by Marshall Terrill
Note: This article was originally published in March 2008 on Daytrippin’s website.
[All photos copyright by Nancy Andrews]
It’s been said that rock ‘n’ roll was a boys-only club in the 1960s and 1970s. Among the few women who gained entry was a high-spirited, half-Sicilian and half-Cherokee beauty named Nancy Lee Andrews.
A top Eileen Ford model, Andrews was the perfect complement to former Beatle Ringo Starr. Her six-year relationship (1974-1980) and engagement with the world’s famous drummer granted her an all access pass to a world beyond the velvet rope.
Part of that access included intimate and candid photographs of Ringo Starr’s life in the seventies. Andrews started her career on the other side of the lens in 1970 when renowned photographer Milton Greene recognized her need to click the shutter.
Encouraged by Starr, Andrews began shooting fashion for designer boutiques along Rodeo Drive and trendy Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles. Later she shot Starr’s publicity photos and two of his album covers, Ringo the 4th and Bad Boy. During this time, she also snapped legendary artists George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, The Band, Keith Moon, Donovan, Harry Nilsson, Leon Russell, Dolly Parton and Carly Simon.
Her pictures and memories are preserved for posterity in the new photo book, A Dose of Rock ‘n’ Roll (Dalton Watson Fine Books). Andrews is also about to embark on a worldwide photo exhibit, showcasing her life at the peak of pop culture.
Daytrippin’ has scored the very first in-depth interview with Andrews about her relationship with Ringo Starr in almost three decades.
Daytrippin’: Nancy, what have you been up to since 1980?
Nancy Lee Andrews: I have been living a wonderful life. After 22 years in Los Angeles I finally met my mate. Jeez, has it been that long? Looking back I wonder where the years went, you know? In 1994 my husband and I moved to Nashville and I opened a photography studio. I’ve done a lot of CD packages, advertising and fashion shoots. I love it here. I guess it’s my Alabama roots digging in. I don’t miss the big city at all… but I like to visit.
Daytrippin’: Let’s start from the beginning. When did you first meet Ringo Starr?
Nancy Lee Andrews: I met Ringo on a Monday afternoon in May 27, 1974. John had rented actor Peter Lawford’s infamous Santa Monica beach home where he and May Pang hosted many get-togethers. Girlfriends and wives were cooking in the kitchen and kids were swimming in the pool. It was a family get-together, rock ‘n’ roll style. A seat was offered to me at the poker table and I found myself next to Ringo. He was so charming, playful, witty and cute as hell. He might have had sad eyes, but they were twinkling at me that day.
Two months later, I got a call from May, who announced she and John were back in town. They shuttled back and forth between New York and Los Angeles so I kept their funky ’68 Barracuda in my garage. She asked me to bring the car to the Beverly Wilshire Hotel and we would hang out and have some dinner. I knocked on the door to the suite expecting to see John or May, but Ringo answered instead. It took me by surprise and I said, “Oh, hello.” Ringo smiled and said, “I remember you… you’re my poker partner!”
After we exchanged flirtatious pleasantries, we headed down to Sunset Sound Studios where Ringo was working on Goodnight Vienna. John, May and I spent hours encouraging Ringo as he laid down vocals. When he finished we ventured to The Fiddler, a favorite Sunset Strip hangout that stayed open late and served delicious fried fish and chips. It had an old Wurlitzer jukebox. The two boys drank, dropped quarters in the jukebox, singing and discussing women, wives and life while May and I chatted, watching them.
Ringo turned more melancholy as we approached two in the morning, holding my hand, touching my face, and looking at me with those big blue watery eyes. He weaved his way to the jukebox and punched in Charlie Rich’s “The Most Beautiful Girl In The World” over and over again. At one point he was on his knees, resting his head against the speaker, which was at the bottom of the Wurlitzer.
“That poor guy,” I said to John and May. “He’s still in love with his wife. Look at him, his heart is broken.” John said softly, “Nancy, he’s a good lad… give him a chance… you two will be good together.” At that moment I didn’t realize just how prophetic John’s statement would be.
Daytrippin’: So you knew John Lennon before you actually met Ringo?
