Homecoming: What Keeps Bebe Buell Rockin'


In a time where rock 'n’ roll has lost a lot of its shine, its sparkle, its bark and its bite, we need some artists to stay true to form. We need someone who never caves into the projections and the trends. Rock 'n’ roll used to be a real thing. An honest thing. It wasn’t so planned out and stripped of its rawness. It was there in the bloodline of the streets, swerving through the malls, popping out of magazines and hot on your radio. It was exploding on stage.


Luckily, one of Portland’s favorite former inhabitants comes home this weekend to bring that honest rock 'n’ roll spirit back to us with her show, “Baring It All." She's a mother, musician, model, manager, muse, mover and shaker. I'm talking about Bebe Buell.


People who’ve watched the Cameron Crowe classic Almost Famous think they know all about Buell. That’s a super small portion of the story. Bebe’s life would be hard to capture in a single motion picture. Her involvement and influence on not only rock music, but the culture and lifestyle that surrounded it is worthy of a mini-series.


Born and raised in Virginia makes Bebe a Southern gal, technically. The South is deep in her heart and soul, but the years to follow would prove she belonged everywhere she landed. The Sunset Strip and New York City were the pulse of rock 'n’ roll in the late 60s and 70s and BeBe was right in the center of it all. A popular model, fashionista and a rocker deep down, Bebe was Madonna meets Jerry Lee Lewis at a Warhol party.     


It was during her time in Portland in the '80s when Bebe put her own stamp on the scene. Through two bands she initiated in town, Bebe made her own noise. The tall, slim blonde crowding the microphone stand swaying back n’ forth, did it all herself, inspired from being around the greatest names in music.


Since the '80s, Bebe's been rockin’.


She moved from Portland about eight years ago. Her and husband musician Jimmy Walls/Wallerstein (Vacationland, Das Damen) moved back to New York City. They’d eventually head to Nashville — "Music City" — where they still live to this day.


This Saturday, Bebe makes her way to Portland House of Music & Events for a special “storyteller” type show with her band, The Rebel Souls. It’s also a continuation of Bebe’s birthday week so expect a party! Bebe is beyond excited as are her friends here waiting for mama to bring some rock n’ roll home. I had a chance to chat with Bebe prior to her Portland return.  


Talk a bit about what you've been doing lately down in music city, Bebe. 


Nashville has been an awakening and craft-honing experience. Like finishing school. The only thing Music City is missing is the ocean, because it's got everything else. It's a healthy music scene and people really love to go out and see music live. What I've been doing is just working as hard as I can and making what's to come next on my journey.


I know you can appreciate music of all kinds, but there seems to be a major lack of rock music lately. It's vanishing from the mainstream, radio, award shows and sales charts. In your opinion, what gives and what will it take to bring it back to the good stuff?


In Nashville, "rock" music is exploding again. I play often with Thee Rock 'N' Roll Residency, who are as true to rock music as anyone can get. I think what will bring "rock" music back to the mainstream are the fans. People want to see entertainers who move from their hearts and soul ... not their sample tracks.


What makes a good rock star to you?


A great entertainer cares about his/her audience. I know when I'm onstage I can feel the energy from my crowds and they map out how the evening goes by what they send me energy wise. That's why I still do this — I actually love what happens when I'm onstage. I love the adrenaline and the rush.


What keeps the fires burning for you to continue and stay with it, Bebe? 


I'm not sure that's definable. It's just who I am. I wake up wanting to rock. Wanting to create music and play live. The feeling I get from playing live is right up there with all the most precious things in life. Some of us are just born to do this, and it's my happy place. I'll show you up close and personal on Saturday... 


Any current favorite bands right now?


I like Royal Blood, The Struts, Cage The Elephant, The National, Blackfoot Gypsies, Margo Price and all Jack White (projects). Of course, classic rock which is a mainstay in my palette; Tom Petty, The Rolling Stones, The Flamin' Groovies ... I'm a sucker for a great song — I don't care what genre it is. A good song is a good song.


I’m sure you miss Portland…  


I have a connection to Portland that stays with me wherever I go. My musical connection is especially important because I formed my first two bands in this city, The B-Sides (1980-1985) and then The Gargoyles (1985-1991). There will be lots of stories in my show this Saturday and many of them include tales of the vibrant 1980s Portland music scene. I'm over the moon to bring my show, "Baring It All," to one of my "home" cities. 

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