Rock ‘n’ roll means many things to many people. But, for a lot of teenaged boys, a major reason for picking up a guitar is to get girls. Yes, it may sound misogynistic, but can we at least all agree that in rock ‘n’ roll, girls can be quite influential? For as long as music has been made, women have inspired art. And, in this case, music. And, in this specific case, the muse is Bebe Buell.
Bebe Buell made a name for herself in more than just a few ways. For one, she’s the mother of Liv Tyler. Second, she was one of the many rock star muses of the 1970s and ‘80s. She’s also a singer and former model. She’s had numerous high-profile relationships with rock stars. But don’t call her a “groupie” – she just doesn’t like that word.
Bebe prefers to describe herself as a “muse” whenever she discusses her rock royalty past. Mick Jagger, Steven Tyler, Rod Stewart, Todd Rundgren, Iggy Pop, Jimmy Page, Elvis Costello, and David Bowie all fell under her spell.
Numerous songs have been written about Bebe by her rock star lovers, including Todd Rundgren’s Can We Still Be Friends? and Elvis Costello’s I Want You. But charming her way into the hearts of prominent musicians isn’t the only thing Bebe can claim to her fame. She also has a career as a model and singer. She was an icon in her heyday and led a life of success, excess, and public controversy. After all, it’s rock ‘n’ roll, baby.
Beverle Lorence Buell was born on July 14, 1953, in Portsmouth, Virginia. The daughter of a U.S. Navy officer and World War II veteran, she didn’t see her father all that much. In fact, Mr. Buell wasn’t around at the time of Bebe’s birth, and her mother waited until he returned before naming their daughter. The nurses at the hospital started calling the infant “Baby Buell,” which is where the nickname “Bebe” originated.
And, for those who aren’t sure, Bebe is pronounced as “bee bee.” So, the baby whose earliest nickname would stick for a lifetime eventually came to live up to her name. From a very early age, Bebe was a rock ‘n’ roll baby.
Since she was five years old, Bebe was obsessed with rock music and everything that came with it. Mick Jagger (with whom she later had an affair) was her first and biggest inspiration. She admitted to having stood in front of the mirror imitating his dance moves when she was a little girl.
Bebe was eventually discovered by a modeling agency executive named Eileen Ford (of Ford Modeling) after graduating high school at the age of 17. In 1972, she went from Virginia Beach, Virginia to the bubbling city of New York. She became an instant modeling star and immersed herself in Manhattan’s music scene.
The agency put her in a nunnery – St. Mary’s Woman’s Residence on East 72nd Street. According to Bebe, it was “where young girls who were pursuing career ambitions lived.” She then discovered Max’s Kansas City, a popular nightclub with the “it” crowd.
Bebe would take the Second Avenue bus down to Max’s with all the, um, flamboyant characters of New York City. Before she knew it, she had feathers hanging off her eyelashes and platforms as high as skyscrapers. “Modeling sort of took a backseat to my love of the nightlife of New York,” she recalled.
In New York, Bebe made fast friends with all of the big-name rockers in the area. It didn’t hurt that her captivating personality drew everyone to her in the hopes of at least becoming her friend. What some might call irresponsible these days was more of a “live-for-today attitude,” for Bebe and people of that era, it, as she put it.
It was where and how she met Todd Rundgren as well as Andy Warhol and photographer Bob Gruen. Max’s backroom became something of her living room. “I only lasted a couple of months at the woman’s residence because I broke curfew a little too often.”
Eventually, she met Todd and moved in with him (we’ll talk about them soon). But, first, it might be of interest for you to know how she got involved in some of her more risque photo shoots. One night, when Bebe was drinking wine with the famous photographer Lynn Goldsmith, she asked Bebe if they could take some “artsy” pictures.
By “artsy” she meant “nude.” So, that was the night Bebe was photographed in her birthday suit… for the first time. It was not the last. Goldsmith was impressed and brought her photos to Playboy magazine, which instantly expressed a desire to work with the model.
