Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Style Icon: Sable Starr

PhotobucketSable, on the right, outside the English Disco in 1972.

I've been meaning to write this post for awhile- I started it several months ago, but had trouble finishing it when I heard Sable Starr had died of cancer in April. Somehow it seemed distasteful to discuss someone who had just passed solely in terms of the clothes they had worn as a teenager. This post is going to be longer than what I had originally planned, but I feel that she deserves some greater detail.

Lori Maddox, Dave Hill from Slade and Sable Starr in 1973.

For those who don't know, Sable Starr was pretty much the Super Groupie of the 1970s LA scene. Pamela Des Barres and Bebe Buell might be more famous, but Sable was the real deal. Born Sable Shields in Palos Verdes in 1958, she started going out on the scene as a 12 year old and lost her virginity to Iggy Pop at 13. Sable instantly became the queen of the new scene that sprang out of Rodney Bingenheimer's English Disco and the Whiskey A Go Go with every visiting rock star eager to meet her. She had affairs with everyone- Led Zeppelin, T-Rex, David Bowie and many more.

Queenie, Shray Mecham ('Star Magazine' model) and Sable at Rodney's 'English Disco', from "Star" Magazine last issue, July 1973.

When she learned that the New York Dolls were coming to town in 1973 Sable got all of her friends together to buy them gifts to surprise them. She bought Johnny Thunders Frederick's of Hollywood silver lingerie, and when they met they quickly fell in love. Renouncing her groupiedom (at 15!), she moved to New York to be with him and they got an apartment together. Their happiness did not last too long due to his jealous rages and increasing heroin use. His psychotic moods led Sable to slit her wrists, but was found in time and then sent back to her parents. Thunders and Starr continued their dysfunctional relationship, causing her to run away to Atlanta where she met Keith Richards. Johnny continued to pursue her so she went back to live with him in New York until their relationship ended in 1974. Of him, she said, "We didn't work it out, but we planned to marry. I even got pregnant, but had an abortion. He wanted to change me: Johnny is Italian, he wanted me to stay at home all the time. He made me feel bad, 'cause I was a hot girl and suddenly I was the lady of the house".


After this she began to split her time between LA, living with her parents or her sister (who was dating Iggy), and NY, where she stayed with Debbie Harry or Nancy Spungen (her best friend and a notorious Sable-wannabe). Sable stayed friends with Johnny, who introduced her to his band mate Richard Hell- the two fell in love and she moved full time to New York. After they broke up she moved home and gave up the scene forever, at age 17. For the last few years she has lived in Nevada as a croupier with her two kids, until she succumbed to brain cancer this spring.

Debbie Harry and Sable at the Whisky A Go Go in 1980.

Her story is quite something when you consider that it all happened over such a short time period and to someone so young. From the later interviews I read with her she came out remarkably well-adjusted, and from what I know of her at the time Sable was like a ray of sunshine in the scene. In all of the photos of her she glows with youth and excitement, all the time wearing amazing outfits. Fashion for her was all about attention grabbing outfits, lots of glamour so she wore tons of bootie shorts, sequins, 1940s furs and hats, metallic platforms and leotards all topped off with her mane of blonde curls.


"The crowd at the club ranged in age from twelve to fifteen... nymphet groupies were stars in their tight little world. Some dressed like shirley temple; others wore dominatrix outfits or 'hollywood underwear,' a knee-length shirt, nylon stockings, and garter belts. These stargirls streaked their hair chartreuse and like to lift their skirts to display their bare crotches." David Bowie

Sable and Lori Maddox in 1973.

Johnny Thunders and Sable in 1973.

Sable and Iggy Pop in 1973.



Sable at John Bonham's 24th birthday with Lori Maddox, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones, Jimmy Page, John Bonham, Morgana Welch, Tyla, Rodney Binghenheimer, Peter Grant and Queenie Glam at Rodney's "Rainbow Bar and Grill" in April 1972.

Sable and Johnny at the Whisky in 1973.

I have many more pictures- it was hard just to choose a few!


July Stars said...

Do you know if there's a biography about her? Such an interesting character. Thank you for this super interesting post. Love it.

Keith said...

Great post. I love those photos. I didn't know much about Sable. I had heard of her, but that's about it. Thanks for doing such an awesome post.

smashingbird said...

What a fabulous post, I never realised those girls were soo young! They looked amazing though, I'd loved to have gone to Rodney Bingenheimer's English Disco!

Miss Peelpants said...

I can never decide what I make of that era of groupie. They were particularly horrid to Miss Pamela et al, so that does rather make me feel defensive.

Having said that, I wouldn't want to be judged on my teenage self and it sounds like she was probably a lovely person once she grew up a bit. Very sad that she's gone...

laurakitty said...

Jaja, there aren't any biographies about her, though I'm rather tempted to write one. I found out most of what I know about her from Legs McNeil's 'Please Kill Me' and from 'Too Much, Too Soon,' a book about the NY Dolls.

Thanks everyone!

Dream Sequins said...

That was a wonderful post and a nice tribute to an interesting figure in the margins of musical history. I would love to read more about her!

Dream Sequins said...

And if someone does write more about her, I hope they don't make an awful glitzy movie about it... Ick.

robyn said...

Great post. I'm fascinated by groupies of the past.

Anonymous said...

We used to see Sable at many of the concerts we attended in 1973 at the Santa Monica Civic and Long Beach Auditorium. Mostly "glam" type rock.

My best friend used to hang out at Rodney Bingehheimers'and she knew Sable.
But, I never met her. Just saw her.
We were all the same age.

