Bebe Buell might have first been brought to your attention as a Playboy model or girlfriend to several major rockstars—Mick Jagger, Iggy Pop, David Bowie, Elvis Costello, Todd Rundgren, Jimmy Page, Stiv Bators and Steven Tyler—but don’t call her a groupie. (She prefers “muse” or “rock girlfriend,”) Anyway, that was then, and this is now. Buell doesn’t like to dwell on the past. In fact, this in coming year alone she has a lot planned. Having moved to Nashville after a trip in 2012 to sing on an Eddy Arnold tribute record, Bebe Buell uprooted her New York life and chose the southern comforts. “I fell into some kind of magical vortex that I think happens to some people when they come to Nashville. I don’t think you choose Nashville, I think Nashville chooses you,” says Buell.
Buell published her memoir, the New York Times bestseller, Rebel Heart, in 2001, co-written with Victor Bockis. “I can’t even read that book anymore. So much of life has changed since that book was written.” Now, Bebe Buell has three books in the works. “I’m compiling a coffee table photo book which will span my entire life from birth until now. It will have all never-before-seen photos. I’m actually doing the follow up to Rebel Heart which is Rebel Soul and I’ll pick up where Rebel Heart left off. I’ve been diligently working on that for almost three years now. And, I’m also doing a beauty book. People always ask me what my tips and my secrets are so I decided I’m going to do that. It’s going to be very spiritual, it’s going to talk about your inner state of mind and how where you’re at artistically and spiritually emanates in your physical being.”
Photo by Lynn Goldsmith
Bebe Buell first moved to New York after high school, where she worked as a model. She posed for Playboy as “Miss November” of 1974. “If people knew what it was like to do a Playboy shoot it’s very professional. It’s like doing a modelling job except there’s no clothes. You’re there to make a nice photo. I had no idea the backlash I was going to get. But that changed—look what happened in the 90s. Everyone did Playboy including Cindy Crawford. And now fashion magazines have more nudity in them than Playboy.”
She was always drawn to music and quickly found her way to Max’s Kansas City and CBGB. Buell is still close friends with Patti Smith and Debbie Harry whom she met early on, “They’re my girlfriends, these are people I’ve known since I was a young, young girl. I knew Patti when she was a poet, I knew her before she ever started singing. As far as Debbie, she was always a singer. I probably should have gotten started sooner than I did. But I had that modelling thing that Patti and Debbie didn’t have which gave me a lot of security financially. It gave me the ability to be independent. But as soon as I felt that I could, I was in it. By ’78, ’79, I was tinkering. By ’80 I had formed my first band the B-Sides. And by ’81 my first record was out. I got to work pretty quick.”
After the B-Sides, Buell formed the Gargoyles and then the Bebe Buell band. Now, she’s working on a brand new band and show called Bebe Buell and the Rebel Souls which includes Bebe’s husband, Jim Walters (Das Damen) on guitar and Mindy Wright on drums. Their debut show, called “Baring It All” will take place October 27th at the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville. “It’s a two hour show, you will travel through my entire life. We’ll start from the very first record I put out, Covers Girl, and we will play songs and travel through my entire catalog in the first hour. The last hour of the show will be all of my new songs, all the stuff I’ve written since I’ve been in Nashville.”
If having three books in the works and a new band isn’t enough, Buell also has a movie in the works as well as hosting a TV show. The movie is set in and will be created in Nashville. She has written it, cast it and will star in it as well as co-direct. “It’s my love letter to Nashville.” The TV show she’s hosting is called Routes of Rock in which Buell will guide viewers through legendary locations where famous bands were created, albums were made and rock n’ roll history was born. How she has time for all of it, I do not know. “I’m not afraid of hard work, never have been.”
Buell with Elvis Costello
In Rebel Heart, Buell speaks of her relationship with Elvis Costello and how in love she was with him. Their relationship did not end well. After reading the book, I had to know if they two of them had ever made up.
“You know, I thought we had. Around 2012, when Linda (Ramone) threw the Commando book release party for Johnny Ramone at CBGB, he came to that party and we hugged and he told me everything was okay. I thought we had sort of made amends. But then his book came out and I read his paragraph that he [added] in there and I thought, good lord, what’s wrong with him? There’s two sides to every story. I don’t feel defined by him. There was a time when I did, and I loved him so much it was embarrassing. I was also in my twenties, I’ve grown up a lot. As far as I was concerned, I thought we had made amends. I hope that he has found the happiness that he deserves. I want him to be happy. When I look at the relationship I have with my daughter’s father, I don’t care if Elvis Costello likes me or not. Nick Lowe said the best thing, ‘I don’t what he’s so upset about, all she ever did was talk about how wonderful he was and what a great lover he was.’ You live and you learn and you grow up. And I have such a beautiful relationship with Steven (Tyler), that’s the man I created a child with. Steven’s been in my life for 43 years. I figure that’s what’s important, family.”
To read an extended interview with Bebe Buell, visit Women in Rock.
Below, Bebe Buell on ‘The Joe Franklin Show’ in 1981: