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Led Zeppelin at 50: Legendary groupie Pamela Des Barres hangs out with Jimmy Page in 1969

As Zep hit the half-century mark, we present an exclusive extract from celebrated rock memoir 'I'm With The Band' detailing Pamela Des Barres' romance with the band's guitarist and mastermind

Pamela Des Barres
Saturday 08 September 2018 10:36 BST
Jimmy Page and Pamela Des Barres in 1973
Jimmy Page and Pamela Des Barres in 1973 (Getty)

31 July… Jimmy Page is coming to town today, I don’t know whether I want to be with him or not, who knows what diseases I’d get? Such a sweet and lovely precious looking cherub, why is it that he’s perverted? Maybe he’s not?? Perhaps I’ll find out??

When Led Zeppelin was due to hit town, the groupie section went into the highest gear imaginable; you could hear garter belts sliding up young thighs all over Hollywood. LZ was a formidable bunch, disguised in velvets and satins, epitomizing The Glorious English Pop Star to perfection; underneath the flowing curls and ruffles lurked slippery, threatening thrill bumps. The two sides of me were fighting it out, and the sinning side I hoped to squelch in Kentucky was about to score a major knockout.

Thee Experience was reeling as Bo Diddley took over the dance floor, duck-walking back and forth with his big boxy guitar. I was all in white, trying to prove my purity in this dodgy den of iniquity, sipping red wine through a straw, waiting nonchalantly for Led Zeppelin to arrive. I was feeling haughty one minute and petrified the next, trying to get a little tipsy before the demonic darling darkened the seedy doorstep. Robert Plant was the first to walk in, tossing his gorgeous lion’s mane into the faces of enslaved sycophants. He walked like royalty, his shoulders thrown back, declaring his might status in this lowly little club.

He was followed by the kind of rowdy glaring roadies, Richard Cole, who seemed to be scanning the room for likely looking jailbait. They were surrounded in seconds by seductive ready-willing-and-able girls, who piled up at their tables like clusters of grapes going bad. I was noticing that the whole group was there except for Mr Page, when Richard Cole stumbled over and handed me a scrap of paper with Jimmy’s number at the Continental Hyatt House scribbled on it. He leaned into me and mumbled thickly in my ear, “He’s waiting for you.”

The Continental Riot House was just a few blocks down Sunset Boulevard, but I didn’t leap out of my seat to dash out the door. I hadn’t fully decided to make myself readily available for him anyway. I was intrigued, and wanted to be intriguing. So I sat there on my ass, watching Bo Diddley repeat history, tingling all over, thinking about Jimmy Page waiting waiting waiting in his lair.

1 August… Earl Warren Showgrounds, Santa Barbara, 8pm… I must sneak some writing. Jimmy Page was just here to greet me and asked 92 questions as to why WHY WHY I didn’t meet him at The Hyatt House last night. Someone gave him my number and he called today asking me to come here with him, but I came down by myself to show a little more hard-to-getness. I think my hard-to-get just got up and went. He seems so shy and delicious, grey eyes gazing into mine, sweet sweetness, pale white skin, gentle gentleman with something to hide. What does he want from me?

11.20pm… I’m in the limousine while Jimmy takes his fourth encore, some girl attacked him on stage and it took two big guys to get her off him. Richard Cole escorted me to the car and made sure I was well taken care of. What’s going on. Oh, here comes Jimmy…

Led Zeppelin live in 1969 was an event unparalleled in musical history. They played longer and harder than any group ever had, totally changing the concept of rock concerts. They flailed around like dervishes, making so much sound that the air was heavy with metal. Two hours after the lights went out, as the band sauntered offstage, the audience was a delirious, raving, parched mass, crawling through the rock n’ roll desert thirsting for an encore. Twenty long minutes later, mighty Zeppelin returned to satiate their famished followers.

The long ride from Santa Barbara was one of those dream experiences that leave you glowing in the dark. From the moment Jimmy slid his small, velvet-clad ass across the seat of the limo, right next to mine, until the door was thrown open in front of Thee Experience, we cooed and giggled like doves in heat. It was a hundred-mile drive, which gave him plenty of time to come out with “all the lines”. He told me he had gotten my number the last time he was in town but was too nervous to use it until the last day, and he called and called but the line was constantly busy. Mmm hmm. He said he wanted to spend time with me MORE THAN ANYTHING IN THE WORLD. Tell me more. I kissed and slobbered all over the inside crease of his slim white arm until he rolled his head back against the plush seat, gasping, “Oh, Pamela, yes, yes, yes.” Yeah yeah yeah. He warned me that his previous LA girlfriend would probably be in the club and that I would have to give him the chance to “explain” to her about me. Uh-oh.