She would be with a few other girls and they would gravitate to the door backstage. Never saw them in seats during a concert like the rest of us.

She was usually dressed in amazing tattered shabby-chic type outfits. And stood out in a crowd. I remember she was very pretty and we loved her hair.

She effortlessly seemed to find her way backstage, and that would be the last we saw of her until next time...

You wouldn't believe who we saw her go backstage with once in 1973...

It was hard to keep our minds on the concert in front of us - knowing what was going on 20 feet away from us behind the scenes....

We all wished we were her.

Pearsall said...

Really interesting, Laura. Well done.

Jowy said...


One Love,

LandGirlontheHomeFront said...

what a life! I recently saw a documentary about Rodney Binghenheimer and became fascinated by the "scene." really interesting post!

DejaToo said...

I'm fascinated by the 60's and 70's rock scene. I really love the clothes from that era but Sable totally had her own style didn't she?

Heavy Metal Fashion said...


She is amazing...holy wow.


Such a great post...


Sarah said...

Fantastic post! I've heard her name mentioned before in some of the groupie books, but didn't know much about her.

WendyB said...

Great post -- but damn, she didn't look like a teenager, did she!

Sher said...

Mile high legs! Amazing, there was a whole other world out there. I was 13 in '76, graduating from 8th grade and up in my room reading Harlequin Romances.

Iheartfashion said...

What a character! Love the outfits.
I can't imagine a 12 year old hanging around that crowd though. SO young.

Anonymous said...

she was my husbands aunt (his moms little sister). we never knew about these amazing stories until she passed away. I love learning more and more about how amazing she was. thank you for this post.

BobSinclair said...

Sable was my neighbor when I was in high school. I was in love with her sister, and often wonder these days what became of them both. Sable passed away 23 days before my Dad this year. She certainly brightened the world while she was here.

Eyeliah said...

Wow, another amazing story. I cannot even comprehend that she is 15 in many of these pictures, she looks so much older and mature. All the concerts that come thru my town, you have to be of age to attend. Were the rules different then or fake ids I wonder.

Gail said...

What rules? The younger you were the quicker Rodney invited you in! I was 13 and going to Rodneys, hitchhiking from The Valley with my friends, a couple of whom were 12, others 14, maybe 15. 16 was too old. Escaping the pervs who would pick you up was the dangerous part. We had all told our parents (who, looking back, were off enjoying the fresh breakdown of society and the sexual revolution in their own ways!) that we were were having a slumber party at a friend's, of course! The police rolled their eyes and, if stopped, would tell you just to be careful. It was a different set of rules -- no shoplifting allowed but we were all free to get ourselves killed -- and many of their own daughters were hanging out at Rodney's with us. Now, I am glad I was shy and geeky wanna-be and never really got anywhere with the groups, not counting a 12 yr old friend of mine who "got to" give one of the Slade band members a BJ in the back room. Sable and Queenie were awe-inspiring but dangerous and jealous little goddesses to us and there just wasn't any competing. We just got out of their way! FWIW, I'm a very strict mother now and my kids don't know why. lol

Gail said...

PS: we used to find it very amusing that Rodney took the bus everywhere and didn't own a car. Unheard of in LA at the time except for students and old ladies.

I wonder where Lisa Sommers and Jolie Levitt got to. Are you out there? Anyone know?

steve w. said...

I knew Sable around 1981 when she was living in Va. Beach,VA . She was trying to stay clean, but having a hard time with it. She was one of the sweetest people I ever met. One day I tried calling her and found out she had been held in a Mexican jail on drug charges. I've never forgotten about her...and always wished I would see her again. I was very saddened to find out that I would never be able to say goodbye, but happy to hear that she eventually found a nice life for herself in Nevada.

Anonymous said...

so, no one is bothered by the fact that she was having sex with men in their 20s and 30s when she was 13/14 years old? I guess pedophilia was glamorous back then, right?

Anonymous said...

its not a nice thing to hear of course. but i really think that all that was a matter of circumstances.. i guess she is my favourite groupie because she realized the kind of life she was having at that age and walked away. Without publishing any stupid book about her past life ( i dont say that being a groupie back then was a low thing to do,i believe that if you do what you want and have fun and you are aware of it its okay) but being a groupie its not the equivalent of amazing talent or any form of valid productivity(its supposed to be a phase i guess..). its just fucking or meeting famous people that we all wish to meet or fuck..i think its the price they pay. being considered as sluts. i personally think Sable was so young that she probably didnt knew what the hell she was doing, and luckilly realized it.

i just hate Pamella Des Barres...the GTO's are a fun listen but i prefer Christine Frka and the others rather than her..(style,look,clothes,etc.)

and she even released those terribly stupid books which really got her in my dumb ass-get a freaking job for fucks sake- here's two pesos(im from Argentina) get a life and a brain, youll sure need those two.
plaster caster doesnt bother me..bebe buell was hot..morgana,cyrinda,lori,queenie..those are/were ok. but Sable stands out..

im so sorry..i got carried away and im sure my written english sucks...
to conclude.i guess Sable recognized those years of her life as a phase, left it behind(or tried) and continued to live her life.
its just my humble opinion-god, i think i need a life too ha

r.i.p Sable. era una diosa

Anonymous said...

Sable wouldn't even have existed without Pamela Des Barres, so show some more respect.

Anonymous said...

I was at Rodney's every sat. Night! Always saw. Sable and Laurie! Fun times!

Anonymous said...

I always feel ugly and horrible whenever I see pics of groupies from this era, and I also feel they were very easy for men.

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