Model, muse, rock & roll singer, and Liv Tyler’s Mom, Bebe Buell looks back at her times with Iggy, recording with Ric Ocasek, and moving to NYC to start her modeling career in the ’70s.
When I was 19, I had a boss at Sam Ash in California who grew up in New York City. He would often reminisce about hanging out with Bebe Buell and Stiv Bators back in the day and I thought he was the coolest. Since reading Please Kill Me two years prior, I had these visions of old New York. Picturing Joey, Dee Dee, and Stiv, alongside Bebe Buell at CBGB’s. Bebe Buell was just as interesting as many of these rockers.
Eileen Ford discovered Bebe as a teen in Virginia Beach, where she was whisked away to model in New York. She quickly found herself in the spotlight. She dated Todd Rundgren, and stories abounded of her hanging with David Bowie at The Mercer Arts Center, watching the New York Dolls. Buell also hit it big as Playboy magazine’s Playmate of the Month in 1974.
Her genuine spirit and love of music drew many musicians to her, including Steven Tyler. Writer Cameron Crowe even based part of his movie, Almost Famous, on her life. Bebe added music to her career with the release of Covers Girl in 1981, produced by Ric Ocasek and Rick Derringer. The Cars backed her up on two of the four songs, which were all covers. After that, she had a pop group called The B-Sides who were produced by Todd Rundgren and released one 12-inch picture disc, A Side Of The B-Sides. Taking a turn towards harder edged rock, she formed The Gargoyles in the late eighties. They were noticed by Joey Ramone and ended up opening for The Ramones, as well as touring heavily in Europe and the United States.
The model, muse, writer, musician, and mother of actress Liv Tyler keeps up her rock & roll lifestyle in Nashville, TN playing with her band, Bebe Buell and The Rebel Souls with her husband Jimmy Walls. Pick up her NY Times bestseller from 2001: Rebel Heart: An American Rock N’ Roll Journey, to get the whole story on her illustrious life.
Bebe took some time out of her busy schedule to answer some questions for us.
PKM: What was the craziest or most embarrassing thing that happened during your time with Iggy?
Bebe: When I look back on 1973 and that time in NYC, I’m not recalling any “embarrassing” things. We were all so young. I had just turned 20 when we met Iggy at Max’s during The Stooges stint there. Also met him at The New York Dolls show at The Felt Forum with Todd and found him to be charming and intoxicated. He banged his head and I wanted to help him. Everyone was laughing and making jokes and I went and fetched a wet rag from the dressing room and cleaned him up. There was something very magical about him even when he was wasted. I just wish I had been a little older and had more tools for keeping the bad drugs away from him. I didn’t do the opiates so I was often oblivious to him being given them by others around the scene. But there is a brilliance and honesty to him that endures. And look at him now, going strong and aiming high. He survived all that and that’s what sticks in my memory. A bonafide rock & roll unicorn!
PKM: Who was your first teen crush or musical idol?
Bebe: I was smitten with Oscar Wilde as a young girl. My favorite Beatle was Ringo, but it was The Rolling Stones on Ed Sullivan that stole my rebel heart. I LOVED the fashion sense of the Stones after they met Anita. Brian Jones in a striped suit was something straight out of heaven for my 10-year-old eye. I adored The British Invasion and the entire movement that was coming out of the UK. Mick Jagger was my spirit animal then and he remains so today.
PKM: Where was the strangest place you have ever made love?
Bebe: I’m not so certain it’s “strange” per se but I’m sure it was the day I joined the Mile High Club or possibly against a vintage Volkswagen Beetle Convertible.
PKM: What is your most recent favorite book/movie/record and what about it excited you?
