Erin Lynn Violette is a recent graduate from the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast MFA program in Creative Writing. She currently lives in Hollywood with her husband Ryan, and their spirited dog Abbey. As HOLLYWOOD CORRESPONDENT for this blog, Erin will be covering the Red Carpet scene this year at THE OSCARS.
Rock Tour with Miss Pamela – The Salacious LA Experience By Erin Lynn Violette
Searching for the perfect Los Angeles tour can be quite the project. Just a walk down a few blocks of Hollywood Boulevard and you’re guaranteed to be approached by more than a handful of folks hoping to fill the seats of their tour buses. Sometimes I think they should recognize me by now and just stop asking, but they’re relentless as salesmen often are. My husband Ryan and I had been promising we would go on a Los Angeles tour, but were skeptical of the tourist-trap, cookie-cutter tours with a minimum wage tour guide droning out the name of each location we descended upon before taking off for the next location as quickly as we had arrived. We’re both huge music fans, and fans of the classic rock era. I, a professed fan of Pamela Des Barres thought it best to go on one of her Rock Tours.
And if you’re looking for an intimate, more detailed tour of Los Angeles – a tour that comes with some first hand accounts of what it was like to really be there in the thick of the 1960s and 70s, and what it was like to be with the musicians who haunted these streets, played in these clubs, and lived in these homes, then you must be looking for Pamela Des Barres’ Rock Tour too.
First we met in front of Amoeba Records on Sunset Boulevard. Ryan and I arrived right on time as Miss Pamela approached with open arms and hugged each of us with either arm. The warm-hearted flower child was wearing a bright red Bob Dylan T-shirt, a crocheted cardigan, a long swaying bohemian skirt, and a pair of cowboy boots. It had only been a week since her writing seminar and the night checking out Dan Janisch at the Cinema Bar so she was a little familiar with us.
There were five of us going on the tour, and then of course there was Miss Pamela, and her friend and driver Kip Brown, who as an added bonus was a wealth of information, kind beyond belief, and a diligent photographer. We began by introducing ourselves to the group as we rode to the first stop on the tour – a venue where Miss Pamela had a memorable encounter with The Doors’ front man Jim Morrison. It’s now the site of Nickelodeon, but when she first saw The Doors this building was a club called Hullaballoo. Before that (in the 1950s) it had been a popular nightclub called Moulin Rouge, and before that (in the late 1930s) it had been the Earl Carroll Theatre. From a section of her novel I’m With the Band Miss Pamela read an excerpt about making out and inhaling the drug Trimar with Jim Morrison during a sound check at the club. After the show they drove around Hollywood and Morrison threw her bottle of Trimar in some bushes, discouraging her from using drugs, then they took off for a night of making out in his hotel room. This would be her only tryst with the sexy front man. To this day Miss Pamela thanks him for helping her ditch the Trimar, and swears she heard him sing, “Trimar, we can only lose, And our love become a funeral pyre,” when he took the stage that night to sing Light My Fire.
Miss Pamela admitted that being a groupie in her time involved a lot more romance and being a groupie was not about having sex per se. “There was more canoodling, you didn’t have to go all the way,” Miss Pamela said. Across the street Miss Pamela pointed out the Palladium and explained how for a young girl from Reseda, coming to Hollywood was like being in the center of the universe. All the action was in Hollywood and on Sunset Boulevard and she was in the midst of it all. Next we passed the entrance of what used to be RCA Records.
Today it looks like a parking garage connected, and perhaps owned by the Los Angeles Film Academy. This was where Miss Pamela said she first met Mick Jagger and also Waylon Jennings. Not far from this location, around a corner and down an alleyway known as Cosmos Way was where another popular nightclub once thrived – Bido Litos. According to her book, this was where Miss Pamela first saw The Doors perform.
It also happened to be the first time Miss Pamela witnessed Morrison dive into a sea of fans. From her book she wrote, “He just let go of himself and careened into the black hole, knowing the masses would hold him up. HE came to US, like no one had done before, and no one would do again.” Miss Pamela has seen other acts here too, like the Electric Prunes, and Iron Butterfly. Bido Litos was a basement club that was always filled to capacity. Next stop – Capitol Records, but on the way we got a glimpse at what used to be the Knickerbocker Hotel, where Elvis had stayed, and where Frances Farmer had a notorious “freak out” incident with the police. Also famous costume designer Irene Lentz-Gibbons jumped from her hotel bathroom window killing herself.
Nearby, Capitol Records stood, and Miss Pamela and Kip both fondly remembered the record collector’s swap meets that took place once a month in record label’s parking lot. Then we were off to the Montecito, which just so happens to be across the street from where Ryan and I live. This is where Miss Pamela lived with Don Johnson (yes, of Miami Vice and more recently Django Unchained). Miss Pamela remains close friends with Johnson and his ex-wife Melanie Griffith. And as we passed her old digs, Miss Pamela told us a bit about the young Don Johnson. That in addition to his love for acting, Johnson also loved music and was in a band.
Now, not far from the Montecito we were on to our next stop – The Landmark (Motor) Hotel. This was the site of the bust and break up of The GTO’s (Girls Together Outrageously) – a band comprised of groupies and created and backed by Frank Zappa. After a few of the girls were busted for having heroin (Miss Pamela was not included, and did not do heroin) Zappa postponed the release of their second album indefinitely, and no longer gave them an allowance. Kip pointed out this was also the same hotel where Joplin sadly died of a drug overdose. Miss Pamela admitted she hadn’t been a fan of many female musicians, but she had liked Janis Joplin. She mentioned a time she had seen Joplin perform at Whisky A Go-Go and Miss Pamela and her entourage were high on mescaline.