Nancy Lee Andrews: Yes. I met John through my old boyfriend and legendary bass player, Carl Radle. Carl played bass for Leon Russell and Eric Clapton and did many sessions in LA. So I met John at a recording studio. I can’t recall exactly what session it was but May and I instantly became friends that night and John gave me the thumbs up.
Daytrippin’: So what was John like as a person?
Nancy Lee Andrews: He was high energy. He loved a good conversation. He liked facts about a subject. And he was simple when it came to his needs, music, food and friends. He was a night owl and liked to go to the movies after midnight. One night we went downtown to a funky theater with Bob Dylan to see a Bruce Lee marathon. Those were the days when a Beatle could make a run in the middle of the night to Pinks for a pig out on hot dogs. He would get so excited in the recording studio and start sort of dancing when he was hearing what he wanted. He just loved to get groups of us at the microphone for backup vocals.We had a lot of fun.
Daytrippin’: And you met George Harrison before all of them. (Her boyfriend at the time, Carl Radle, played bass on All Things Must Pass and The Concert for Bangla Desh.) What was George like?
Nancy Lee Andrews: George was quiet but had this intensity when he talked to you. Again, this guy loved music and it was all about the music. His wife at the time, Pattie Boyd, was great to hang out with. She’s a creative woman and a wonderful person. A few years later Ringo and I went to visit him and Olivia at Friar Park in 1979. They were so happy. Olivia cooked a delicious dinner, he played the guitar and we wandered around that huge mansion while he told us its history. He opened a door, I think it was in the kitchen and handed us candles and told us to follow him. I thought, Oh, we’re going to the spooky cellar but the stairs kept going down and down and finally we landed on a flat surface. I looked, and couldn’t believe what I saw… it was a cave complete with stylolites. Walkways through a cavern. There was even a stream running through it! I had my camera with me and we had a hilarious time shooting with and without the flash. I have so many incredible pictures of us in that cave.
After that we settled in his study/music room and he handed me a bowl of rubies… big ones, small ones that were all cabachons. It was days before my birthday and he said to pick what ever I want and have something made. While he and Ringo talked and played the guitar I settled in front of the fireplace and designed a necklace with lots of hanging rubies. One of those nights I’ll never forget.
Daytrippin’: So after John set you up with Ringo, how did your relationship develop?
Nancy Lee Andrews: After our first date we were hooked on each other. We just continued until one day we were looking for a house together and we were a couple. Our world was fast and on the move all over the world. We had a place in Monte Carlo, England, Amsterdam and LA. Between the recording studios, movie premieres, promotion tours, traveling nine months a year and juggling the children, friends and family we were gypsies — elegant gypsies. Sometimes we would unplug the phones and hide out in our own house not letting anybody know we were in town. Just a few days of old movies, some home made popcorn and our favorite meals. Those days were some of our best times.
Daytrippin’: Your new photo book, A Dose of Rock ‘n’ Roll, chronicles your life with Ringo (1974-1980) as well as the decade of the 1970s. How did you go from an Eileen Ford Model to becoming a rock photographer?
Nancy Lee Andrews: I always had a camera in my hand and recorded what was happening in front of me. Thinking back, there are so many times I wish I had clicked the shutter instead of feeling the moment was too personal and awkward to take a picture. But you know there are thousands of images from our life and the people who just happened to be there and I would click. Like the great images of George at the Grand Prix in Monte Carlo… click, click… they’re in the book. But not all of them, so I’m going to introduce many new images in the gallery shows. If I used half of what I have the book would be many, many volumes. You know looking back I had the ultimate all access pass and nobody ever told me to put my camera down.
Daytrippin’: How did the camera figure into your relationship with Ringo and how did he help boost your career?
Nancy Lee Andrews: The camera was a huge part of our lives. We were both posers and loved to give it up for the camera. He loved the way I saw things and encouraged me to shoot. One day he said he needed a new head shot for the new album and said, “You shoot it.” We went out by the side of our house where the light reflected beautifully and we did our little session. After that we did his next two album covers — Ringo the 4th and Bad Boy, the “Ringo” TV Special and various other publicity images. He is a natural in front of the camera. There are images I took of him while in Morocco that are breathtaking. He actually looked like he could be a Bedouin lord… a flowing Black cape with a long hood… he merged with the culture and they accepted him as one of their own as we strolled through the Medina. We were living in our own personal movie in a foreign world and I was shooting it. What a trip!