Bebe: I’m finding myself re-reading The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz over and over. It really helps you visualize positive goals. Reaffirms how to let the cruelty of others roll past your own quest. It’s got a lot of soul growing hints that I’m really into. As far as movies go, I had the most fun at Wonder Woman recently, but most of my favorite movies are older. I’m excited for Avatar 2. But it’s My Dog Skip that’s my go-to movie when I need to go inside my heart. The original Lost Horizon is another favorite. I’ve been listening to The Struts a lot. I like the new The National record. Living in Nashville I’m surrounded by so much music it’s almost like food for me. There’s a lot going on here. It would be impossible to nail it down. A magical vortex.
A band to watch is Blackfoot Gypsies and my desert island records would be Damn The Torpedoes, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers; Hurt Me, Johnny Thunders, and any and all Rolling Stones albums but especially Let It Bleed.
PKM: Who is your biggest female musical idol?
Bebe: I had the thrill of my life in the past couple of years meeting Loretta Lynn and Wanda Jackson and singing with Crystal Gayle. I have several female inspirations, probably started with Janis Joplin and Marianne Faithfull. Gayle McCormick from a band called Smith. Patti Smith of course and the divine and eternally beautiful, Debbie Harry. I love watching my friend Lzzy Hale onstage.
PKM: What’s the strangest thing that happened while you were with Todd Rundgren?
Bebe: The strangest? I’m not sure that’s even possible to answer considering we were a couple in one of the most culturally exciting times in pop culture history. To be around in the 70s was a gift from heaven. Probably tripping on something or another and wandering around 5th Ave. and finding ourselves in the gallery of an artist who ended up doing the cover of A Wizard, A True Star. It’s a pretty trippy cover! But every day was strange in those days. I’d need to write a book, Strange Days, Part ??? Once again, I was 18 when I met Todd; he was 23. We were kids and we lived a life that dreams are made of. I look back on it in wonder. The rock & roll Camelot years.
PKM: Where is your favorite spot to hang out day or night in Nashville?
Bebe: I take my walks around Radnor Lake and I seem to like everything about Nashville. That’s why I moved here in 2013. I felt a connection with the land. The people, the food and the venues are top notch. One great venue is Mercy Lounge. My next show is there on Oct. 11th – Bebe Buell and the Rebel Souls with the Dead Deads opening. My band has played a few of the best rooms in town. We’ve got so many: The Bluebird, The Basement & The Basement East, The Ryman, 3rd & Lindsley, City Winery. The list goes on and on. They don’t call Nashville Music City for nothing. It IS constant 24/7. What I’m loving about it is it has that energy and innocence that NYC had back in the 70s and 80s and people go out to see music. It’s electric. Third Man Records is fun—the decor especially. Taco Mamacita for good Mexican and there’s a slew of good vegan and vegetarian spots, too. Nashville is a warm, inviting city. We’ve got a progressive Mayor, Megan Barry, and our drag queens rival NYC and Berlin. It’s colorful here — a ton of vibrance.
PKM: What did you expect life would be like compared to what it actually was when you were first signed as a Ford model and sent to New York?
Bebe: The funny part about that is all the things I dreamed it would be came true. All the things I “thought” it would be, never happened. It all unfolded very fast and it went even faster. I look back on it all now and I’m grateful to have kept my wits about me. Everything happens as it’s supposed to so I’ve learned to allow that. I did feel very lucky and I always knew I’d meet Mick Jagger. That kind of stuff was revealed to me at 11-years-old. I had a lot of glimpses into my future. I found my soul tribe, my people in NYC.
PKM: How and where did you meet Stiv Bators?
Bebe: We met upstairs at Max’s at a party for KISS in 1979… he was with Cynthia B-Girl (whom I adore btw) and as the impulses and hormones youth will sometimes ignite, I just told her I was going to “steal” him. And he left with me and we went out to eat with Gene $immons. Stiv said he had to save me from his advances, lol! It was hilarious! I think Gene was kind of fascinated with Stiv and the entire Punk Rock movement. As I got older I always felt bad for doing that to Cynthia. I think she really loved him. I know he loved her. I loved him, too- we definitely fell in love and played our Punk Rock Sonny & Cher role to the hilt. We were kids… kids do thoughtless things sometimes so I’ve always wanted Cynthia to know I never meant to hurt anyone.
