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Exclusive interview with Chris O’Dell, former Beatles Apple secretary

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by Marshall Terrill
(Photos courtesy Chris O’Dell)

Chris O’Dell is quick to point out that she was never famous, or even almost famous, but she was there.  Indeed.

chrisodellbookThe former Apple secretary and one of rock’s first female tour managers was in the studio when the Beatles recorded The White Album, Abbey Road, and Let It Be, and sang in the chorus of the final cut for “Hey Jude.” 

She was at Ringo’s kitchen table when George Harrison said, “You know, Ringo, I’m in love with your wife.” And Ringo replied, “Better you than someone we don’t know.”

She typed the lyrics to George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass and was present when he read about the Beatles breaking up in a London newspaper.

She’s the subject of Leon Russell’s “Pisces Apple Lady,” a song he wrote to woo her. Other rock legends with whom she was intimate include Ringo, Mick Jagger, and Bob Dylan.

She’s “the woman down the hall” in Joni Mitchell’s song “Coyote” about a love triangle on Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue tour. She’s the “mystery woman” pictured on the back of the Rolling Stones album Exile on Main Street. She’s George Harrison’s “Miss O’Dell”, the famous B-side to “Give Me Love,” his No.1 single from 1973.

Miss O’Dell: My Hard Days and Long Nights with the Beatles, The Stones, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, and the Women They Loved (Touchstone Books) is the remarkable story of an ordinary woman who became a part of rock royalty’s trusted inner circle. Miss O’Dell is a backstage pass to some of the most momentous events in rock history and is the ultimate fly-on-the-wall rock memoir.

Now enjoying two decades of sobriety, O’Dell is a counselor and hypnotherapist specializing in addiction recovery. In this exclusive interview with Daytrippin’, O’Dell shares her memories of the Beatles, Apple’s glory days, and why fame isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Q: Chris, it’s been more than 40 years since you were first employed by Apple. You and Jack Oliver (President of Apple Records) seem to be the last holdouts on writing a book, which leads me to ask why have you now decided to publish Miss O’ Dell?

CO: I think the time was just right. I knew that I wouldn’t write the book till I was older because of my loyalty to the Beatles. And there is still so much interest in the Beatles, the Stones, Dylan and the other people I worked with. I was in a unique position and I wanted to share it with people who couldn’t be there.

Q: Let’s start at the beginning. Can you tell our readers how you got the job at Apple?

CO: It was by chance, really. I met Derek Taylor, the Beatles press agent and friend in LA, and he invited me to come to London to work there.  I write about this in the book in some detail.

Q: It’s been said Apple was a crazy, never a dull moment, vibrant place to work. Tell us in your own words a typical day in the life at Apple?

CO: It was never dull.  I’d arrive to the hustling and bustling of the offices on Savile Row and go to my office in the rafters of Apple. I’d work with Peter Asher, answering mail and booking studio time.  There was always the option to break for a few minutes and visit one of the other offices to soak up their enthusiasm.  When one of the Beatles was in the house, the energy seemed even greater. And then we had drop-ins by famous people like Lauren Bacall and Duane Eddy to mention just a few.  I’d often stay late as it was like home.

Q: Can you give a brief thumbnail sketch of each Beatle’s personality?

CO: Paul was the diplomat, the mediator, the marketer. George was the quiet one, the intense one, the spiritual one.  John was the cynic with a strong personality and interest in world happenings.  And then there was Ringo, who wasn’t around a lot but was fun and easy to talk to.

ChrisODell_GeorgeQ: You seemed to have the deepest connection to George Harrison. Why do you think that is?

CO: We’re both Pisces! Actually, it’s like any friendship – you can meet a group of people but certain ones you just seem to bond with. That was George. He liked my sense of humor and easy-going attitude.  I liked his sense of humor and gentle ways.

Q: It appears you had the least connection to John Lennon and Yoko Ono. From reading your book, one gets the feeling that once John met Yoko, that being in the Beatles got in the way of his life.

CO: Well, actually, I hung out with them at the beginning of my time in London. But they were so involved in their own things – like bed-in and peace activism – that they weren’t really involved in the daily running of Apple.  Then they moved away.  I think he just grew out of the Beatles in a way.

Q: Who were some of the other key figures at Apple and give a brief thumbnail sketch of them as well.