Daytrippin’: You also helped Ringo write a song, the lovely “Las Brisas” on Ringo’s Rotogravure. How did that come about?
Nancy Lee Andrews: We were in Acapulco, I think it was the first year of our relationship, and it was so romantic at the Las Brisas Hotel. Everything was pink — pink jeeps, pink flowers floating in the pool, etc. I was fascinated with the language and was asking someone to translate words for me and writing them down on a napkin in a poem form. A band was playing and Ringo picked up the napkin and stared singing the words. We worked on it over the next few days and it became our little song.
Daytrippin’: You also took the cover and back shot of Ringo’s next album, Ringo the 4th. What inspired you?
Nancy Lee Andrews: Fantasy, fairy tales, sword and sorcery, not sure but evolved from a nice bottle of champagne and maybe a book we had been reading. I think I put that sword in his hands to represent him slaying his demons. There was this big empty closet in our suite at the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan. I mean, it would have been a bedroom in some apartments. Any way it was the perfect light box when the flash went off. We had the best time shooting in that closet with my girlfriend, Rita, on his shoulders.
Daytrippin’: There’s a famous shot of you, Ringo and Paul and Linda McCartney on 5th Avenue in New York. What was Paul like and how did that photo come about?
Nancy Lee Andrews: We were strolling down 5th Avenue back to the Plaza Hotel and we hear someone calling Ringo’s name. I turned and saw Paul and Linda across the street. I mean what is the chance of that? Paul had a photographer following him so when he caught up with us the photographer snapped away. Paul and Linda came back to the hotel with us and we ordered some tea up to the suite. I found Paul very charming and down to earth. He and Linda were a real couple; you know, they were a unit. Linda had a wonderful sense of humor. We never hung out with them. They were always on the farm and Paul had his own music. He did write a song for Ringo’s Rotogravure, Pure Gold. Paul said it was about me for Ringo, so he recorded it.
Daytrippin’: Ringo once again called upon you to take publicity photos for the “Ringo TV Special” in 1978. What do you recall about that shoot and how did Ringo approach the project?
Nancy Lee Andrews: He took the role seriously because it was the first vehicle that revolved around him. American TV was a very important vehicle to promote his music. We had just acquired a house in the Hollywood Hills and it was empty, so we decided to use the living room as our studio. It was great fun working with an art director and director. Ringo was surrounded by some great performers who just loved him.
Daytrippin’: You met a lot of famous people through Ringo. Who was the most memorable?
Nancy Lee Andrews: The Duke! We were having dinner one night at the El Padrino Room at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel and I was beside myself because John Wayne was sitting a table away. He was in my line of sight, but not Ringo’s. I was fidgeting and terribly distracted. Ringo finally asked me what was wrong with me and I gushed, “I can’t believe this but John Wayne is sitting right over there.” Ringo’s eyes lit up and we sat there like two starstruck kids. When John Wayne was leaving he walked right by our table and Ringo stopped him to say hello. He was so nice and very tall. Ringo asked him if he would give me a kiss and he said sure. He put out his hand and pulled me up from the table and laid a Maureen O’Hara big one right on my lips. I was a puddle with a stupid grin on my face as Ringo laughed and the other diners smiled at me. Now that was a man and a legend!
Daytrippin’: You’ve got some great photos of Ringo and Keith Moon at Trancas Beach in Malibu. What was your relationship with “Moonie” and was he as crazy as he has been portrayed in the past?
Nancy Lee Andrews: Keith had two sides. Some of those pictures in Malibu capture the soft cuddly side of him. The other side was the Mad Hatter who could make any tea party interesting.
Daytrippin’: You also developed close friendships with other Beatle cohorts such as Harry Nillson, Dr. John and Donovan. Give me a brief thumbnail of each person.
Nancy Lee Andrews: I loved Harry Nilsson like a brother. One of the most brilliant and fascinating men I have ever met. Dr. John was all about the music, too. He loved his kids, a southern gentleman. Donovan is very impish and fun. He loves to entertain and gets everyone involved when he knows he has your attention. A great subject to shoot.
