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Almost Famous

A new book by Tucsonan Chris O'Dell tells behind-the-scenes details of the '60s/'70s music world

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For many years, Tucsonan Chris O'Dell lived in the magic world of rock 'n' roll, surrounded by and friends with musicians many of us have only admired or idolized. It's all there in her new lively book, Miss O'Dell: My Hard Days and Long Nights With The Beatles, The Stones, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, and the Women They Loved.

Only a few years out of high school, O'Dell sang in the closing chorus of "Hey Jude" and was on the roof of Apple Records for The Beatles' final live performance. She flew to Los Angeles to buy drugs for Keith Richards while the Rolling Stones were on tour, and is in the collage on the back cover of the Stones' Exile on Main St. album. She delivered harmonicas by helicopter to Bob Dylan at the Isle of Wight concert. George Harrison and Leon Russell wrote songs about her, and she was the mysterious "woman down the hall" in Joni Mitchell's "Coyote."

Although O'Dell worked feverishly in the music business as a personal assistant and one of the first female tour managers for a good 20 years, developing the requisite substance addictions along the way, her new book is most of all about friendship—with the rock stars, yes, but also with their women.

She made lifelong friends of Pattie Boyd (who was married to George Harrison and Eric Clapton) and the late Maureen Starkey (ex-wife of Ringo Starr). Harrison was one of her closest friends, and Starr is her son's godfather.

Miss O'Dell is her first book. Her co-writer, Katherine Ketcham, has written 13 books, most notably Broken: My Story of Addiction and Redemption with William Moyers. No one is going to mistake Miss O'Dell as great literature, but the genial conversational tone is appealing; it makes for a good read.

Raised in Tucson since she was 12, O'Dell moved to Los Angeles after high school for a career in the music business. Soon, she was hired by Apple's Derek Taylor and moved to London. In her early 20s, O'Dell was thrown into the swinging '60s. O'Dell was amazed to be in the world of The Beatles and Apple Corps in 1968. She had grown up idolizing them, and now she worked for them. She was in the studio for the recording of their last three albums, but by 1970, The Beatles—and their era—were dissolving.

For a short time, she lived in Los Angeles with one-time lover Leon Russell, a pianist and singer-songwriter who authored such hits as "This Masquerade" and "Lady Blue," as well as "Pisces Apple Lady," which was about O'Dell. Russell also dealt the young O'Dell her first serious heartbreak.

O'Dell moved on to working for the Rolling Stones. She also helped Harrison—who penned the song "Miss O'Dell" for her—plan his famous Concert for Bangladesh, which was the first huge rock benefit. Later, she worked with such artists as Santana, Fleetwood Mac, Linda Ronstadt, Echo and the Bunnymen and many others, often in the capacity as tour manager. She also tour-managed for Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, an experience she found insufferable, and Bob Dylan's famous Rolling Thunder Revue.

O'Dell offers tasteful and candid ruminations about her romantic life, but salacious details are in short supply. Blink, and you may miss references to her affairs with Mick Jagger and playwright Sam Shepard. O'Dell's fling with Ringo Starr is given a little more attention, thanks to her guilt over having betrayed her BFF, Maureen.

Not only did O'Dell work in the midst of rock royalty; she eventually married into real royalty. She wedded Anthony Russell, also known as the fourth Baron Ampthill, a member of Great Britain's House of Lords, in 1985. The marriage didn't last, but it gave O'Dell a beloved son, William, now in his early 20s.

O'Dell left behind her addictions in the 1980s and has been clean and sober for more than two decades. She moved back to Tucson about 20 years ago, works as a licensed substance-abuse counselor and this past year married a colleague.

Miss O'Dell zooms through the 1980s and gives little attention to the author's life since then. That's OK; this is not what the book is about. It's about a hard-partying gal who learned many difficult life lessons but still looks back fondly on her colorful life in the music business. Perhaps stories of the years since can be told in a sequel.

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