Buell was then flown to Chicago and got to stay at the original Playboy mansion. It marked the first time a fashion model became the magazine’s centerfold. She was Miss November 1974. But the Ford Modeling Agency wasn’t pleased with her “side hustle” and fired her from the agency.
She moved on quickly and signed with the Wilhelmina Agency. She started posing for Italian & French Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and Cosmopolitan. “I wanted to be a professional singer, which was why I came to New York. Yes, I was a pretty, young girl, so I fell into the modeling thing, and then I did Playboy, so then the rock stars came a-hunting, as I like to say.”
Bebe was arm candy to many rock stars during the ‘70s and ‘80s, and she was nicknamed “Friend to the Stars” because she befriended – and not just dated – them all. In fact, she was friends with Jack Nicholson and Andy Warhol.
Not just men, but everyone seemed to flock to Bebe’s “legendary beauty.” Mick Jagger once said she would be the woman whom he would bring if he were ever to dine with royalty. As it turns out, musician Todd Rundgren was Bebe’s most significant rock lover. And the pair endured an on-and-off-again romance from 1972 to 1978.
Todd and Bebe became known as “rock royalty”; they were compared to other prominent couples of the era, like Bianca and Mick Jagger and Angie and David Bowie. Bebe and Todd first met in 1974, and the sparks flew immediately.
Bebe was working towards her modeling career, but, when she met Todd, he was everything she adored about rock music. Let’s remember that the ‘70s were a different, less modest time. Monogamy wasn’t the most essential factor in a long-term relationship. Both Bebe and Todd had their share of separate partners during the time they were together. Some of these partners even ended up as lifetime co-parents (but we’ll get to that soon).
“We can’t play this game anymore
But can we still be friends
Things just can’t go on like before
But can we still be friends”
Todd was a founding member of The Nazz, and his biggest hits include I Saw the Light and “Hello It’s Me, both of which are mainstays of rock radio to this day. He also wrote a song (or two) about Bebe. Todd’s 1978 song Can We Still Be Friends? (from his Hermit of Mink Hollow album) is one of his finest and is deeply personal. That’s because he wrote it following the end of his relationship with Bebe.
Todd and Bebe’s relationship wasn’t just on and off; it was also quite scandalous. In 1976, during one of their “on” periods, Bebe became pregnant by another rock star. Bebe recalls the first time she met Aerosmith’s frontman Steven Tyler. She and Todd flew to Boston when Aerosmith was considering Todd as a producer.
It was 1974 and they came to see the band’s outdoor show, but it was pouring rain and mud was everywhere. “I was dressed in a long, white dress and espadrilles and didn’t want to step over the mud,” Bebe recalled. Todd was telling her, “Bebe, stop it.”
Steven Tyler saw what was going on and came to literally sweep her off her feet. He hurried toward Bebe, threw his coat over the mud, picked the model up, and carried her across. “I thought it was hilarious and very gallant. Like a knight in shining leopard.”
Another time, Tyler was in New York for a basketball game when Bebe was at her friend Liz Derringer’s apartment (where she stayed when Todd was on the road). One late night/early morning, at around 3 a.m., Tyler called Bebe and said, “Bebe, come get me.”
He told her over the phone: “I’m at the Pierre hotel and I can’t walk. And I’m the only white person in the room.” So, Bebe got up and went to save Steven Tyler. She had recently taken a fireman training class because Todd was worried that if their townhouse caught fire, she would need to be able to get herself out safely.
Bebe remembers throwing Tyler over her shoulder and taking him to Liz’s apartment where she tossed him into the bathtub. When he woke up, Liz told him and Bebe to go sleep in her room. Bebe admitted that she has since joked around that her daughter, Liv Tyler, was conceived in Liz and Rick’s bed.
Sure enough, soon after Bebe discovered that she was pregnant. But her one-night-stand partner was in no state to be a father. You might remember his well-publicized battle with drug addiction around that time. What this meant was that he, Bebe and Todd had to come up with a solution that could work.
Todd and Bebe’s romantic relationship broke off soon after Liv was born. But the plan was that Bebe and Todd were going to raise Liv in order to provide a more stable home environment. The thing is, it wasn’t very stable because Liv was ultimately raised by many members of Bebe’s family.