“The stage was orange and purple and Joplin melted into the colors,” she remembered. And this is what was so compelling about the Rock Tour – we were hearing first hand these great stories, personal stories, of a woman who knew this city, knew the people, and knew these bands. In fact she is very much a part of the city’s history. In addition to her experiences Miss Pamela shared her personal photos with us, and welcomed any and all questions. She encouraged us to ask anything at any time as we rode through the history of her life.
Along the way she and Kip would point out little extra sites – places where movies had been filmed, and other famous and sometimes infamous sites like where Sal Mineo was fatally stabbed. We caught a glimpse of Dennis Hopper’s old place, and Marilyn Monroe’s house too. She stopped us at the Sunset Marquis – a place where stars like Bruce Springsteen stayed, and where she first met Tiny Tim. We paused in front of the hotel as she read from her book an encounter she had with Tiny Tim.
“He was that person,” Miss Pamela assured us. She told us his persona in the entertainment world was the exact same person he was in real life, and she read from her book about how Tiny Tim showered, powdered, and redressed frequently during a short visit with fellow GTOs to see him at his Sunset Marquis hotel room. “He was flabbergasted and scared out of his wits, and, drawing long, shuddering breaths, he peeked at us from between his fingers while we tried to blend into the wallpaper,” she read from her book.
After a short game of hockey in his room, the girls were off to a meeting with Frank Zappa, and that is when Miss Pamela said she and her band mates were first “Miss’d.” “…He bid us adieu, kissing us ever-so-lightly on the cheek. ‘Good-bye Miss Lucy, Miss Sandra, Miss Sparky, Miss Christine, and Miss Pamela.’ We had been titled.” From here we drove through West Hollywood and along the Sunset Strip. Kip pointed out a building that had once been known as Flipper’s Roller Disco, but is now WEHO Bistro. “Prince played there during his underwear days,” he laughed. I was immediately smitten. Along Sunset Boulevard we stopped near the site where Pandora’s Box once stood.
Miss Pamela said the teen hotspot had been demolished to make way for a three-way turn signal. She read from her book about the night the kids (including herself) gathered in the streets and protested the club’s demolition. Although we didn’t have the privilege of seeing the actual Pandora’s Box we did get to see the Whisky A Go-Go, The Roxy, and The Rainbow, although it wasn’t hard to tell that they were all just shadows of the clubs they once were. We posed for a picture in front of Whisky A Go-Go, arranging ourselves to mimic a Julian Wasser photograph of Miss Pamela with the GTOs and members of the Flying Burrito Brothers – a picture in Miss Pamela’s book I’m With the Band.
This was a lot of fun! Lucky for us while stopped outside the Whisky, an employee working a sound check opened the club’s doors and welcomed us to have a look around and allowed us to take pictures. Ryan and I haven’t been to the club while it has been opened. We’ve heard it’s not the same as it used to be, but I guess that’s the way of all things – ever changing, coming in and out of its own magic. We haven’t seen any acts here, but it was something wonderful to walk inside this club completely empty. From the old red leather booths, and the pictures on the walls it was just so clear the Whisky A Go-Go had stories of its own to tell, and what great stories they would be.
A good many of those stories would surely include Pamela Des Barres. Outside the club a plaque hangs where the original front entrance/door stood. The plaque pays homage to the clubs’ history and to a few of the bands that helped make that history possible. Pamela expressed her sorrow for the change in times, and the loss of magic the Whisky once had. Of the Sunset Strip Pamela said, “People keep driving up and down it, praying for something to happen, but it hasn’t been happening since the late 80s.” Kip even had a heyday on the strip. His band Shock opened for Billy Idol at the Roxy. You could tell both Kip and Miss Pamela miss the old days, and hoped for a better future for their old stomping grounds, but you could also tell their memories were treasures they were grateful for. Theirs is a Sunset Strip my generation will never know, but I still can’t help but hope that maybe one day the tides will turn and the strip will boom again, and maybe rock and shake a new generation yet to come.
We cruised by more sites in West Hollywood – saw the Troubadour, the Tropicana, and the location where The Doors recorded LA Woman. We visited apartments where Miss Pamela used to live and where she also entertained guests like Jimmy Page, and Waylon Jennings. “He was way out of my range,” she said of Jennings. “He was so dangerous, he was a man!”
Next we drove through Laurel Canyon. We saw the site of the log cabin where Frank Zappa lived. The cabin no longer stands, but his home does, and we saw that too. We didn’t get to see Chris Hillman’s old house, but we did see the foot of the driveway where Gram Parson’s had once lived. Our last stop was to The Canyon Country Store, and around the corner where Jim Morrison had lived. Miss Pamela read again, this time about hanging out with Morrison after hearing his music coming from his home, then later being shooed away by his jealous girlfriend, also named Pamela.
We all visited The Canyon Country Store. Ryan and I got some chicken salad that Miss Pamela swore was the best. Turns out she was quite right. On the drive back into town we listened to The Hollyberries – a creation of Kip’s. The Hollyberries sing delightful Christmas songs in the tradition of surfer music, much like Kip’s idols The Beach Boys. Miss Pamela even had a spoken word section in one of the songs. The Hollyberries can be found on iTunes, and come highly recommended. We landed back in front of Amoeba records; the sun had disappeared. Ryan and I agreed this was a detailed, intimate, wonderful tour that was very much worth the time and money spent. Miss Pamela periodically offers her Rock Tours. She had one coming up on January 27th.
She keeps information on her tours, and writing workshops on her website http://www.pameladesbarres.com.
(photos courtesy of the author)