Anyway, I have so many fond memories it would be hard to nail them all down but one thing I will always associate with him is humor, laughter and true sweetness. He was the perfect house guest and LOVED to vacuum and clean house. He also liked to fold laundry and insisted his t-shirts were folded a certain way. He was also really good with kids- he would play with Liv for hours and do all that stuff little kids love. She was only two when she met him but he would go on the monkey bars with her, etc…, and make her laugh and keep her amused for hours on end. He came up to my family’s home in Maine a few times and stayed with me there in the cottage behind the main house. He managed to charm every single member of my family. One Easter he came and put together this entire Easter Egg Hunt and even painted eggs. He was special and had a BIG BRAIN. One of the smartest people I’ve ever known. In a nutshell, he was just a nice boy from Ohio who’s parents loved him and he had the basic goodness of an innocent soul. Yes, he was a prankster and mischief maker but he was “good” in his deepest soul and that shined though his beautiful blue eyes.
He was also one of the greatest front people in pop culture history…
PKM: What was your experience working with Ric Ocasek like? I’ve heard he’s a tough guy from some people.
Bebe: Tough? Not sure about that. I was one of his first productions along with Suicide and Bad Brains. He gave me my first break, he and Rick Derringer. Ric took me into the studio and taught me how to record in a recording studio. He opened the door and I kept on going. It’s all I ever wanted — the be the singer in a band. Both Ric Ocasek and Rick Derringer made that possible for me. It was actually Ric’s idea for me to get it rolling. I owe him a lot. He saw past the “image” and what my heart wanted. He was also there to encourage my songwriting.
PKM: What’s the most dangerous situation you’ve ever found yourself in?
Bebe: You don’t know it’s dangerous until you look back on it. I survived so many dangerous situations I’m certain I have angels that look out for me. I’ve been chased by armed bandits when touring with The B-Sides in the back seat of a car being driven by an insane drunk and lived through it, having people spike my drink and being rescued before they could do whatever they were gonna do. There is no “most” dangerous. It was all dangerous and I’ve lived to not only tell the tale but to pass on what I’ve learned to my loved ones.
PKM: What do you believe is your biggest accomplishment in life?
Bebe: So far it’s been raising my daughter to be a grounded, self-sufficient person. But I’m not sure I’ve done the BIG BIG one just yet. That might still be to come. But one thing I’m proud of is the fight I continue to wage against the “isms”= sexism, ageism… fighting the labels that get hung on women especially. Working hard and doing my art is what I live for. That and being with my family and loved ones. Staying good friends with my daughter’s father feels real good, too. My love for animals makes me feel connected to God.
PKM: If you could meet any deceased person who would it be and what would you do with them/ talk to them about?
Bebe: That’s an easy one — Oscar Wilde. I would have tea with him, eat finger sandwiches, and discuss anything and everything. It’s a toss up. I had a youthful crush on Albert Einstein too, but at this point, it would be Oscar Wilde and Jimi Hendrix. He, I’m certain, was an alien not of this world! I’d love to visit with John Lennon again. And, of course, Bowie and Prince. To have been alive whilst they lived on this earth is all the validation I need.
PKM: What was the best dream you’ve ever had?
Bebe: My flying dreams are my favorite. I tell the person I’m with I can fly and I just do it. But often I wake up and my dreams have gone to the other dimension of which they came. I do love those dreams that leave you feeling so happy when you wake up but you have no idea what happened. But my favorite dream was when Joey Ramone came to visit me after he passed. It felt so real. Like he was really there. And then Stiv came walking in and we all had pizza!
⚡️Check out Bebe’snext show in Nashville at Mercy Lounge on Oct. 11th! Bebe Buell and the Rebel Souls with the Dead Deads opening!