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I climbed out of the warm, dark backseat womb, full of wet kisses and flaming glazed eyes, and found myself in the precarious position of sharing this splendid divinity with Catherin James, the most gorgeous rock courtesan alive. She and I hissed at each other from a dark distance, and I beat the old hasty retreat back to my cosy pad, where I tossed around in the sheets with the vision of Jimmy’s back yard peacocks strutting across my latticed brain. I was turned inside out, pulsating with creamy pink desire for this most coveted hunk of drool material, but I was too thin-skinned to take the chance of being scorned this soon.

Double trouble: The ‘shy and delicious’ Jimmy Page and the ‘mighty’ Robert Plant (Rex)

2 August… Morning, not much sleep… Michele said Jimmy couldn’t even believe I left last night, he was asking everybody if they’d seen me. He looked all over the club after “explaining” to Catherine, and left alone. Hmmmm.

I knew he had gone to Texas, and I couldn’t hang around the house waiting for his call – I’d go mad. So I went to a friend’s pool and lolled in the sun, perspiring over my brief but pungent memories of Jimmy Page. When I arrived home I saw the phone was off the hook and I thought, “Oh no, even if he tried to call, he’d say, ‘Your phone was busybusybusy again.’” As soon as I set it down in the cradle, it rang. “Long distance, Mr Page calling.” The first thing he said was, “Oh, the elusive Miss Pamela, you took your phone off the hook because you knew I was calling.”

He knew what to say all right, he could have given a Master’s course in how to turn a fairly sane girl into a twittering ninny. No one had ever gushed over me, or given me all the lines before, and I could feel myself falling apart and turning into one of those gooey unrecognisable substances. He told me he was going to come to my door, sweep me off my feet, and take me away in his white chariot; he told me he was my knight in shining armour; he told me he didn’t know what was coming over him, he had never felt like this before. He taunted me with those freaking peacocks that walked by his bedroom window, as if someday in the near future I might be able to lift my head from the pillow and see them for myself. He acted like he couldn’t believe I ever gave him a second glance. When I told him I missed him, he came out with, “Oh Miss P. Really? Are you telling me the truth?” My melting heart wasn’t ready for this guy. I swallowed it all whole, and it was f***ing delicious.

4 August… Just wakened by my dearest Jimmy, calling from Houston to tell me he’ll call at ten minutes after nine tomorrow night, and “Oh, I thought I’d lost you when you didn’t answer your phone yesterday.” His face is so new, SO new, everything seems unreal; a new thing has taken me over. The agony with Chris is over, now I feel so good, such a floaty feeling of anticipation, silly, silly silly. I sit here while my body fills up with little bubbles – each one full of soft, crazy, loud, gentle, screaming, lovely, odd, joyful things, bursting within me and spilling all over my heart. This time tomorrow I shall be throbbing. What am I doing getting this carried away?

Well, he came to my door with his roadie Clive, and swept me into his white limo, and took me to see the Everly Brothers at the Palamino. We got all caught up in those glorious harmonies. Jimmy’s eyes misted up and he squeezed my hand on certain meaningful lyrics: “Mmmmmm, I never knew what I missed until I kissed you…” He looked hard at me with a tiny smile on his rosebud lips, making me sweat with suspense about the long night to come. He put something in my hang, and it turned out to be a silver ring with twenty tiny little pieces of turquoise embedded in it, and I wondered if I was going steady with the best guitar player in the world. He always messed with his black curls, poofing, and fluffing them around his flawless face; he wore emerald velvet and white chiffon, thin little socks, and the most perfect brooch on his lapel. I couldn’t wait to get back to the hotel and take it all off.