Their other plan was to tell Liv the truth when they felt it was needed – by the time she was 18. Well, as it turns out, Liv was pretty clever and figured it out on her own at the age of 11. The young and future model/actress Liv Tyler became suspicious as she got older.
Liv said she discovered the truth when she was nine, watching Aerosmith perform onstage and seeing Steven Tyler’s other daughter – her half-sister Mia – on the opposite side of the stage. The resemblance was uncanny, so she confronted her mother.
Liv only asked her mom two years later, at the age of 11, if Tyler was her father. Bebe confirmed the secret, and once Liv’s suspicions were confirmed, she reportedly smiled through tears and said, “Christmas is going to be fun this year.”
The news only went public in 1991, “so there were a lot of secrets from ‘86 to ‘91,” as Bebe put it. But Liv “effortlessly made the transition,” and today they have a very close family. Her mother, an etiquette expert and founder of the Protocol School of Washington, and her cousin who was raised as her sister, all raised Liv together.
Thanks to Todd, Bebe met Rick Derringer, who eventually became her producer. Throughout her life journey, her goal has been to be a singer. She and Patti Smith formed a close friendship over the years and spent many wine-pouring nights singing together and writing poetry.
She considers Patti to be one of her biggest inspirations. In 1981, Bebe released her debut album Covers Girl, with The Cars backing each of the songs. Two years later, she formed a group which was produced by Todd Rundgren. She then became the frontwoman of the hard rock band The Gargoyles.
Elvis Costello was another one of Bebe’s intense affairs, as she described it, which lasted from 1978 to 1979 and again from 1982 to 1985. It ended when she chose to abort her pregnancy (it was his). Bebe said Costello was the love of her life, and their relationship was a persistent inspiration for Costello’s work.
Some say Costello’s Blood and Chocolate was inspired by Bebe’s habit of demanding a candy bar whenever it was her time of the month. Bebe had this to say: “It’s scary what Elvis does. He writes these lyrics because he knows I will see them, but he also knows that if I try to express this to people, they will think I am nuts.”
According to Bebe, Costello wanted people “to think I’m crazy; it delights him. But deep down he knows the truth.” Costello doesn’t agree with Bebe’s claims. He did, however, address her, just not by name, on the liner notes in a reissue of his album Armed Forces.
He wrote: “She turned up with eight pieces of luggage like a mail-order bride and moved in. I was too stupid and vain to resist. She’d later claim to have inspired most of the songs on this record – all of which were already written when we met.”
Bebe said she never claimed to be the inspiration for the songs on Armed Forces. She also dismissed his liner notes as “psychological gamesmanship.” It might just be that Bebe is trying to establish herself as a muse, rather than just a “mere groupie.” In fact, she hates the word “groupie.”
For Bebe, being called a groupie these days doesn’t mean the same thing as it did in the ‘60s, “when the whole thing originated.” Back then, she was still a young girl going to school – not yet a part of “that movement.” Bebe said that by the time she reached New York in the early ‘70s, she was never called a groupie.
She said the term was only used on her later, ironically, after she became a rock star’s girlfriend – Todd Rundgren’s. Then, people started seeing her on the arm of different rock luminaries. Whenever people called her a groupie in those days, she would counter it with, “I am not a groupie!’’
So, what separates her from the groupies? “I never slept with a road crew in my life to get near any band,” Bebe contested. She added that for anybody who can’t understand why she doesn’t want to be called a groupie, all they have to do is watch VH1’s The Secret World of Groupies.
“I was always part of a boys’ club and I’ll say it with pride: I was never known for my sexual prowess,” Bebe proudly stated. One of the reasons she posed in Playboy was because she “wanted to be a wild child, like Jane Birkin and Brigitte Bardot.
“I wanted to pout my lips and be daring and rebellious. But I couldn’t live up to it.” Once the rock stars “came a-hunting,” Bebe says they probably thought of her as a “bit of a disappointment.” But, on the other hand, she was “also a bit of a comfort because they could relax.”
