Miss O'Dell

A longtime Tucsonan works on a book about recovery and her decades with rock 'n' roll royalty

Chris O'Dell has worked for both the Rolling Stones and the Beatles. George Harrison wrote a song about her, and her photograph appeared in the back-cover collage of the Stones' Exile on Main St. album.

Once upon a time, O'Dell was married to an English nobleman, and her best friend for decades has been Pattie Boyd, who was married to Harrison and Eric Clapton. Eighteen years ago, O'Dell returned to Tucson, where she grew up.

Now 60, O'Dell is a counselor and hypnotherapist specializing in addiction recovery. She will have been clean and sober for 20 years this coming June. And--it's about time--she's writing a book about her adventures in rock 'n' roll.

Lady in Waiting: Inside the Loves, Madness and Music of the Beatles, the Stones, Bob Dylan and the Women in Their Shadows, co-written with Katherine Ketcham, is scheduled to be published in fall of 2009 by Touchstone Books, an imprint of Simon and Schuster.

A forthcoming press release from Touchstone calls the book "the ultimate fly-on-the-wall rock memoir, packed with revelations, intimate insights and you-are-there, history-making moments that takes a young, idealistic girl from Arizona to L.A. and London and beyond."

O'Dell calls that blurb "a little salacious."

The timing of the book deal seems ideal, considering that Clapton and Boyd each published their respective memoirs this past fall.

O'Dell is something of a walking, talking repository of rock history. The godfather of her 21-year-old son, William, is Ringo Starr (his godmother is Boyd, naturally), and she met his father at Astrid Wyman's house in the south of France.

William's dad (and O'Dell's former husband), by the way, is the Hon. Anthony John Mark Russell, the son of the fourth Baron Ampthill, a member of Great Britain's House of Lords. O'Dell was born in Muncie, Ind., and moved to Tucson with her parents when she was in the sixth grade.

"I'd always loved music; I was into Motown and a lot of R&B. When the Beatles came out, I realized we had better pay attention to what was happening over in England," she said.

O'Dell graduated from Palo Verde High School in 1965, but she wasn't long for Tucson.

"I was 18 or 19 years old. I was depressed and drinking a lot. I was supposed to go to the UA, but was in beauty school. I really didn't know what I was going to do with my life. So I went to L.A."

Her first job was a clerical position at the now-long-defunct Dot Records, where the most exciting artists were Liberace and Lawrence Welk.

"But I met a lot of promotion people, and that's when I met Derek Taylor, who worked at Apple Records," which, as everyone knows, was the Beatles' boutique label during the late 1960s.

Taylor invited O'Dell to London to work for Apple. She was 20 years old.

There, she worked as a personal assistant to Peter Asher, then the A&R manager at Apple. She met and worked closely with all the Beatles and even sat in briefly on the recording sessions for the monumental album The Beatles (aka "The White Album").

"The first thing people ask about me is, 'Oh, were you a groupie?' That's the first place they go. But I was not into the adoration of the musicians, as much as I was into the working."

She wasn't all business all the time, though: She did her share of partying.

O'Dell inspired Harrison to write the playful song "Miss O'Dell," which was the B-side to his single "Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)." It was included as a bonus track on the 2006 reissue of Harrison's album Living in the Material World.

After the Beatles broke up, O'Dell became the personal assistant of the Rolling Stones, touring through America.

"It was magical working for the Stones, like being part of a family. Back then, it was so down to earth. I hear it's much harder to be part of the organization now. It's such a huge operation."

After that, there was a gig working for one of the most enigmatic and poetic of rockers.

"I loved working with Bob Dylan," O'Dell said. "But he can be confusing. He can sit there and have a conversation with you, and look you straight in the eye and be totally engaged with you, and then an hour later, he'll look through you like he doesn't know you."

O'Dell also worked as a tour manager for Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young; Linda Ronstadt; Santana; Earth, Wind and Fire; Fleetwood Mac; Queen; Electric Light Orchestra; and Jennifer Warnes, many of whom she still considers friends.

In the 1980s, she worked briefly with Echo and the Bunnymen. She says she doesn't remember them well, except that they were "young and cute."

Clearly, O'Dell has oodles of stories about her years in rock, and many will come to light in Lady in Waiting. Although it will touch on recovery and spirituality, it is envisioned as "a full-on rock 'n' roll book," she said.

Ketcham, O'Dell's writing partner on Lady in Waiting, lives in Walla Walla, Wash., and has co-authored several books about recovery such as Beyond the Influence: Understanding and Defeating Alcoholism and The Spirituality of Imperfection: Storytelling and the Search for Meaning.

Last year, Ketcham saw the publication of Broken: My Story of Addiction and Redemption, the memoir of William Cope Moyers, son of TV journalist Bill Moyers; she and the younger Moyers wrote it together.

O'Dell said she had already written more than 300 pages about her years working with the Stones when she and Ketcham put together their proposal.

"That's the place I started with," O'Dell said. "I can write pretty well, but (Ketcham) not only edits and clarifies things; she gets to me to go to places I wouldn't maybe otherwise want to go to."