albritton turned her art project into a way into the groupie scene. She started making a whole collection of plaster casts, getting molds made of everyone from Wayne Kramer to Jello Biafra and even getting some of the bigger names bronzed.
Frank Zappa threw his money and support behind her, actually helping to fund her attempts to sleep her way through the music scene as an art project. KISS wrote a song about her, at least two documentaries were made of her life, and she became a minor celebrity in her own right.
And, somewhere along the line, people started treating her penis molds as a real work of art. In fact, in 2000, an art gallery in SoHo put her molds on display. In the advertisements, the curators said it was an exhibit of “life art.” By sleeping with rock stars and making molds of their penises, they declared, Albritton had truly become an artist.
Annette Walter-Lax met Keith Moon at a club filled with rock stars and groupies. She’d been invited out by David Bowie’s manager, and she’d spent the night flirting with Rod Stewart—but it was Keith Moon who took her home.
The pair ended up dating, but Moon was a dangerous and often violent drunk, and it wouldn’t take long before she found him dead in their bed. It happened in 1978, after they’d attended a party thrown by Paul McCartney, where Moon had declared that he was going to marry Annette.
When they got home, though, Moon once again forgot all those loving feelings. He told Annette to cook him steak for breakfast, and when she complained, he yelled, “If you don’t like it, you can f— off!” Then he went into his room and slammed back more than ten times the recommended dose of Heminevrin.
Annette was too angry to climb into bed with him, so she didn’t find his body until the morning. By then, though, the drummer of the Who was dead.
Cleo Odzer was 14 years old when she started sneaking into New York’s trendiest nightclubs with a fake ID to hook up with rock stars. She went through a lot of them, moving through members of the Rolling Stones to Cream to Deep Purple. “Every two weeks there was a new band,” she said about it, “and every two weeks I had a new boyfriend.”
When she started dating Keith Emerson of Emerson, Lake & Palmer, the relationship lasted for the first time in her life. The pair fell in love, and Emerson even proposed.
All that fell apart, though, when Time released an article that called her “Super Groupie Cleo.” Emerson had no idea Cleo had gone through the whole music scene before meeting him. When he found out, he called the wedding off.
In response, Odzer declared that she was going to become the most famous groupie there ever was. She started moving through rock stars like never before and even recorded a spoken-word album in which she just listed off all the men she’d slept with.
Anita Pallenberg was 21 when she first met the Rolling Stones backstage in a concert. She’d won them over by handing out poppers to the band and made her biggest impression on Brian Jones.
Jones was already struggling with an immense feeling that his bandmates hated him, and in a combination of drugs and emotional vulnerability, he saw Pallenberg as an angel. He told her, “I don’t know who you are, but I need you.” Then he brought her back to his apartment, where, instead of sleeping together, he sobbed while she held him.
Pallenberg and Jones started dating, and she changed the whole band. She was a self-proclaimed witch with an obsession for black magic who would carry around garlic in case of vampire attacks—and the band bought into it. She got them to embrace the “evil” persona and inspired songs like “Sympathy for the Devil.” She even sang backup on the song.
She also got Jones into LSD, which sent him off the deep end. He started losing his mind, and while he was in the hospital, Pallenberg cheated on him with his bandmate Keith Richards.
She left Jones for Richards, and Jones spiraled into depression. Pallenberg married Richards and had his children—while Jones got kicked out of the band and drowned in a swimming pool.
Cathy Smith was the Band’s groupie. She’d followed them around since she was 16, sleeping with the members so indiscriminately that, when she got pregnant, she had no way of knowing which member was the father. Her baby became known as “The Band’s Baby,” the child whose father could be any member of the group. She first met John Belushi when the Band played on Saturday Night Live.
Smith made her biggest impact on history years after her groupie days were over. By the 1980s, she’d been reduced to dealing heroin to the stars. One night in 1982, Smith gave Belushi 11 speedballs. The two were having a drug party so crazy that it made Robin Williams uncomfortable. Later, she put Belushi to bed. By morning, he was dead.
Smith admitted to giving Belushi the drugs that killed him and ended up spending a year in prison. She’d given birth to The Band’s Baby and inspired the Gordon Lightfoot song “Sundown.” The loves in her life, she thought, would be her legacy to the world—but in the end, all that would be overshadowed when she became the woman who killed a comedy legend.