'Almost Famous' to 'Rock of Love': Groupies Then and Now

From "Almost Famous" to "Rock of Love," women still want to be with the band.

ByCole Kazdin and Katie Escherich via via logo
August 13, 2009, 10:36 AM

Aug. 14, 2009— -- The 1960s were a time of cultural revolution, with music leading the way. From the clubs of Los Angeles to the fields of Woodstock, fans were up in the front row, but it was the groupies who had the backstage pass.

The term "groupie" came to define the young women who followed bands across the country and sometimes around the world.

"A fan is very content to stay home and listen to the music, but the groupie wants to meet them," said Pamela Des Barres, the ultimate groupie who partied with everyone from the Doors to the Who to the Rolling Stones, and whose 1987 autobiography is called "I'm With the Band."

The Cameron Crowe film "Almost Famous" looked at the secret life of rock stars on the road, and in the movie the term "groupie" was practically an insult.

"We are not groupies," said the character Penny Lane, played by Kate Hudson.

"Groupies sleep with rock stars because they want to be near someone famous," she continued. "We're here because of the music. We inspire the music. We are Band-Aides."

Des Barres, who made following bands her entire life, said gaining entree into the backstage world of rock bands was simple.

"When I was 16, 17 years old, a blond flower-child on the Sunset Strip, it was very easy," she said. "All I did was knock on the backstage doors."

Artist Cynthia Plaster Caster became a fixture in Los Angeles clubs, following Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin … to name a few.

"We would usually go to the hotel and hang out in the lobby," she said. "If we could get into the hotel, past the security. If not, we would wait outside, then they would kind of wave us in the hotel. "

Born Cynthia Albritton, she began going by Plaster Caster while pursuing an idea she got in art school: to immortalize the male anatomies of famous rock stars in plaster cast. Hendrix was her first and most famous subject.

The life was fast and full of sex, drugs and rock and roll. The groupies were in the center of it all, up close and often very personal with their favorite stars.

Bebe Buell's list of ex's include Todd Rundgren, Mick Jagger and Aerosmith's Steven Tyler, who is the father of her daughter, actress Liv Tyler.

"Steven gave me a beautiful daughter," Buell said. "Todd introduced me to the world I always dreamed of being a part of. Mick introduced me to culture. Rod Stewart helped me to realize what I didn't want in a boyfriend."

'Real Groupies Love the Music'

Groupies, and girlfriends, often inspired the artists they were with.

Pattie Boyd was a groupie when she met George Harrison, married him and was the inspiration for the song, "Something."

Boyd, who met Harrison while filming the movie "A Hard Day's Night," was the muse behind three of the most famous songs of the era.

While she and Harrison were breaking up, she was being wooed by her husband's good friend Eric Clapton, who declared his love with his own song, "Layla."

"He said, 'I've got something for you to hear,'" she recalled. "And he put it the cassette machine and played it and I'm just [thinking], Oh gosh, this is unbelievable. And he was just looking at me and he's saying, 'This is for you. I've written this for you.'"

Boyd was the inspiration for Clapton's "Wonderful Tonight," also the title of her memoir.

"I was onstage with the Who, I was on stage with the Stones," said Des Barres. "It felt like being in the band!"

But the life was not without heartbreak.

"Just because someone's famous doesn't mean they can be trusted to be nice," said Cynthia Plaster Caster. "We were very trusting of these people because they were world famous."

Nowadays, there's a different kind of groupie, like on the reality show "Rock of Love," where women compete for the heart of Poison lead singer, Bret Michaels.

Women like Des Barres, who devoted their lives to the bands they loved, say that today's groupies are more concerned with fame than with music.

"I think the women on 'Rock of Love' are mostly in it to be in TV," Des Barres said. "Real groupies are people who love the music, want to be with people who make it, and that's it."

Cynthia Plaster Caster says she still has the heart of a groupie, but no longer the life of one. Most of her dancing these days is done in the comfort of her own home. And while she loves thinking about that time, she would never go back.

"It was mainly a learning experience," she said. "I had some great times, I had some not so great times, but there was never a dull moment."

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