The extraordinary and troubling life story of Sable Starr, the enigmatic ‘Queen of the Groupies’
We’ve all heard of rock and roll’s dark stories when it comes to the social background of the genre. Whether it’s to do with drugs, sex, alcohol—or all three together—many superstars from the early seventies have numerous anecdotes to recollect. And so do the groupies who have played an important part in the history of rock.
Sable Starr was one of them. With her unique persona and sex appeal, she was one of the most well-known “baby groupies”, namely young girls wearing outrageously sexy outfits. Having slept with the biggest names of the seventies’ rock scene, we thought we’d explore Starr’s life—which is also a reality check on just how sombre the background of rock ’n’ roll really was.
Born in 1957 to a rich family from Los Angeles, Sabel Hay Shields AKA Sable Starr, kickstarted her sexual life when she turned just 12 years of age. Starr’s life path was set from a shambolically young age, losing her virginity when she would sleep with Spirit’s guitarist Randy California. Following that, she quickly started hanging out at the Whisky A Go Go after one of her friends invited her at the age of 14. Back in the seventies, Starr became one of the first baby groupies to spend her nights in Hollywood’s Sunset Strip nightclubs—the Rainbow Bar and Grill, as well as Rodney Bingenheimer’s English Disco, and the aforementioned Whiskey A Go Go.
The Queen of the groupie’s trademark wasn’t only her sexy yet daring outfits. Her petite figure and signature blonde, curly hair is what built her image. In some interviews with pop culture magazines of the time, Starr explained how she “always thought of her self as ugly”. Indeed, when she turned 15, she decided to have a nose job— and that was when she started seeing herself as a sexy feminine figure.
When talking about her personality and mindset, Starr claimed she considered herself as “nuts to begin with” before adding: “I always liked getting into trouble.” In Barney Hoskyns’ 2012 biography of Led Zeppelin – ‘Trampled Under Foot’, the groupie also stated: “I never want to be anything over 14 years old. I’m just going to ignore the years from here on.”
During that same year, Starr met The New York Dolls’ very own Johnny Thunders which marked a moment that her life took a different turn. In an interview for ZigZag magazine, the rockstar remembers his relationship with the groupie: “I met Sable when she was 15 and I was 18. I sent her home to New York while we carried on the tour. When we got back the police were looking for her at the airport and everywhere!”
After Starr ran away from her family home to live in New York with her lover, it is believed her mother reported her kidnapped which caused The New York Dolls’ entourage to be arrested. Following that moment onwards, the teenagers started to encounter various problems in their relationship—some of which were drug addiction and violent behaviour on Thunders’ behalf. As if that wasn’t enough, Starr became pregnant, a situation which encouraged the rockstar to propose to her which, in turn, resulted in Starr rejecting him and deciding to have an abortion immediately after. The blonde spoke about the aftermath of her toxic relationship with Thunders, claiming that “he tried to destroy my personality. After I was with him, I just wasn’t Sable Starr anymore. He really destroyed the Sable Starr thing.”
It has been speculated over the years that Starr had sexual encounters with almost every single big name of the rock scene at that time. Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant was allegedly one of her favourites, as well as Jimmy Page. Starr’s fellow baby groupie, Lori Mattix, once stated that she had warned her off Page, saying: “If you touch him, I will shoot you. He’s mine.”
Starr’s notoriety grew with every passing day and, as a new celebrity arrived in Los Angeles, they immediately sought after Starr and the baby groupies to find the best party hangouts. Ron Asheton, who co-wrote songs and played with Iggy and The Stooges, remembers when he first met her: “We had a gig at the Whiskey A Go Go when we first moved out there and that’s when we met Sable Starr, who was a really nice girl. First she was Iggy’s groupie, then with me, then went back to Iggy, then back to me, and then went to my brother, and back to me.”
Speaking of Iggy Pop, who enjoyed a relationship with the Starr as well as her younger sister—Corel Shields. Later in his career, Iggy dedicated his song ‘Look Away’ released in 1996 to her, in which he recollects their affair back in 1970: “I slept with Sable when she was 13 / Her parents were too rich to do anything / She rocked her way around L.A / Until a New York Doll carried her away,” he sings.
Even though the young woman was mainly focusing on her male figures, she also made a few feminine friends along the way. Nancy Spungen was one of them, as well as fellow groupies Shray Mecham and Queenie. Lori Mattix was one of Starr’s closest friends with whom she even shared a bed, when David Bowie was in L.A. Debbie Harry has been pictured with the socialite a few times and it has been said that both women were good friends.
However, being the sex symbol that she was, Starr inevitably made some enemies. Bianca Jagger, famously, was one of them. At the time she was married to Mick Jagger, which obviously caused some confrontations when Sable Starr knocked on the singer’s door and was not-so-gently told to leave by Bianca.
When the early eighties came round, the Queen of L.A. wasn’t part of the groupie milieu anymore. Tragically, she died at the age of 51 after suffering from a brain tumour. Some might consider Sable Starr as a representation of how grim the rock scene social background was during the seventies, but there’s also a true symbol of feminine emancipation in her story—not to mention the fact she was only 12-years-old when she started being a groupie, and she was still living in the family home during her teenage years.
Starr undoubtedly showed guts and had just about every rockstar wrapped around her finger. Many famous faces looked up to her as one of L.A’s leading female icons of the seventies, and her image will definitely be part of rock’s history forever.