According to Bebe, these rockers didn’t have to put on a performance for her. She could “cuddle up with Mick Jagger at the Plaza Hotel and watch TV and order Caesar salads and discuss philosophy.” It was much easier than getting her in bed with them.
Bebe was actually very close to Mick Jagger, who reportedly once serenaded her from the sidewalk. They met at an Eric Clapton concert, and she said there was “instant flirting.” She said she was more of a girlfriend to Jagger. When Bebe was pregnant with Liv Tyler, Jagger would tease her about being the real father (although they didn’t sleep together at that time).
Bebe didn’t just serve as a muse to rock stars, but to filmmakers as well. Cameron Crowe, for one, was so intrigued by her that he used her as an inspiration for his film Almost Famous. The movie, for those who haven’t seen it, is about a touring band in the ‘70s and their groupies.
Queen groupie Penny Lane (played by Kate Hudson) was based on several women of the era, including Pamela Des Barres and Bebe Buell. Crowe even named the fictional band’s lead singer Jeff Bebe after her. According to Bebe, Crowe took “a lot of my lines, a lot of autobiographical stuff.”
Bebe’s 2011 album, Hard Love, is about who she really is, and she claims it can help people understand her a little better. She started the album with the single Mother of Rock & Roll. One day, she recalled, she was walking down the street in “a narcissistic lead singer moment.”
She started singing “rock and roll, I am the mother of rock and roll.” She then called her guitar player and said, “Okay, that’s the next song.” Bebe explained that she has “worn a lot of hats” as a model, a playmate, a mom. People know her as so many things, “but the person that I really am is a rock monster.”
Bebe ended up settling down for the first time in 1992, when she married musician and actor Coyote Shivers. They were together for seven years until their divorce in 1999. Shivers would later see some highly negative publicity when another ex-wife of his (NCIS star Pauley Perrette) claimed more than one kind of harassment on his part.
Bebe also claimed that Shivers abused her. But, as far as he says, the allegations aren’t true. Either way, Bebe and Coyote weren’t meant to be. Her second marriage would prove to be the right one…
In 2002, Bebe married her current husband and musician, Jim Wallerstein, aka Jimmy Walls. Bebe says that now, “fidelity and marriage and commitment are very important to me.” Walls was the former guitarist for Das Damen and D Generation. He produced her album Hard Love and played guitar on it as well.
Jim, who is 13 years younger than she is, accepts his wife’s colorful past and really seems to understand her. It also means that Liv Tyler has another man to call dad, and that’s another reason why Christmas is a little more festive. The more, the merrier, after all.
When Bebe was asked if she was ever lovers with Iggy Pop, she said, “I had a fling with him. But we have remained friends through many decades.” Bebe actually writes blog posts from time to time on the website “Please Kill Me.” One of them was about her and Iggy Pop, whose real name is James Newell Osterberg.
One night at a show in New York in August 1973, she helped Iggy off the floor after he rececived a blow to the head – he was bleeding pretty badly. She wiped his head with a towel, helped him up, and he thanked her.
After an exchange of words, in which she told him where she and Todd were staying (on Horatio Street), she figured he would forget everything (he wasn’t exactly sober). But, “he hears and sees everything… very clearly. I learned early on to never underestimate him, his talent, or his will to survive,” Bebe said of Iggy.
The morning after, Iggy showed up at her home. As she put it, she and Todd “had not pledged fidelity, even though we lived together, had two dogs and a townhouse.” They had been together for over a year at that point. But here was Iggy, at her door, as Todd was packing up for another stint on the road.
She offered Iggy a place to stay in their guest room, but by the next night, they were already “roomies.” Bebe recalls it being a time of “youthful hormones… Plus, I knew Todd wasn’t sleeping alone either.” But, the truth is, she really fell for Iggy, or Jim, as she calls him.
Over the next few days, Bebe and Iggy went to the movies (they saw Paper Moon), ate at diners, and he taught her “the art of Tabasco sauce.” They watched TV, and he vacuumed. But during Iggy’s short stay in New York, something happened that Bebe says became folklore in rock & roll circles.