‘Led Zeppelin played longer and harder than any group, changing the concept of rock concerts’ (Rex)

6 August… We got carried away into some enchanted land and were swept into each other like the tide meeting in the sand… Our bodies were meant to be together and he said, “I hope you know you will never get rid of me, please keep me around until you don’t want me anymore… I’m not like this, what’s happening to me? All I can do is look at your face.” I held him so close and told him, “I feel like I’ve been holding you forever,” and he said “You will be, we’ll be together for a long long time if you want it that way. I’ve known you for a thousand years, don’t you feel that way?” Yes yes yes, Mr Page. We tried to sleep, but woke up every ten minutes and kissed. Every time he touched me he would moan and sigh and call to God. Such a face, so gentle and soft, I’m amazed at his sadistic tendencies; they’re such a part of him that I’ll doubt if he’ll ever stop. It was really frightening, he changed into another person, but all he did was chew me and slap me a little. We talked about our ages and he said that five years between couples is perfect. Everything he said drove me nuts. His beautiful grey eyes always there beside me, beneath me, above me. Everytime I feel doubtful (which is constantly) I look at this ring and all I can see is his perfect face.

I saw Jimmy’s whips curled up in his suitcase and pretended I didn’t, looking quickly away as if I had seen someone’s private personal peep show. He came up behind me and put his hands gently around my throat and said, “Don’t worry Miss P, I’ll never use those on you, I’ll never hurt you like that.”

Then he sucked on my neck, and when I could feel the bruise being called up out of my bloodstream, he tossed me down on the bed and told me he would throw the whips away to show how much I meant to him. After ripping into my antique-lace dress and making raging, blinding love to me, he wrapped the whips round and round his forearm and slid the leather coils into the plastic-flowered waste basket, where they remained until he left for Somewhere USA a week later.

We talked about how much better it would have been had we met before all the pop-star-groupie business started and got in the way of a meaningful and honest relationship. He vowed not to let it get in our way, but inserted a clause that allowed him to “do things’ on the road because he got so “bloody bored”. I shuddered at what those “things” might have been, and inwardly craved impossible monogamy with my precious Mr Page.

Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Cage on the making of Stairway to Heaven

When he picked me up late one night, I opened the door and our gaze locked for many entrancing moments before I collapsed in his arms at the sheer relief of seeing him. This unpremeditated display prompted him to say, “Your insides are so sensitive, I knew you were different.” Clutching me to his thin, trembling chest, shaking with the outrage of our positions in life, he moaned, “Oh Miss P, how are we going to get rid of them all?” He had been in my life a mere few days and was already driving me wildwildwild. We only saw the rest of the group (“Percy,” “Bonzo,” and “Jonesy”) at gigs because he wanted to hole up and be alone with me. He invited me into his private world, and I was hope hope hoping that the glass slipper would fit my size-seven foot.

On his day off, we stayed in my bedroom, listening to the test pressing of Led Zeppelin II over and over again while he took reams of notes. I had to comment on every solo, and even though I believed the drum solo in “Moby Dick” went on endlessly, I held my tongue and went on pressing his velvet trousers and sewing buttons on his velvet jacket. I told him about Nudie, “the rodeo tailor,” and the whole team, including their massive manager, Peter Grant, got fitted out in cowboy clothes. We went to the Glass Farmhouse, where Jimmy got a long antique coat embroidered with a dragon and a silly velvet hat with a feather in it. I was holding his hand, and in my ultimate glory by his side. The roadies, even Robert and Bonzo began to tease us about how long our fling was lasting, how Jimmy never spent so much time with a girl on the road before. All the other guys were married, so they watched Jimmy’s love life with envious glee. Not that they didn’t get up to their own bedroom antics. In fact, a good friend of mine, Michele Overman, was spending time with Robert, and she made a little inscription in my journal:

“My dearest Pamela. Now that my lovely Robert and I are together, I have a nice bit of information for you. Robert said, ‘She’s the best thing Jimmy’s found and he knows it.’ Speaking about you, of course!”

12 August… Anaheim stadium, 8,500 screaming raging people, a twenty minute standing ovation, Jimmy treating me like a princess. There was s’posed to be a Zeppelin party, but Jimmy and I smoked and drank at Thee Ex and went back to the hotel, made exquisite love and crashed out. We woke around one and talked about him leaving and how lonesome and miserable we’ll be. He even said he would send for me somewhere so we could see each other before he goes home to Pangbourne. AAAaaaaaHHH! We had a hilarious fight, screaming and kicking and carrying on, so much fun! He said that he always has such a fantastic time with me every minute, etc. etc. etc. I wish I could remember all he said; it’s back there in my memory somewhere. We’re off to Vegas now to see Mr Presley. Mr Page takes care of me, doesn’t he?? I adore him so much.

This extract was published with kind permission from the author and Omnibus Press; ‘I’m With The Band’ is available now

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