CO: Well, this depended on where you were sitting! Jack Oliver, Tony Bramwell, Peter Asher, Ron Kass, Peter Brown, Derek Taylor were a few of the key figures. Everyone was so different.  Jack Oliver, who had the most cynical and in-your-face approach, remains one of my favorite friends to this day. Tony Bramwell was always off in his own world of promotion and networking. And there were so many girls working there that were loyal and hard working like Barbara Bennett, Peter Asher and Neil Aspinal’s personal assistant and Laurie McCaffrey the switchboard operator.

ChrisODell_RingoQ: You also developed strong friendships with Patti Harrison and Maureen Starkey, but your take was that it was tough to be a Beatle wife.  Tell us why in your opinion.

CO: They just didn’t know who to trust. They were slow to warming up to women and once you were in they were as loyal as could be. The Beatles world was a tight, closely watched and protected ‘family’. It took a lot to get in and a little to get pushed out. These women trusted me after a while and became dear friends.

Q: Substance abuse is a constant theme throughout Miss O’ Dell in both your personal life and in the lives of the people you worked for. Why are drugs and alcohol so prevalent in the music industry?

CO: I don’t know what it’s like today, but then it was just part of the culture. No one knew it was a problem. It was fun, a way of escaping, relaxing and just hanging out.  I think one of the reasons that it took so long for me to admit to having a problem and finally getting clean and sober is that no one around me considered it a problem. And, of course, there was the money to afford the drugs. 

CO: One of the strengths of your memoir is that you don’t always paint such a rosy picture of fame. Why was it important for you to underscore that point?

CO: Because people idolize so many celebrities and see it as such an elevated life when celebs are dealing with the same everyday problems (except for money, usually). Then add to that a complete lack of privacy. Back in those days the press was nothing like they are today. It’s totally out of hand now. I’m also trying to paint a picture of what life was really like in that world at that time.

Q: The good times at Apple seemed to fade quickly once Allen Klein entered the picture. Can you explain what those days were like compared to when you first started?

CO: I think I do this fairly well in the book but the most important piece is that the Beatles were running the whole show and wanted it to be different. We had fun, and the sky was the limit for creativity and possibilities. Sadly, however, it cost them a lot of money. The party just had to come to an end.

Q: You write that the Beatles were mostly upbeat and got along quite well while groups like The Stones and CSN&Y worked on an almost dysfunctional level. With that said, how did their breakup affect them on an emotional level?

CO: I think being a Beatle became very difficult for them. They had a different set of problems than the Stones and CSN&Y.  They didn’t tour that much, they couldn’t go out of their hotel rooms, and they lived in a bubble. I think breaking up for them, and I can only guess, was a relief and very difficult at the same time.

Q: Are you amazed that four decades later we’re still talking about the Beatles and they only seem to get bigger with the passage of time?

CO: This is truly amazing, isn’t it? Sometimes I notice when I get into my car my son, Will, has borrowed it and John Lennon is playing on the CD player. My friends tell me their kids love the Beatles and some of the other artists of that time. I’ve had teenage clients tell me that they wished they’d lived in the Sixties. I guess we were pretty lucky.

Q: Can you tell me briefly how George was inspired to write Miss O’Dell and what was your initial reaction to the song?

CO: George wrote the song one night when I was supposed to go out and visit him and I didn’t.  When I finally made it to his rented house in Malibu, he played me the song. I was overwhelmed. The idea that he felt inspired to write a song with me in mind was amazing.

Q: In Miss O’ Dell, you allude to having a conversation with George as you got older but never really discussed his death in the book. When was the last time you saw George?

CO: The last time I saw George was in the late eighties or early nineties when I was in London.  We were at a party at the Dorchester Hotel, I think, after Ringo’s concert and had a nice visit. I saw him for many years but after that we just lost contact. I have spoken to Olivia in the past few years. 

Q: You knew and worked with some amazing legends – the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin, Eric Clapton, CSN&Y, Leon Russell and Queen to name but a few – during an artistic, cultural and social renaissance (1960s & 1970s) that we’ll never see the likes of again.  Do the times make the people or do the people make the times?

CO: Ah, what a question. From a sociological point of view, I believe the times made the people. We were the off-spring of the Great Depression and World War II. My parents tried to give me everything they could to make up for what they didn’t have. The music was in flux with black music becoming more acceptable and seeping into the mostly white charts. And then, here comes the Beatles with “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”  We were caught between the sexuality of the black music and the innocence of the Beatles. Amazing…

Q: Tell us about your life today?