Bebe left Iggy with her dogs for a few hours while she went out for a modeling gig. And she wrote in her post that she wants to set the record straight: “Iggy Pop never harmed my dogs, Puppet and Furburger.” As the story goes, he fell asleep in the third-floor bathtub. When she got home, she noticed water dripping down into the second-floor bedroom onto her head.
She ran up the stairs to find Iggy and her dogs “peacefully sleeping in a nice, warm tub which just happened to also be overflowing.” Luckily, Puppet and Furburger were cradled in Iggy’s upper arms and chest and not in the water.
But then he told her that he gave the dogs a “tiny bit of Valium” because they were being hyper. He assured her that the amount wasn’t “enough to hurt a flea.” Bebe, however, freaked out and sent her dogs to St. Vincent’s Hospital, screaming that her “dogs had OD’ed on Valium.”
A paramedic told her that they only treat people, but when she told him that the dogs took a quarter of a quarter of a pill, he told her to relax and take them home – that they’ll simply sleep it off. Everything turned out fine in the end, but Bebe is “much more concerned that [Iggy] isn’t misrepresented.” The rocker apparently loves animals deeply.
Yes, Jimmy Page of Led Zepplin was a former lover of hers around 1974. She toured with the band for a while, and once she flew first class with them from L.A. to New York. “I can’t even recount how insane that was,” she recalled.
As crazy as it sounds, Bebe had a South American raccoon with her which was supposed to go under the plane with the dogs. But Jimmy actually purchased a first-class seat for the raccoon, and it ran amok around the cabin, while “two stewardesses were in the bathroom with the band.”
Despite all the rumors of them having an affair back in the day, Bebe was more of a friend to David Bowie than anything else. They did, however, almost become something more. She said it herself: “We made one feeble attempt” at sleeping together one time, which ended up in a ‘heap of laughter’.”
She said they just didn’t have that kind of relationship. The pair would play with makeup and see the Rockettes together. He would ask her opinion of his clothes. So yeah, it’s clear their relationship was on the platonic side.
It wasn’t an easy thing for the 23-year-old mom to put her life on the sidelines to raise her daughter. At the time, she was offered a huge recording contract with a six-figure paycheck after working so hard for 10 years with her band The Gargoyles. But she left it to raise her daughter.
Bebe said she would always look up to Jackie Kennedy. She remembers her saying, “If you mess up with your children, what’s the point?” What she did for Liv was different – she had “a lot of knowledge of the industry, so I was able to steer her correctly through her future and show her how to be professional.”
She said, “I gave up my career for my daughter.” Bebe said she had to work all the time – sometimes three jobs. She also flatly stated that she’s “not Courtney Love. I don’t throw my daughter under the bus for my career.” Ouch.
She added that she doesn’t know Courtney, but she can’t imagine her own daughter getting a restraining order against her. “That’s frightening to me. What does a mother have to do to cause that? That’s scary.” She put Liv first, which is clear, and was happy to see her daughter grow up with a strong work ethic.
Liv would take the subway to school even after she became a movie star. Bebe recalls the times when Liv was “naughty in school,” and she got “gum duty” where she had to scrape the gum off all the desks. Liv got so good at it that she would tell her mom: “Mom, I scraped enough Hubba Bubba today to sink a ship!”
Liv left home at the age of 19, and Bebe was able to focus on herself again. She immediately got back into music. “Nothing makes me happier than being in rehearsals, making records, being onstage,” she stated.
That’s right – Bebe Buell has a cocktail named after her. The HGU Hotel in New York’s NoMad neighborhood offers a rock star drink menu. It reads like a list of “Girlfriends of The Rolling Stones.” According to the menu, “The Bebe Buell is a combination of my perception of the East Coast,” writes mixologist Mikey Spiggz.
1.5 oz. Bombay Sapphire Gin
75 oz. Fresh lemon juice
5 oz. Domaine de Canton Ginger Liqueur
25 oz. Fresh agave nectar
2 Dashes Lavender Bitters
2 Dashes Angostura Bitters
4-5 Pieces fresh mint
Soda water as needed