Daytrippin’: The book portrays a very fast-paced, jet-set lifestyle that you shared with Ringo, including trips to England, Japan, Monte Carlo, Morocco, Mexico and the Yucatan. Didn’t you nearly die in a plane crash in the jungle in the Yucatan?
Nancy Lee Andrews: Here’s what happened: we were having a nice time in the Yucatan for about a week until Ringo suddenly became restless. He woke up one morning and said, “Get me off this island. I don’t care how you do it, but get me outta here.” In a matter of hours I managed to book a twin-engine plane to Merida that seated six people. Our party of four, the two pilots and our embarrassing amount of luggage put us well over the plane’s weight capacity. Despite that and a looming tropical storm, no one could talk Ringo into staying another day. The pounding storm forced us to fly so low that the bottom of the plane was brushing against the tops of the trees. I was trying to calm my friend Susan S. Fair down, who was sure that our plane was going to go crash in the jungle and our remains would never be found. Hilary Gerard, Ringo’s manager, was holding Tibetan prayer beads up against his third eye, furiously chanting and wishing for a cigarette. While everyone was frantic and on the verge of breaking down, Ringo was as calm as could be. He said very matter-of-factly, “Don’t worry, it’s not my time to go, so we’ll all be fine.”
Daytrippin’: You went out with Ringo during the height of the disco era. I have it on good account that he took ballroom dancing as a kid and is pretty light on his feet?
Nancy Lee Andrews: Oh my god, he was a fabulous dancer. We loved to go to the discos in Monte Carlo and Regine’s was our favorite. The DJ knew that we loved “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” by Marvin Gaye and would play it at least twice while we were there. Ringo would jump up and pull me to the dance floor. He had moves that were so simple but looked so good. Also we loved to go to Tramps in London… they had the best bangers and mash (sausage and mashed potatoes). We would gobble it down around 2 a.m. before we went home. If other women wanted to dance with Ringo they didn’t ask — they knew I would scratch their eyes out. As far as ballroom dancing I honestly did not know that about him. Hmmm, maybe that’s where he got such good timing.
Daytrippin’: Your relationship with Ringo came to an abrupt end when he met Barbara Bach on the set of Caveman in 1980. You were actually engaged to Ringo at the time. How did you find closure?
Nancy Lee Andrews: It took time. I thought he would come home to me but he fell hard for Barbara Bach. I put my focus on photography. I had a business called Headshots for Women and advertised in Variety. My beauty lighting had the girls lined up. This was before photoshop. I had an air brusher and he would wipe the lines away and the women loved it! Love my computer. I had a couple of committed relationships over the next ten years and finally gave up. That’s when I met my husband and we are now coming up to our 15th anniversary… not to mention the few years of courting.
Daytrippin’: Tell us about your life today and what are your future plans?
Nancy Lee Andrews: Well, life is very exciting these days. The book is coming out and will show my photography, even though it’s a flashback to the ’70s. My friend, May Pang, is also coming out with a book of never before seen photos of John. We’re going to be doing gallery exhibits and book singings together this spring in Scottsdale, Arizona; Palm Springs, California and NYC. I have a wonderful exhibit at the Tennessee State Museum this summer, a combination of A Dose of Rock ‘n’ Roll and a dash of country. I also head up IconicPhotos.com, a Web gallery showcasing some fine photographers work at prices that won’t dent your wallet. I’m currently negotiating gallery exhibits in London, Paris, Amsterdam and San Francisco. Whew, this is only a few months into the year and everything seems to have just taken off.
Daytrippin’: So does this mean you’re back?
Nancy Lee Andrews: I’m back, baby!
Nancy Lee Andrews also published a book in 2015 called Ringo Starr: Photographs.
Marshall Terrill is a veteran film, sports and music writer and the author of more than 30 books. They include best-selling biographies of Steve McQueen, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Billy Graham and Pete Maravich. His book, Steve McQueen: The Life and Legend of a Hollywood Icon, is in development to be made into dramatic series. He also executive produced the 2017 feature film documentary, Steve McQueen: American Icon and the 2022 documentary Johnny Cash: The Redemption of an American Icon. He resides in Tempe, Arizona, with his wife Zoe.
Article copyright by Daytrippin’;
Any or all parts of this interview may not be reprinted or reposted without the consent of Daytrippin’
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