CO: I am happily remarried to a wonderful man who supports me and accepts me as I am. My twenty-three year old son is amazing and gives me some credibility as a parent! I have a private practice in Tucson, specializing in addiction and mental health counseling.  My two dogs are happy and life is just better than I would have expected. 

Marshall Terrill is the author of a dozen books. His next publication, Steve McQueen: A Tribute to the King of Cool, will be released in March 2010.

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10 thoughts on “Exclusive interview with Chris O’Dell, former Beatles Apple secretary

  1. Pingback: The Beatles former Apple secretary, Chris O’Dell, releases new memoir « Daytrippin' Beatles Magazine

  2. Very Interesting…. Cheers TONY BRAMWELL

  3. I read this book, and I must say there were several times I almost threw it across the room in disgust. Like so many others I have spoken to, I came away with the impression that Miss O’Dell was nothing more than a user who believed she was entitled. Unlike the other groupies of the era, she is thoroughly unlikeable. She forced her way into peoples homes and wouldn’t leave until she was basically thrown out. She freeloaded her way through the sixties and seventies, never paid her own way or treated anyone else, and she “borrowed” large sums of money which was never repaid. No wonder she wasn’t trusted. Eric Clapton hated her guts and her pushy ways and she never repaid the $5,000 that she “borrowed” from George Harrison. She came across as someone who felt she had more right to be in Eric’s home than he did. (While he was away, she painted his kitchen the colour she wanted. What utter gall) Anniversaries, Christmas, holidays, family time…..there was Miss O’Dell, uninvited and in no hurry to leave. Why pay rent when you can freeload.
    She is a conniving, collosal bore.

    • Deb,
      I just finished the book this weekend and couldn’t agree with you more. You’d read things like how she hated being in a slummy New York basement 1 BR apartment, scrubbing the toilets, when she thought she should be back in England, at George’s Friar masion, where she really thought she belonged. How Eric got between her and Pattie. Earth to author: you lived in a dreamworld and were a (not even royal) pain in the *** to all and sundry.

      • Just how would people sporting the infinite social intelligence of yourself and Deb fall victim to the mistaken assumption that these people did not know how to get rid of someone they did not want around…for one reason or another? I’m sure these legends of rock’n’roll had absolutely no experience with the unwanted and uninvited 20-somethings trying to pry their ways into the inner circles. O’Dell must have been the first person ever they had to show to the door? They must have been shocked, and at a total loss as to what to do, when O’Dell “imposed” and then wouldn’t leave, now, right? She presented such a social conundrum, no doubt, it took them several years to gather the wits and creativity to expel her, right? Go study.

        And many have written about the so-called private lives of these people — many who knew more than O’Dell. As she stated, she waited half a lifetime, until it was history instead of news, and still had the courtesy to let those it affected review it before publication (those who were alive, that is). Of course, they all gave negative reviews — go read them. I suspect you may be young, or showing some misconceptions typical of youth, because you show little understanding of how time tempers the meaning of life events. I hardly think any of the people written about would find the accounts offensive. It is probably welcomed — like any account of our youth from a new perspective is always bittersweet — even when it may disclose some weakness we had at the time. It is like an old forgotten photo that shows us stumbling drunk at some party. We don’t get hurt or embarrassed. We usually laugh! Unless the rich and famous are different from most of us in that way, I don’t see the issue.

        Also, there is nothing wrong with mixing and working with people who are more talented, well known, or richer than yourself. In fact, the highly successful have a distinct need for anonymous and stealthy partners and employees — especially skilled, reliable ones of the personal and domestic kind. It takes talent and refined skill to be a good subordinate, and their is no shame in it. It goes without saying the money O’Dell took is nothing to these people. Only someone with real math difficulties wouldn’t see that. I don’t worry much about the dime I forgot to repay to my friend. If it were a hundred dollars, I would. The value equivalent of the money they gave her — in reference to their wealth — is probably comparable to ten cents for someone of the average income class.

