From early exploits to current high points, Bebe Buell has weathered the rock and roll storm well. With a new direction, band and management team, it looks like Bebe is once again making a mark in the modern world of entertainment. She took a few moments to speak with me about the past, the present and the future.
People tend to remember you for Playboy and your relationships with rockstars, but you were also forming alliances. Who were your early collaborators and projects?
It was Ric Ocasek and Rick Derringer that first decided that I should be making records after hearing me sing, so both of them offered to produce a couple of tracks for me and I actually had the Cars as my backing band on a couple of tracks and the band that Rick Derringer used for the tracks that I did was the B-Sides which were my first band that I formed in 1980 and my first record came out in 1981 on Rhino Records. I was laughing with Dick Wingate [Epic Records] recently because he tried to sign me to Epic at one point to do a NUdisk, remember those? Cheap Trick did one and I think the Dickies did one too.
Who do you have in your band?
I’ve got Pete Marshall on bass and guitar. Pete and Jim switch off on a couple of songs. Pete played with Samhain, Glen Danzig’s band and he played with Iggy Pop for eight years, too. When Iggy put the Stooges back together and I found out he was available I had Jim approach him about being in the band. We have Bobbie Rae on drums and he was in Spear of Destiny, Utah Saints and Executive Slacks. He has quite a musical pedigree and he and Jim and Pete have all known each other for a really long time. They were actually in a band in the ‘90s called New United Monster Show. And my keyboard player is Zac Lasher. He’s been with us for about a year now. Jim played guitar with D’Generation and toured with The Offspring. He was also in Das Damen and he toured with Nirvana in that band as well. So yeah, I’ve got quite an amazing band and I’m very proud of it. I’ve gone through a few changes to get to this band to the current level but it’s the real, forever unit now.
Is there another chapter brewing under the surface that might reveal a different side of Bebe Buell and her direction?
I’m going out to L.A. in February to present at the Pollstar Awards and to announce my new management. We’re also going to be going back in the studio to re-record Sugar with the current band. We just recorded a track for the upcoming Runaways tribute record (Main Man Records) and just the way the band is sounding live is translating beautifully to recording, so we are very excited. And then I’ve got another album coming out in May and I’m doing a photo book. It’s going to be a coffee table photography book and of course I’ll write all the captions for those never before seen shots that will span my life and adventures from infancy till now.
Do you think people dwell on too much on your past exploits?
It’s a lot of pressure to be asked about my life when I was 18 years old, you know? It was never my desire to be a model, it was more my desire to get to New York (laughs), so getting there any way I could was sort of a mission. I came to New York in 1972 and didn’t get going in bands until 1979 to 1980. I did Playboy in 1974 and all that ended up being very distracting when music is where I wanted to be. It all seems kind of pointless to focus on my past. Life is filled with lots of growth and adventure and I’ve worn many hats. I can survive if I don’t model, I can survive if I’m not dating Elvis Costello any more, I mean I look back on stuff like that and get absolutely embarrassed. Don’t you ever look back at people you had crushes on when you were young and go, “Oh my god, I hope I wasn’t too much of an idiot!”
I was good at those other things, but I’m most comfortable in a band. This is the longest job that I’ve ever had in my life besides raising my daughter. It’s funny, when Liv was grown and moved out, I think that same day I was down the street trying to put a band together (laughs)!
You’ve been associated with photographers like Alan Mercer, Bob Gruen and Mick Rock. Could you tell us about the books and shows you’ve been featured in this year?
I’m in Mick Rock’s new photo book called Exposed: The Face of Rock n’ Roll, and there are several pictures of me in Steven Kasher’s Max’s Kansas City: Art Glamour, Rock n’ Roll. That’s out and there’s a picture of me with Mick Jagger in May Pang’s book Instamatic Karma, which is a fascinating look through the eye of John Lennon.
When you would visit John and May in the apartment… this was during the time period when he was not living with Yoko, you had to ascend a set of stairs, and John would be waiting at the top of the landing and he would snap a Polaroid of you. That was also the night of my famous 21st birthday, where he sang happy birthday to me. I’m constantly in pop culture media and I think that every year I’m mentioned, or there’s a picture of me somewhere. I’m not trying to sound conceited and I’m flattered and happy to have been part of that history, but I would much rather talk about my life and what I do now. People are always asking me, ‘Oh, so who was the best lover you ever had?’ And I tell them, “Well, I’m married to him (laughs)!”
I saw you at The Roxy this summer and was impressed by the well-known names that showed up. Were you the prodigal daughter returning with something to prove?
It’s not so much that as that I had something to show. My favorite people to play for are skeptics, the people that focus on things I did 35 years ago. Because they’re the ones that end up needing a wheelbarrow to take their jaw out the door! (Laughs) Seriously, I like the open mouth look. I enjoy every minute of that shock value and it’s important to be able to win people over with your music.
Your latest CD, Sugar, is really waking up folks to the fact that you’re doing music in a vital way. Has Sugar surpassed expectations of what you thought it might do?
I think critically it’s taken my musical journey to another dimension. But I think that my band and the live experience is stronger than the record and I think that it was interesting that the first thing my new management wanted to do is get my band back into the studio. There is a certain amount of energy that comes from this unit. We’re all connected, it’s a chemistry thing and the power of having these guys behind me has really upped the whole thing. Sugar was originally done with just Jim, Bobbie and myself and has a very specific and intricate sound, but I have to tell you, I’m a rock chick and my heart is in the rock so for me to be able to get in there and redo the record with this full band is very exciting.
We will be able to see the band at Light Of Day 2011 at the legendary Stone Pony, right?
I’m finally going to play that Pony! Hey, I almost called my first band The Horsies, I did! Bebe and the Horsies. People were saying, “Oh you can’t call the band that, everyone with think they have huge horse penises” and I was like, “Is that what people will think?” (Laughs) But the Stone Pony is a legend; I’m humbled to be part of it.
Do you feel awareness about Parkinson’s is more in tune than say 10 years ago?
I think it’s changing. One of the things that really frustrates me in today’s political and medical arenas is that everybody is all up in arms about stem cell research. I mean we should be taking advantage of the research and available materials for something like this. I support anything that can help find a cure for Parkinson’s.
What else would you say about the world of Bebe Buell?
I have absolutely no regrets about any of my life. I’m glad I dated the people that I did, I’m glad that I’m part of some sort of history and I’m still here kicking ass. Cher and me! We’re still here! (Laughs) Now if I can just sell as many records as her! That’s my next feat!
You can catch Bebe Buell at the Stone Pony this Friday as part of the Light Of Day series on Jan. 14. For further information go to bebebuell.org and thestonepony.com.