Bebe Buell has been on my radar for awhile as one of the coolest women in rock. I connected with her a few years ago when she was developing a band and a new live show called Baring It All. Now, she has released a brand new album that pretty much tells the story of her life; Baring It All: Greetings from Nashbury Park.
Bebe Buell has been living it for years. Her career started when she moved to New York City at 18 to model under contract with Eileen Ford. She was highly successful but was immediately drawn to the rock world frequenting Max’s Kansas City and CBGB. She was Miss November for Playboy in 1974 which caused quite an uproar in the high fashion modeling world. Bebe dated high profile musicians such as Todd Rundgren, Steven Tyler and has been a part of a lot of amazing rock n’ roll history. She says one of the most memorable moments was, “being there the night David Bowie walked into the back room of Max’s in the powder blue suit and orange hair. It felt like an alien had walked in and the fact that he came for us, he came for our table. We just bonded. He wanted to sightsee and he was a little embarrassed because people were making fun of him. He said, ‘will you come with me?’ Watching him on the top of the Empire State Building was one of the most fun things I’ve experienced, he kept running around in circles. He couldn’t get over the view.” Another amazing historical moment was that in 1977, she gave birth to Liv Tyler. This short bio does not do Bebe Buell justice to the amazing life she’s lived but today, we’re focusing on her new album.
Bebe Buell and husband, Jim Wallerstein, moved to Nashville about five years ago. “I don’t think you ever leave a city that means so much to you. I keep a home here, I’m a Nash-Yorker. It’s a love/hate relationship with New York City, but I love it more than I hate it. When I moved here, I knew I’d really have to get to work and concentrate on my songwriting. I really wanted to up my game. I knew it was time.” Bebe’s song, “Hello Music City” captures her love for her new home in Nashville.
It was in 2014 that Bebe began writing songs for Baring It All. At age 64, Bebe, very much the exuberant rocker, is going stronger than ever. “I’m an -ism stomper. Ageism, sexism… give me an -ism and I’ll tell you why it’s bad, but a Bebe-ism is a good thing,” she says with laughter. “Men have to stop looking at girls when they’re 20 and saying, ‘oh they’re done.’ We have to stop thinking about people as being disposable. Art doesn’t have an expiration tag.” The album was co-written with her husband, Jim, and Jon Tiven. “We sat around a kitchen table. I would come up with a concept and an idea as to who I was directing the song to and why and then we’d just dig in.” And Baring It All is very personal, it’s a tell-all with the class of not naming names. For example, Bebe says the hardest song on the album to write was “Coming To A Head.” “It’s about somebody who doesn’t know how to tell the truth and rewrites history.” She also says it’s not an apology song. “It was cathartic,” Bebe says about writing the album.
On the day we met up with Bebe, she was doing an interview and some live songs on Acme Radio right on Broadway in downtown Nashville. After getting to listen in to the radio show, we headed up to Manuel Couture to get amazing photos and do the interview. The high end country western fashion designer got his start as an apprentice for the infamous Nudie out in California. At 85, Manuel Cuevas still works everyday making his fabulous handmade suits. He’s made suits for Elvis, Johnny Cash’s Man in Black, and Brandon Flowers just to name a few. As the interview takes place, his sewing machine is whirring in the background. Bebe and Manuel are very close and Bebe considers him family. “He’s a father figure to me, he’s a very special person,” she says.
While Bebe is a very strong woman, she’s taking a different approach to the #metoo movement. Bebe explains, “People keep saying where’s your #metoo story… I’ve got so many of them I would hog the table. I’ve decided not to tell them, I’ve decided to let my actions and the way I live my life be my bandaid, my healing.” She comes from a family of very strong women. Her mom wanted to be in etiquette and fashion from a young age and made it happen. “That’s where I get my manners. That’s why I was able to, at such a young age, go to dinner with Mick Jagger and royalty. I could do it all. I could go from having tea at the Plaza with Brian Ferry to being in the pit at CBGB. I see the beauty and the art in everything.” Bebe also raised a very strong woman, Liv Tyler. Bebe put her music on hold so she could be a present and supportive mother. “When [Liv] finally left home around ‘97, I was down on Don Hill’s doorstep telling him I needed a band. I started playing again in ‘98.”
It was thanks to music that Bebe and her husband Jim met the very next year. “We met in 1999 when his band at the time and my band were playing the same Christmas party. We saw each other from afar…” she smiles. The next time they met, “Hilly Kristal called me up and said, ‘Bebe, you know that guy you like? He’s in the club right now.’ I was already in my PJs so I threw on jeans, a top and a coat and ran down there. I walked in and he was on stage… after that he asked if he could call me. We’ve been together ever since.” And the two make quite an impressive musical power couple.
Bebe Buell is such a loveable person and a hard worker. You can tell the city of Nashville has already embraced her and bands love her. She recently sang with The Dandy Warhols in New York City doing their own version of “Femme Fatale” and she also regularly does guest performances with Thee Rock N Roll Residency. Bebe Buell’s band includes: drummer Sandy Gennaro (Cyndi Lauper, Joan Jett), bassist Dave Roe (Johnny Cash, Dan Auerbach), keyboardist Peter Gallinari and husband and producer Jimmy Walls on guitars. This album is living proof that good things happen when they’re supposed to and the love of music never goes away.
“I love life and I’m resilient and I don’t believe in giving up. If something doesn’t happen, it’s not supposed to, you have to come to terms with what your destiny is. And obviously, I’m meant to be a mic slinger.” –Bebe Buell
Check out Bebe’s video for “By A Woman” created by Kurt Feldhun below.
** All photos by Kalie Krause