In the 93rd episode of Toronto-based podcast Muses, Pamela Des Barres recounts a memory of doing a back bend in Jim Morrison’s kitchen while listening to an unreleased Doors record. In the 98th episode, Jenny Boyd (former wife of Mick Fleetwood) gushes over a handwritten get-well card John Lennon gave her when she was sick in India. In the 123rd episode, the hosts spotlight Rita Marley, widow of Bob, who helped break him by biking around Jamaica to sell his records and was a part of his band for seven years.
No matter how big a music fan you are, chances are you haven’t heard most of these stories. But the role these women played was integral to the legacy of many of the rock legends we know today – the necks that turned the heads.
From groupies to inspirations, wives, girlfriends, women working in the industry and even mothers, Muses has created a space for the stories of the women behind the scenes of rock and roll – a mix of interviews and breakdowns, revealing the often overlooked drivers of music history.
Muses was born just over three years ago when Chantel Lemieux, superfan of local bands like the Dirty Nil and Sportsfan, began recording herself sharing her love of groupies like Des Barres, who wrote the quintessential groupie memoir, I’m With The Band. Lynx O’Leary joined as co-host after the two bonded over their shared admiration of Marianne Faithfull, and after a year and a half of recording independently on the side of their full-time jobs, their show was picked up by podcast network Pantheon. One hundred and twenty-five episodes later, there’s still no shortage of women’s – and occasionally, as with the episode on Lou Reed’s Walk On The Wild Side, men’s – stories to tell. Their 125th episode, dropping on February 20, features an interview with Ginger Gilmour, former wife of Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour.
“We wanted to gather [the stories] up and bring them to a more modern platform,” Lemieux says. “If I can show you 125 of them in a row then maybe we can acknowledge that they play more of an important role in rock and roll history than people give them credit for.”
The term groupie often has a negative connotation, but it’s an ever-evolving term, one which Lemieux and O’Leary are reclaiming in a positive, feminist way. At its core, they say, a groupie is a superfan, someone who wants to be close to the music, though it definitely doesn’t always involve sex – not that they treat that as a shameful thing.
“The music industry wouldn’t survive without groupies or superfans,” O’Leary, who works front of house at Meridian Hall and Danforth Music Hall, says laughing. “Most of the superfans I see out there are middle-aged men.”
Many of the women they interview kept detailed journals and photographed what was going on around them in the 60s and 70s, documenting a key time in music history as well as a key time for women in music history – a time that overlapped with the sexual revolution and the early women’s rights movement.
“I knew I was living in a time people were going to want to know about later,” says Des Barres on one episode. Her first memoir is now considered a classic piece of rock and roll literature, and O’Leary and Lemieux want to treat stories like hers with the intrinsic importance they deserve.
“[The podcast] is not about the stars they slept with or were married to but about the women’s lives,” O’Leary says. They don’t look at the muses as agency-less sources of male inspiration or sex objects, but whole, very influential people.
So is there a modern groupie? The biggest demographic of Muses listeners are women aged 18-34, and Lemieux and O’Leary receive messages all the time from devoted music fans – not just diehard Beatles and Stones girls, but Harry Styles and Greta Van Fleet, too. Muses also features interviews with modern muses like Instagram influencer Devyn Crimson.
In every episode, Lemieux and O’Leary ask their subjects if they have ever witnessed or experienced anything that made them uncomfortable. A few women have used the platform to take the music industry to task.
In one episode, Dorothy Carvello, a former A&R woman, recounts her experience at Atlantic Records in the 1980s, calling out huge industry moguls for sexual harassment and a culture of toxicity. In another, Denise Donlon, a MuchMusic host in the 80s and icon in the Canadian music industry, speaks up about the changes that still need to be made for women.
The people they’ve interviewed span decades and are endlessly fascinating, from the original 1960s groupies all the way to Mac DeMarco’s mother, Agnes, who is a major part of her son’s career. The one common thread is that they’ve all been influential music figures, whether or not they’ve been properly recognized.
“There will always be groupie girls, there will always be superfans,” O’Leary says. “They’re excited that it’s finally time for their stories to be heard.”