        I think it is fairly clear O’Dell played a role which many young males who fantasize about wealth and fame would include in their dreams. She was an exceptionally attractive young woman, and these young men just simply wanted her around! What made her fit for that fantasy role was a one-in-a-million combination of character and skill. O’Dell was beautiful and they enjoyed being with her. But, a person allowed that close is a big potential risk to the super wealthy and famous. While these guys could have had the company of any one of millions of beautiful young women, evens hundreds for every night of the week, the facts of fame fortune severely constrain the choices such people can make for those types of roles. O’Dell was savvy enough to not only be loyal, but to know and understand what kinds of loyalty were most important and most essential to those unique people who found themselves in that unique situation. Applicants for such roles must pass all kinds of tests. O’Dell was obviously sharp enough to know what to do and how to behave in social situations so unusual and profound that most of us could never comprehend. Otherwise, she would have been working at the drive-in or the department store like the millions of other young women who idolized the Beatles and the Stones.

        The situation in which this group of people lived is surely understood by few of us. There is little they have in common with the average person. Don’t be so arrogant as to compare O’Dell to an unwelcome neighbor who overstays her welcome at your back yard cookout or your cocktail party. Go and try to “impose” on McCartney, Clapton, Starkey, or Dylan — just for the sake of it — and see how far you get. Is your criticism of O’Dell’s work perhaps your way of fantasizing that you have some way of comprehending the lives of these famous people — some way of identifying with them? Unless you are unusually wealthy and famous, I think you are mistaken in your assessment of Chris O’Dell and her place in this slice of history. And so is your friend Deb.

  4. Wow Deborah you must have read a different book than I did.

    Chris was asked to come and work at Apple, she was asked to work for Mick and Keith. As for never paying her way hello she was a paid employee. She got the job done and that’s what they wanted. Obviously she was good at what she did to work with so many artists and she’s still friends with them to this day.

    Chris is not a conniving collosal bore. Maybe you need to go find another subject to read.

  5. Rachel, I agree, you’ve said it perfectly.

    Just read the book, Miss O’Dell did not come across as a freeloader, nor did she come across as a groupie throwing herself at every icon she had access to – and she had access. The fact that she was such good friends with Pattie and Maureen – and wasn’t even negative about Yoko proves that she could be trusted in that elevated company.

    I’m amazed at the way some people can read something so negative into someone so positive and supportive. Jealousy perhaps??

  6. Just a small comment guys… Eric Clapton was a brat and an alcoholic back then and didn’t like anyone besides Pattie. All these famous people always got whatever they wanted, so I’m sure they wouldn’t have had a problem kicking her out if they didn’t want her there. If she was a royal pain in the ass they wouldn’t keep her around.

  7. Chris O’Dell came across to me as a very lucky person who got in for a bit around some wonderful people, then did everything she needed to do to hang around till she was asked to leave. Somehow, it makes me grateful for all the loyal Liverpool fellas and the girlfriends/wives who were there to look out for the Beatles because everyone else seemed to chase their glory. She had no talents or achievements, wasn’t a musician or songwriter or childhood friend or family or loyal employee to any of them. She had one moment of luck when Derek Taylor offered her a job in LA. After that, she seems to have made relentless attempts to insert herself into the lives of important people who could give her things. Being the Beatles and good Liverpool lads, they were good-natured, welcoming & generous people who always treated her well. And she lapped it up and demanded more of the rock and roll lifestyle, as though the Beatles and their circle were responsible for keeping her entertained. She’s lucky enough to be around some of the most brilliant musicians of our time, yet she constantly passes judgement on their so-called ‘failings’, even though they were all close friends of the Beatles and were good to her. She’s allowed into their private homes, around their families and abuses their privacy, passing self-important comments about them, making public their private sadness and difficulties. She gets in the middle of peoples’ married lives and then acts bewildered like it’s always the fault of some other ‘jealous’ wife. She complains throughout the book about not having enough money to get by. She never seems to do a good turn for anyone, or return a kindness; she just uses them again and again to further her lifestyle. When one person tires of her, she moves swiftly to the next one (with bags packed). What stands out in all her stories is just how good all the people at Apple were towards her. Like all Beatles fans, I’m hungry for any tiny detail I can get about them. But this book made me love them even more, and realize how regularly people must have used them for their fame. Having said all that though, I’m sorry for all her drug and alcohol problems and thankful that she’s out of it today.

  8. She loved Picadilley cigarettes and I gladly ran around the corner from Apple to grab her a pack. Chris for a brief period in the spring and summer of 1969 took in this boy from Texas right off a plane and granted me passage into a world only few experience, she saved me from myself actually and rolled me into the basement to hear the best….great read, glad I found a way to thank you…Keith